The 2011 theme for National Library Week (April 10-16) is "Create your own story @ your library". The theme, as it should be, is directed at the general public. However, this year's National Library Week is also an opportunity for libraries (and the people connected or interested in them) to tell a story or stories about the history of the library. Last year I gave a presentation to the Wisconsin Association of Public Libraries titled “Turning Your Library’s History into a Public Relations Asset”. In that presentation I noted that a basic tenet of good library public relations is to seize every possible opportunity to penetrate the consciousness of the general public and community leaders with a positive message about the library. I pointed out that the message that the library has been in the business of changing lives and improving the quality of life for the residents of the community for a long time and that it continues to build on that heritage is a powerful positive message. I then provided some methods for conveying that message. The American Library Association has just published Organizational Storytelling for Librarians: Using Stories for Effective Leadership by Kate Marek. Although I have not read the book, ALA's promotional material leads me to believe that the book would be very supportive of using stories about a library's history to promote the library. Why not resolve to penetrate the consciousness of your community's residents with at least one good story about the library's heritage during this year's National Library Week. Note: this post is being simultaneously published on the Library History Buff blog.
For me attending a conference of the Wisconsin Association of Public Libraries (WAPL), a division of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) is like walking into a bar called Cheers. There are lots of longtime friends and "everybody knows your name". These days my name is mostly associated with library history, and that was why I was in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on Thursday and Friday of this week. At a conference with the theme “Anchoring the Past, Setting Sail for the Future”, I was there to help anchor the past with a program which I called “Turning Your Library’s History into a Public Relations Asset”. The conference was held at the Blue Harbor Resort, the anchor to a major harbor development, right on beautiful Lake Michigan. Dick Nelson, the conference program chair, had to twist my arm a little to get me to do the program. Not that I would actually pass up on an opportunity to promote library history, but when competing with five other programs in the same time slot I wasn't optimistic about the size of the audience I would be talking to. With past programs about library history I have sometimes ended up talking to a very small choir of like minded individuals. In this instance, that turned out not to be the case. The size of my audience was a respectable percentage of the 300 plus conference attendees.
In any case to hedge my bets and to ensure that the preparation for my presentation was not wasted, I had taken this opportunity to enhance the website of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center (WLHC) by creating three new web pages. One of my responsibilities as Chair of the Steering Committee for the WLHC is maintaining the website. This also enabled me to avoid using technology onsite in my presentation (something I hate), and enabled the audience to avoid taking copious notes on my words of wisdom. This approach also allows those of you reading this post to benefit from the presentation without being there. Since a library has to have researched and compiled some form of a library history in order to turn it into a public relations asset, the first web page supporting my presentation deals with Researching and Writing a Library History. I want to acknowledge ALA's Library History Round Table, Bernadette Lear, and other members of the WLHC Steering Committee for much of the content on this web page. The second web page is about the core message of the program "Marketing Library History", and the final web page is focused on "Celebrating Anniversaries".
Attending the WAPL Conference was a great opportunity to talk to old and new friends. The reception on Thursday night at the Mead Public Library was a wonderful event. The library's outstanding facility includes many interesting spaces and artifacts. Among them is a portrait of Andrew Carnegie from their old Carnegie facility (shown on the postcard above). I'm hoping to take advantage of some of their display cases for an exhibit later in the year. While in Sheboygan I also picked up a vintage public library book box which WAPL Conference Chair David Weinhold had assisted me in obtaining via Craigslist. On the way home I swung up to Menasha to pick up a library history exhibit featuring the Tabard Inn Library, the Booklovers Library, and Wisconsin Library Memorabilia. All in all a great couple of days for a library history buff.
The Association for Library Collections & Technical Services (ALCTS) of the American Library Association (ALA) is sponsoring the first Preservation Week May 9-15, 2010. The theme for the ALCTS Preservation Week is "Pass it On". It is a great theme and can also be considered a plea from the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center Steering Committee as it relates to Wisconsin's library heritage. Our library heritage consists of archives, artifacts, architecture, and the memory of those librarians and library supporters who have handed down the legacy that is today's Wisconsin library community. There are lots of ideas on the Preservation Week website that can be used to highlight and promote your library's heritage. Why not undertake some of them this year.
As part of National Library Week this year there is going to be a National Bookmobile Day on April 14. On the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center website there is a bookmobile page which chronicles some of Wisconsin's bookmobile past. National Bookmobile Day provides an opportunity for any library that has had bookmobile service in the past to communicate that legacy to the public. There are some wonderful photographs which show the heritage and contribution of the bookmobile to public library service in Wisconsin. Why not see if you have any of these and show them off on National Bookmobile Day. If you still have a bookmobile how about a bookmobile open house. The image above shows Racine Public Library Librarian Muriel Marchant with a vehicle that was referred to as the "library car".
Each new year provides opportunities to enjoy and celebrate library history. Here is a preview of some of those opportunities in 2010.
The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center will continue to promote and celebrate Wisconsin's library heritage with its ongoing activities including this website, its library memorabilia exhibits, and the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame.
National Library Week which occurs April 11-17 is a great opportunity to make your community aware of your library's heritage. This year's theme is "Communities thrive @ your library." The Menasha Public Library will be having a special exhibit related to their Tabard Inn Library bookcase in April as part of their celebration.
The American Library Association will launch its first Preservation Week May 9-15 with the theme "Pass It On". The Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) of ALA is coordinating this effort. How about a focus on preserving and/or highlighting your library's historical artifacts and archives.
Every five years the Library History Round Table undertakes the sponsorship of a Library History Seminar. This year the event will take place September 10-12 in Madison, Wisconsin. The Center for the History of Print Culture in Modern America at the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin - Madison is coordinating this event. Library historians from around the country will gather to hear presentations on the role of library records as a source of data and information for print culture and library history research.
October is American Archives Month which provides an opportunity to highlight and display library history archives.
November 25 will be the 175 anniversary of the birth of Andrew Carnegie which makes 2010 a great opportunity for communities, libraries, and institutions that have benefited from Carnegie's gifts to celebrate his legacy. In Wisconsin 60 communities received Carnegie grants for 63 public library buildings and two colleges received grants for library buildings.
A number of Wisconsin libraries will celebrate significant anniversaries in 2010 which provide an opportunity to celebrate library history. Here are a few suggestions for doing that.
The second group of individuals was inducted into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame in October at the WLA Conference in Appleton. This included Charles Bunge, our first living inductee.
The Wisconsin Library Memorabilia exhibit was displayed at the South Milwaukee Public Library, the Milwaukee Public Library, and the Door County Public Library. The exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Library was the most extensive exhibit that we have undertaken. An exhibit was also prepared to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Eastern Shores Library System. The WLHC also had an exhibit table at the WLA Conference in Appleton.
The Wisconsin Historical Society created a new gallery in its Wisconsin Historical Images collection featuring photographs of public libraries from the Wisconsin Free Library Commission with the assistance of Richard Wambold.
I just became aware of a list of "50 Reasons to Love Your Local Library". I like number 33 which states: "Your local library is a part of your heritage; your parents likely went there, and perhaps their parents before them." It's not clear to me how you can love libraries and not love library history. People who use libraries, people who like libraries, people who value libraries, and people who appreciate libraries can be and often are oblivious to the history of libraries, but if you love libraries you ought to love their history. I think the "I Love Libraries" campaign and website of the American Library Association is a good approach to promoting America's libraries. It should have a library history component, however. A few years ago, the Wisconsin Library Association launched the campaign "I Love Libraries and I Vote" to demonstrate to decision makers that people who feel strongly about libraries are active in the political process. Part of that campaign involved mailing postcards similar to the one above from the Beloit (WI) Public Library to elected officials. On the back of the card, the sender provided a personal message on why the library was important to him or her. One of those reasons could have and should have been that the library has a legacy of making a difference and changing lives in the community. That legacy is worth acknowledging and celebrating.
Note: This blog entry also appeared in The Library History Buff Blog.