Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Library Director, 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, Libraries, Life

Small Town Library Outreach

If you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll have noticed that we hired a Historian at the Benson Memorial Library last month. I’ve talked about the reason behind this before, but I’ll sum it up here again: our town and community have an extremely rich history due to the discovery of oil here in the 1860’s. With that came a lot of national attention and money, some of which still remains to this day. When a community has a rich history like Titusville does, it makes perfect sense for the public library to be the place where community members can learn and become engaged and informed about the past. When we’re all aware of what has come before us, we can make solid decisions about the future that contribute to a stronger today. 

Cut to a scene at a local gas station about one week ago: someone there walks up to me and says “hey, you’re that library guy right?” to which I reply with a very positive “Yes!”. The best library outreach happens in situations like this, so when I was first approached with this question I knew this was gonna be good. Our conversation went like this:

“I saw in the newspaper that you hired a historian. That’s a really great idea because we have so much history around here. In fact, I have something I’d like for you at the library to dig up.”

After that, I listened to the story and it was quite an interesting one regarding a now ghost town just a few miles up the road from us called Pithole. I got the contact information and basic details I needed, went back to the library, and handed it off to Jess, our Historian.

Over the next week, Jess got into the nitty gritty of the patron’s requests and found out some information that they were looking for. Jess sent all of this information to the patron via email. Here’s what that email looked like:


Pretty good, eh? That’s some nice and thorough work there. But that’s not where it ends. Jess got this kind email back from the patron:


And now every time I stop at this gas station to fill up my car with gas or get some of their delicious chocolate milk I see this person and we have a nice kind chat. Libraries are all about bringing people together, and this is just an example of how we do it here in Titusville.

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Titusville, PA

Blogging at the Library (yes, it’s still very important)

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The piece “Origins of the Dick Kraffert Pool at Burgess Park, Titusville” by Jess Hilburn, originally written for a library blog and then republished in a local newspaper, the Titusville Herald.

Before we start, let me clear things up: you are not reading a blog post from sometime between 2001-2007. This blog post was written on June 22, 2017. Why am I saying that to start? Well because if you’re reading this you may have been told that “blogging is dead” and that the “library blog scene” is irrelevant. My aim with this piece is to show you otherwise. The word “blog” or “blogging” is dead but that’s a good thing. Blogs and blogging was always just writing and publishing with a hip new fancy name attached to it. The “blog” switched the power from the big publishers and news agencies and gave it to the people. (for the rest of this piece, I’ll continue to use the word “blog” when I refer to the written words I am talking about but honestly its all just words and information)

Here’s a great example from my library (Benson Memorial Library) on why I believe why libraries should continue to write and share information with their communities. A few months ago, our Historian Jess Hilburn started up a blog called NWPA Stories (Northwestern Pennsylvania Stories). As our Historian, Jess digs up a lot of interesting stories about individuals and events in our community.

One of the recent discussions happening in our community was the possible closing of our swimming pool, the Dick Kraffert Pool. As with every story, there are two sides to this one. Over the last few years the pool has fell into disrepair and has been losing money. The City of Titusville operates the pool, and like the pool the city has been losing money due to declining industry in the area and lower tax returns every year. These are the things that are happening in small town American. On the other side, there is a community full of individuals who want the pool to stay open and remain an option for all local residents. It’s a tough issue and we’re not here to discuss the pros and cons, but now you’re basically all caught up on the story.

This is where the library comes in. With all of the discussion happening around the Dick Kraffert Pool, one thing was missing: what’s the history behind all of this? How did the pool start, what was the pool like back in the day, and who the heck is Dick Kraffert?  This is where Jess Hilburn comes in. As our Historian, finding out this kind of stuff and sharing it with our local community is one of big “to-do’s” on Jess’s job responsibilities list. A library historian isn’t just there to find out stuff for individuals who have research requests. A great library historian shares the research and history that they’re digging up with everyone in the community. I believe that when community members are engaged and informed about their past, they can make solid decisions about the future that contribute to a stronger today. This is that example in action.

After publishing the post and sharing it via the library Facebook page, we quickly noticed it was resonating with the community. According to Facebook stats, the piece has had a reach of 4,607, has been shared 72 times, and has 23 likes on the original post. There were plenty of positive comments on the piece….and that’s when the local newspaper the Titusville Herald messaged us (once again, on Facebook). They asked for permission to reprint Jess’s work in the next issue of the Herald, scheduled to be published tomorrow. Our only request was that they add the “Editor’s Note” that you see in the photo of the piece above).

Why’d we do this? As I said above, it is all about sharing and informing community members about the past that surrounds them. The Titusville Herald is an excellent newspaper that is read by many of our community members. Increasing exposure to our local history, especially when that exposure originates from the public library, is a great thing. It provides our community with a better understanding of their surroundings, it increases exposure to the library, and it further cements us as a local organization dedicated to providing all citizens with quality information.

Here’s the link to the original piece as it appears on NWPA Stories

The next time someone tells you that blogging is dead, try to remember this example which I just shared. The act of writing and sharing information will never die no matter what it is called. Libraries: learn, research, share, and connect. This is what you do.


Family, Libraries, Pittsburgh, PA, Travel

Gus and Yia Yia’s

Finn’s first Gus and Yia Yia iceball

One of my favorite things in this world is Gus and Yia Yia’s, an iceball cart in Pittsburgh, PA that I’ve been going to for as long as I can remember.

Some about Gus and Yia Yia’s can be found here but I’ll quickly recap: they’ve been around since 1934  or as they say “since your Dad was a lad” and they make all their own syrups.  Now I know you can’t really go wrong with an iceball, but let me tell you, these are not like any other iceball you’ve ever had.  They are one of the greatest tasting things this world has to offer.

Like I said above, I’ve been visiting Gus and Yia Yia’s with my family since I can remember.  My father, an optician, had always made glasses for Gus and Stella (the Gus and Yia Yia who own and operate the cart).  There were always “oh, this iceball is on us since your Dad makes us great glasses” kind of talk coming from Gus and Stella and looking back I’ve realized that those moments have really had an impact on me.  I realized that life had nothing to do with money/making a profit/whatever.  It was about friendship, community, and connection.  I still take this idea into the teen library today.  If we can work together, we can do awesome things and have an awesome connection.

Pure Gus and Yia Yia iceball syrup. Made by Gus, bottled, and sent to us in Maine.

The next thing that I love about Gus and Yia Yia’s is their iceball syrup.  It’s from a recipe perfected by Gus’ dad in the 1930’s.  Amazing.  Like I said above, it’s not like anything you’ve ever had before.  My favorite flavor is cherry.  One taste of it takes me back to my many childhood trips to the iceball cart.  I instantly remember all of the wonderful times.  I think about that a lot when it comes to the library.  Simple little things matter.  Saying hello to someone that passes by, or telling someone that you dig the Batman shirt they’re wearing goes a long way.  People tend to remember these tiny but important moments.

This could be the first Gus and Yia Yia iceball ever made in Maine.

One of my dreams is to propose this idea to Gus and Stella someday.  When they want to retire, I’d love to buy their business.  I wouldn’t change a thing….sort of.  My brother Brandon could run the iceball cart just where it is in Pittsburgh.  I’d do the same thing with my family here in Portland, ME.  Iceballs, popcorn, and peanuts (these are the three items they sell and yes it’s an odd combo but you have to experience it to see how it all works together).  Cheap, delicious, and for the community.  I think that would be an awesome chapter in my life.

One of the cruelest things my mother (pictured with our son Finn) is text me when she visits Gus and Yia Yia’s, knowing full well that we’re 500 miles away. 🙂

My life wouldn’t be the same without these iceballs.  Thank you to Gus and Stella for making life a bit more awesome.  And thanks for teaching me a thing or two.

Video Games

Guy plays the same game of Civilization II for 10 years and this is the result

I highly recommend that you read I’ve been playing the same game of Civilization II for almost 10 years. This is the result thread over at Reddit.  It’s a really interesting tale of how intense a video gaming experience can be and what the player can learn from their time within a virtual world.

Even more interesting to me is this SUB THREAD dedicated to the game that this guy has been playing.  It’s full of information about the game that this guy has been playing for 10 years, discussion and speculation on the past, present, and future of the game, and even has bits of fan fiction thrown in by readers.

Let me try to restate this in the simplest way possible: a guy decided to play Civilization II over 10 “earth years” and then he posted his story online.  His game, which he was experiencing all by himself for 10 years, now became a story that was embraced by a community.  It has grown from a single game to a full fledged saga, a virtual world within the real world that has a very long and involved history.

To me, this is simply amazing.