Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Local History & Genealogy

The Fabric of Our Families: Our journey in Local History & Genealogy Services

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Local History & Genealogy services were definitely not on my mind when I arrived at the Benson Memorial Library in 2015. To me, those services were something that local historical societies excelled in, not the public library. I have, like most things, been proven wrong the more time went on and this wasn’t any different. What I discovered shortly after I arrived in Titusville was that not only was this something that this public library excelled at but it was something that was much needed in this community. From that point forward, Local History & Genealogy services became one of the main focuses as I lead the Benson Memorial Library towards the future.

Almost one year ago my library hired a full time Historian. With this position, the goal was to expand these Local History & Genealogy services to a wider audience. And in that year, we’ve done quite a bit. NWPA Stories was started and in one year had 5,799 views, pretty great for a niche blog in a time where many people consider blogging to be dead. NWPA Stories was an important step for our library. Instead of the library being a place that connected individuals to the stories, the library became a place that researches, writes, and shares these stories. One of the things I’ve always found amazing about blogging is that when you write and share via a blog that you’re basically your own publisher, so in a way our library became a niche publisher when NWPA Stories began in 2016.

You can read more about this specific project here: Blogging at the Library

The next step was to expand our services beyond the traditional obituary listings and complete microfilm collection of our local newspaper. While that stuff still has tremendous worth and value (and is still very much utilized by our guests), we wanted to expand. That expansion meant taking what I consider to be a big step in genealogy with our subscription to Ancestry Library Edition. There’s now not a day that goes by where I hear a staff member talk about census records or some other amazing find that they came across in Ancestry. We’ve also been able to expand our programs at the library and now host 1-2 evening workshops where people can learn more about the service.

You can read more about this specific project here: A Neat Local History & Genealogy Story.

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This brings me to our latest project, a Photo Scanning Station, a VHS Conversion Station, and the seeds of a hopefully robust Digital Local History Collection. This concept and idea isn’t new by any means (The Memory Lab at DC Public Libraries is the first example of this that jumps out in my head). It is a tried and true idea to offer these tools to users in public libraries. Where it stands out to me is in how it gives a rural small town with a rich local history a chance to be a part of that history. The best parts of history come from the stories that we all share. It is through those stories that we all learn the little nuances that come with every family or every community. History is so much more when it comes from the heart, and what better way to get at that heart than through working directly with your community members. Our Historian Jessica Hilburn really hit home when she said this to me: “At the Benson Memorial Library, history isn’t just an abstract concept, but the fabric of our families”. The library is the place where we can grow our families and learn more about them. In turn, we build a stronger community because our roots become stronger. That’s why having these digitization stations at our library are so important. They’re building the future of this community by better connecting us to our past.

You can read more about this specific project here: Building a Digital Local History Collection Together.

 

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Abigail Foster's Photosynthesis Machine, Benson Memorial Library, Family, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management, Titusville, PA

Where Are We Now?

About a year ago I hung up a bizarre painting in my office at work. To me it was perfect and just familiar enough that I thought it warranted a place in my life. As a person who always thought it would be neat to have an office and fill it with interesting things, the painting, when mixed with the Lego creations and drawings that Finn and Aero have created for me over the years, helped me establish this place my home away from home. When I feel comfortable at work, I usually am able to some really good and meaningful work. On the other hand I could also see how the average “I shop for my groceries at Walmart every Saturday at 1pm and have to watch the game and/or my sitcom at the same time every week” American person would be appalled by it.

One day I came into work to find that my painting was taken down. My coworkers took it down because, yes they were terrified and appalled by it. I guess right now would also be a good time to explain that due to limited space we’re all basically working on top of each other and that we’re surrounded by glass. It’s like a packed fishbowl in here. But to fully admit my feelings, I was pretty let down by their actions. It felt passive aggressive and overall it felt unkind. But in the moment I didn’t react. I just went on and say “oh, well that happened.”

You see as a Gemini I feel a duality to everything. There’s this part of me that always sees things from my point of view and then I almost immediately put that aside and see it from how others may have seen it. In this case: Justin likes the painting and hangs up the painting, Justin feels disappointed when someone takes that painting down, but then Justin instantly forgets about that and says “well I bet they didn’t like the painting so I understand that and what I thought about the painting shouldn’t matter because that’s selfish to only think about myself.” Over time, I’ve taken that approach to even more of an extreme: I guess in a way that by my coworkers actions I was able to put the painting to a much better use. It became the cover for my album Prozac Is The Dam And I Am The Dynamite, and I think it fit really well for that album. Having the painting taken down by my coworkers made me take it home, where I stared at it more and through those hours of staring it gave the painting more meaning and purpose. It became a visual representation of my life at the time, and when it merged together with the music I was creating it became a complete package.

You take all of these things together, stretch everything out by a few months, sometimes years, and what happens? You start to think about the first part (yourself) less and less until it almost becomes silly to even think about it in the first place. I think that’s where I am at now…after awhile of doing this here I am, a person that may be very capable about thinking of others but at the same time a person who doesn’t think of himself as much as he should. I’m overwhelmed right now and a bell goes off in my brain to remind me that this may be part of the reason as to why I feel this way. When you neglect yourself in some way, it all adds up. I stare at a lot of spreadsheets these days, and I like to think that my soul has a spreadsheet where it has been keeping note of the times I’ve put myself aside for others. It’s finally getting to that point where the spreadsheet is just too long and unruly and it becomes a hassle to scroll down the page because there’s so much data.

I’m on the cusp of something here. It feels exciting and at the same time it fills my soul with great fear, but I know that as with everything in this life it will come, it will go, and the next thing will happen. I feel lucky to be able to share this journey here and to have others be able to maybe understand and maybe feel like they may be in the same holding pattern at the moment.

Music: David Bowie “Where Are We Now?” As long as there’s sun..As long as there’s rain..As long as there’s fire..As long as there’s me..As long as there’s you

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Local History & Genealogy

A Neat Local History and Genealogy Story

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Every library out there has their specific “things” that they’re good at. Those things are the core of who you and and what you do, and no matter what path your library takes you should always have you focus on them. At the Benson Memorial Library in Titusville, PA, we’ve got three things: excellent small town library customer service, great and plentiful programs for youth, and a local history and genealogy focus. That focus on Local History and Genealogy is our big thing in 2018. Just this month we added free access to Ancestry.com Library Edition for (at least) the next two years at our library. In just 26 days, that free service has been used quite a bit, garnering 611 searches so far! Plus, our Historian Jess Hilburn has been running workshops to teach people about Ancestry and the different things you can find using it and those have been a tremendous success. It has been good to see people learn about their past at our library.

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This photo comes from one of those workshops and attached to it is one of my favorite library stories. Jess (on the right) was helping this library guest during one of our Intro to Ancestry.com Library Edition classes. After a basic introduction this library guest was able to find some really interesting information about her Grandmother. She already knew that her Grandmother remarried later in life, but when she found her Grandma in her high school yearbook she made a very interesting discovery….the man who shared the page with her Grandmother was in fact that man that her Grandmother ended up marrying late in life! That’s the neat photo you see on the screen behind them in the picture. Just imagine how neat that must be….a little interesting slice of history that was a preview of what was to come!

These types of things that happen in libraries are magical and the thing that warms my heart the most is that they’re happening every day in so many libraries all over the country! This may not be the big boost in budget you’ve been waiting for or the major construction project that your building needs, but these stories are the ones that matter the most. As I’ve said before, it is the little things in libraries that keep them humming along. When grouped together, the little things don’t seem so little anymore and in fact come together to form something big and possibly life changing for a person, a community, or a library.

Please continue to share your stories! More information on Local History and Genealogy at the Benson Memorial Library can be found here and here.

 

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Library Director, Local History & Genealogy, Titusville, PA

Building a Digital Local History Collection Together

Here’s a new thing that we’re working on at the Benson Memorial Library that will be unveiled in early 2018. I can’t take credit for the idea…that idea grew out of the Chattanooga Public Library…but hey good ideas are good ideas and if they work for your community you might as well use them. The laptop was funded by a grant through a local university and the scanner was funded by a local foundation. On top of that, we bought a 4TB MyBook Duo external hard drive to store files.

The idea is simple: if you have tools, then make them available to the public. Teach them about the tools and how to use them. If the tools create a product, ask the community if your library can build a collection out of that product. That’s what we’re going to attempt to do with this Scanning Station…to build a collection of digital artifacts that pertain to Titusville History by doing the following:

  • Offering tools to scan photos and documents at a high quality to the community for free.
  • Teaching the community how to scan items and use this technology.
  • After using the Scanning Station, asking the patrons if they would like to contribute what they just scanned to a digital collection of items, photos, and more that focuses on Titusville history.

Our Scanning Statement/Policy can be found here. This is still a work in progress and will go before our board for approval in January 2018. Every patron that uses the Scanning Station will be required to complete this form. It will then be the responsibility of the Historian to keep track of this form and the files which were scanned.

In the end, we hope to empower people to learn more about scanning, how to preserve their history, and in turn contribute to a collection which will collect our community history. I hope this collection will benefit many people in our community for years to come.

Benson Memorial Library, Chattanooga Public Library, Chattanooga, TN, Libraries, Music, Portland, ME, The Beach Boys and Libraries, Titusville, PA

The Library Career Arc of Justin Hoenke As Told Through GIFS of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys and Their Overall Career Arc

It lines up! You’ve gotta trust me!

1964 GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

2008-2012/2013: Cape May (NJ) County Library and Portland (ME) Public Library. Little stuff. Teen Librarian. Neat little programs. The surfing songs version of librarianship. Very basic ideas that were creative and at the same time hinted at the fact that I had some bigger ideas up my sleeve. People seem to dig it.

The Beach Boys GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

2013-2015: Chattanooga (TN) Public Library. Let’s do some neat stuff. Month long code camps (DEV DEV), sewing machines, 3D printers, maker and learning tables, one gigabit per second super fast internet, entire floors dedicated to creativity, thinking outside the box, and trying to reinvent the library. The PET SOUNDS and SMiLE of my library career. Like Brian Wilson, I was surrounded by some of the most creative and talented people I have ever met. The best of times. The most creative library experience ever.

The View Abc GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

2015-Present: Benson Memorial Library (Titusville, PA). Little stuff. Very focused to this tiny community. The equivalent of the bedroom tapes, SMILEY SMILE, FRIENDS, and other tiny little Beach Boys and Brian Wilson gems between 1967-1971. The songs don’t change the world, but if you hear them you like them and they bring you happiness. Good work. Out of the spotlight.

Beach Boys GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

A POSSIBLE FUTURE: A retreat. This stuff is wearing me down. I can’t please everyone and I do my best to make the experience a positive one for everyone, but the loud voices just keep getting louder. Do I want to use my time here on earth and my limited energy on battles? Do I have to change the world? I don’t. All that I have to do is take care of myself and my family and be myself. I can retreat. I don’t have to do this forever.

Benson Memorial Library, Community Building, ebooks, Libraries, Library Director, Technology

When The Circulation Has Gone: Helping Your Community Understand the Worth of the Public Library in the Modern Age

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What’s this that you see above? I call this the Benson Memorial Library circulation scorecard. What this circulation scorecard is doing is keeping track of our overall circulation from January 2010-Present. I could go back even further (we have the records) but I kept it at 2010 for the time being. I use it as guide to see what we’ve done, what we’re doing now, and how it relates to each other. Is our circulation up? Is our circulation down? If either one of these situations is the case, why is that? This scorecard is a nice and handy way to check up on all things related to circulation.

I don’t think that any library’s circulation number should be the number by which the library is judged, ranked, understood, etc. Every library’s circulation number by day, month, or year will first depend on the library that community serves. Is your community one that loves to visit the public library? If so, you can expect your circulation to represent that. In our service area of 14,904 (based on 2016 State Library stats), having 5,269 circulations in the month of September was a good month for us. A total circulation number of 5,269 for one month may look horrible to another library that serves a larger area or it may look shockingly amazing for a smaller area. That number looks just about right for us. This number will look different for everyone. It is up to you at your own level to interpret and understand that number.

As I said above, I don’t think that any library’s circulation number should be the number by which the library is judged or understood, but here’s the kicker. This circulation number is a big deal to a lot of people. To those people, a public library is a place which loans out materials to people in the community. When a person has this belief, the best way they can understand how their public library is doing is to see this number. With that said, yes, the circulation number is an important number for the public library.

But as the world changes and the way we read, watch, and look for information or media moves towards the internet or something digital, our circulation numbers are set to look like they’re decreasing. They are. Let’s face it: people don’t come in and borrow books on how to do things/fix things/research things anymore. They Google it or they go right to YouTube where they can get a step by step video. I’m a librarian, and this is exactly what I do. Why do I do this? Because this is the quickest, easiest, and probably the most efficient way of doing things these days.

So, as the title of this post asks: what do we do when the circulation has gone? If our circulation numbers decrease, we need a different way of sharing the value of the public library with the community. With that said, here are some ideas that I’m having these days.

CIRCULATE OTHER STUFF

This seems to be the big thing of the moment: fishing poles, museum passes, and gadgets galore, libraries are branching out and lending out things that you may not have seen in libraries before. One library in my region, the Oil City (PA) Library is doing just that. They call it the Cool Stuff Collection. Adding these unique items to your collection may draw more people into the library and help boost your circulation.

THE PUBLIC LIBRARY AS AN EVENT SPACE

This is a great one. Public libraries all around the world have amazing spaces, and one of the best ways we can show off that space and bring people into the library is by offering great programs. There are so many libraries out there doing this and I could provide hundreds of examples. Here’s one of them: the Darien Library in Connecticut. Their schedule is always packed full of great programs any day of the week. When a library focuses on public events, the attendance at these programs as well as the number of events held at the space becomes a great statistic to share with your community.

THE DIGITAL STUFF

The digital stuff, most of which is probably offered through your website, is another way to show the value of the library. While they’re no longer all the rage, eBooks are still around and are used by a segment of the population. Showing off the circulation of eBooks can boost your circulation number but it can also be used to show your community the changing nature of how we read.

My favorite “digital stuff” statistic these days is the number of connections we have to our wifi network and the number of logins we’ve had on our public computers. What have I noticed? That our wifi connections are going up while our public computer logins are stagnant or going slightly down. Yes, there is still a very strong need to offer public computer access, but as the cost of devices (laptops/tablets/and the big one, phones) comes down and more people are able to access them, I think we’ll see the public library become more and more of a spot in the community that offers free (and hopefully reliable and safe) wifi for everyone.

The title of this post was inspired by this most excellent jam

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Social Media

Here’s How To Talk To Your Community On Social Media (Which By The Way, You Should Be Doing)

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First and foremost, if you’re not using social media to connect with your community then you should stop everything right now, set up social media accounts, and spend some time every day connecting with your community. I’m not the first or the last person to say this, and if you need any further inspiration, I recommend checking out David Lee King and all of the great things he has to say about all things social media + libraries.

If you are (and you probably are), I’m sharing the above screenshots as an example of what I think is a very good way to talk to your community using social media. To break down the details of how we do it here at the Benson Memorial Library, read below:

  • We tried Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as our main social media feeds. Facebook by and far worked the best with the community. Instagram gets some likes and enough to update it every once in awhile. Twitter does nothing for our library.
  • We have three (of eight total) staff members who check our Facebook page. One person is in charge of scheduling most of the posts. The other two fill in posts from time to time. All of us will answer questions directed to the library or comment when the library is tagged.
  • One of my daily duties is to quickly browse the local Facebook groups: the ones that talk about local issues, the ones that advertise events, and the buy/sell/trade groups. If I spot something that can be helped by the library, I will respond with a comment, tag the library, and inform one of our staff members to respond to the inquiry. This is how we got the screenshots that you see above.
  • One of our staff members will use their account or the library Facebook account to respond to any comments. We do so in a way that introduces us, who we are, and what we can do. We always leave contact information in our comments so the community member can follow up outside of Facebook if they choose to do so.

What it all boils down to is something very simple: get your library out there where your community gathers (and yes, Social Media is a place where people gather!) and talk to your community. When you do, great things and connections will happen and your library and community will grow stronger because of it!