Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Life, Local History & Genealogy

The Things a Library Can Do For You: “Local woman tracks down biological family”

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Please visit the Titusville Herald website full this full story.

I’ve been sitting on this story for a few months now, but oh how I have wanted to shout it out from the rooftops. When we started our Local History & Genealogy project at the Benson Memorial Library, this is the kind of thing that I wanted us to do but I didn’t know if it would ever happen. Lo and behold, just a few months into our first big year-long push into these services and in through our doors comes Traci Moore, a community member looking to understand her roots. After some conversations with Benson Memorial Library Historian Jess Hilburn, the end result was that Traci found her biological family and got a chance to reconnect with them. Read the rest in the Titusville Herald piece that can be found here….it is a great, positive story that really makes your heart fill up with happiness.

We live in a time where we as librarians have the chance to take public libraries to the next level. We will still be the libraries that we’ve come to know and love, full of books, movies, and discovery, but we now have the chance to level up (to borrow an idea from video games). We are centers where our communities come together to meet, share, and explore life together. The public libraries we have inherited and now lead are the centers of our community. Lead them with a positive frame of mind, an open heart, and a willingness to be everything to your community. You are everything and inside of you is the love that the world needs. Understand that love and then put it out into the world. Positive change will occur on a mass level when we understand the love inside ourselves.

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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.

 

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.

Libraries, Presentations

Great tweets from the OCLC “Made in a Library” Online symposium

Yesterday, I had the honor of being a twitter moderator (along with Lisa Carlucci Thomas of Design Think Do) for the OCLC Online Symposium Made In a Library.

We had a great twitter conversation throughout the whole program which Lisa has collected for everyone to follow along here.  I’ve also collected a few of my favorite tweets from the event which you can read below (yup, one of mine is in there.  It was my favorite Joseph Sanchez quote from the program)

Thanks to everyone for coming to this program, and many thanks to OCLC and the presenters for the awesome job that they did in putting everything together.

Libraries, Things

SEVEN THINGS LIBRARIES SHOULD BE DOING

BUY LOCAL, COLLECT LOCAL
Libraries have money to spend.  Some have bigger budgets than others, but the point I’m trying to make we have money and a big part of our job is to spend it.  Where should we be spending this money?  Sure, it may be very easy to place orders through big material distributors (and sometimes that is really nice to do!) but libraries, being an important part of the local community fabric, should also be doing all that they can to support their local economies.  And a lot of that can be done by buying local.

One of the other perks about buying local?  You not only keep the money local and support your community, but you get to interact and talk with experts.  I try to do as much of my graphic novel and video game/movie purchasing through two local stores.  The people working at these stores help me build solid collections.  They take the time to look at my teen graphic novel and manga collection and fill in the gaps, make recommendations based on what we have, and just generally make the collection stronger.  With video games and movies, they take the time to locate not only the best prices they can give me, but they also track down hard to find and rare items that my patrons request.  Sure, these items may not come to the library pre-processed with labels, call numbers, and other things all ready to go on the shelf, but where they make up for that is the local businesses attention to detail.  This is something you can’t put a $ sign on, but is something so valuable we cannot forget about it.

MAKE STUFF WITH YOUR PATRONS
This summer, I worked with a local hip hop artist named Sontiago and 5 teens to create 2 original hip hop tracks.  The beauty of the project was not only were they made IN THE LIBRARY but they were MADE BY TEENS WHO USE THE LIBRARY.

This project really sums up 2011 as a librarian for me and has helped me form ideas about moving ahead in libraries.  Instead of us being the place that collects popular media, we have to be the place that helps our community create things.  Be it a painting, a graphic novel, a locally published book, music, or a movie, libraries should become the community hub for creativity.  Librarians should become the mentors for the community, the people that help empower the community to create things.

Steve Teeri of the Detroit Public Library is also doing this sort of thing with the teens he works with.  I highly suggest you check this article out if you’re serious about making wonderful things with your patrons.

Is there a problem with this idea?  Yes.  Who is the audience that wants these locally created pieces?  That is the tricky part.  For example: even if you have a patron that creates the ultimate zombie film, your patrons are still gonna wanna watch Dawn of the Dead or another big name zombie film.  Mainstream media will still be more popular, more recognizable, and more immediate than locally made art.  But libraries can help change that.  I mean, it’s never going to be perfect, but libraries can help communities shift their thinking towards recognizing locally made creations as valuable for strengthening the community.  Our organizations are big, and when we speak, our communities listen.  If we can clearly communicate the goal of our programs to our communities, we can build momentum in this movement…let’s call it the “experience local” movement.  We can make something like this take off and have legs.  We can build the interest.

And even if we don’t, we can still do important things like this.  

 

BUILD APPS AND OTHER NEAT THINGS
If things like social media and technology are the future, then we should be getting in the game of building unique platforms and experiences for our patrons.  A good example of building something unique for patrons to experience happened at the Ann Arbor District Library this summer.  Instead of going along with the typical Summer Reading themes, their development staff (read their very interesting blog here) came up with an online summer game that rewarded patrons for playing along.  Programs and experiences like this have been popping up in other libraries too (check out what the NYPL did).

It doesn’t have to be just about games though.  Libraries should be building their own tools, apps, games, and more for their patrons to use.  Cookie cutter products offered by big companies are not gonna cut it anymore.  Catering to our patrons unique and individual needs is going to enable us to give them the best possible services.

You can read more about the AADL Summer Game at the following links:
http://play.aadl.org/
https://github.com/aadl/Summer-Game 

STAND UP FOR YOURSELF
Have libraries done a good job of standing up for themselves?  We’re getting there.  Amazing things have happened in New Jersey and Connecticut (here and here), where librarians have stood up and clearly communicated to the powers that be about their importance in the community.  I also wrote about how I think we haven’t really got all there yet.

But one thing is clear to me.  We always need to stand up for ourselves.  A small victory, an increased budget, or the go ahead to move ahead on a big project does not mean everything is going to be hunky dory for many years to come.  We have to keep working (not fighting.  That’s too negative and we need to stay positive) and communicating who we are and what we do.  And that brings me to…

EXPLORE NEW PARTNERSHIPS
Budgets, budgets, budgets.  We all have shrinking budgets.  We all have to do “more with less”.  I think we all understand that and agree that this is what the future looks like.  It doesn’t have to be all grim and gray though.  We can make interesting things happen if we think outside the box about who we could partner with in libraries.

I’m a firm believer that the library isn’t just a place where we collect books or things, but instead a center for the community.  With this sort of mindset, I see the possibility of the library expanding to something bigger, better, and more convenient for our communities.  What about post offices in libraries?  They’re not having the best time with their finances and are looking for new ways to deliver services.  What about de-emphasizing the idea of a central library location and instead making the library an idea that exists everywhere in the community?  Get out into the communities that you serve and have library programs anywhere that you can, with whomever wants to work with the library.  The library outside of the library?  It may be one of the best ways for us to communicate the importance of the library.

COLLECT THINGS YOUR COMMUNITY WANTS, NOT WHAT YOU WANT
Try to find me saying that “every library should have a video game collection” in something I’ve wrote online and I be you’ll be successful.  Well, I take that back.  A video game collection may not be right for your community.

It’s easy to listen to the trends happening in libraries and get very excited about them.  It’s also really important to keep your library up to date and relevant for your community.  But why invest in materials that would not be good for your community?  Focus on the things that are relevant at that moment and always keep an ear out for what may be the latest trends with your patrons.  Don’t create collections just because everyone else is doing it.  Do it for your community first, and once they’re happy, feel free to experiment.  Things may work, things may not.  At my last job, I added a small teen music section to the teen library.  The collection was really popular and continues to grow to this day.  When I moved to my current job, I thought “hey, I should try that again.  It worked at my old job, so it should work here.”  It didn’t work at all, and now I have a small music collection that just takes up valuable shelf space.  I’m giving it some more time to possibly catch on before I scrap the idea all together, but when I look back all that I can think of is “I should’ve waited to see what my patrons wanted.”

BE VERY NICE
The last thing may seem like the most simple thing, but I think it’s the most important.  Talk to your patrons, share stories, have a laugh, and always smile.

Portland, ME

The All Local Thanksgiving: 2010 in Portland, ME with Haley, Justin, and Finn

Since moving to Portland, ME earlier in the year,  my family has become quite invested in the local community.  Why?  Well, we love it here for one.  At the same time we have always felt strongly about supporting our local community first and foremost above anything else.  We’ve had a chance to do that on a small scale in other communities that we’ve lived in, but Portland has allowed us to take things to a whole new level.

We couldn’t make it back to Pittsburgh, PA to be with family for Thanksgiving this year so we decided on doing the next best thing: having an all local Thanksgiving.  Was it hard to pull off?  Not at all. Many thanks go out to my wife Haley and her sister Nadine for getting everything together.  They did all the behind the scenes work and the actual cooking.  They also blog about their food adventures at this site so you should check that out.  We ordered a lot of our goods through the Portland Food Co-op and picked up our orders the week before Thanksgiving.

So how was the food?  AMAZING. We still got the “ohmylordIatetoomuch” feeling afterwards, but it wasn’t a disgusted processed turkey and frozen vegetables sort of thing.  It was more like a “yesthatwasalotbutitwasgoodandspirituallyfulfilling” type of meal.

Thanksgiving 2010

Here’s the list of ingredients we used/foods we ate:

Carrots and Kale: Fishbowl Farm, Bowdoinham ME
Garlic: Summit Springs Farm, Poland ME
Onions: Freedom Farm, Freedom ME
Turkey: Snafu Farms, Monmouth ME
Cranberries and Apple Cider: Ricker Hill Farms, Turner ME
Brussel Sprouts: Dandelion Springs Farm, Washington ME
Eggs: Esch Dairy, Smyrna ME
Sea Salt: Maine Sea Salt Company, Marshfield ME
Organic Milk: MooMilk, Augusta ME
Parsley: Goranson Farm, Dresden ME
Organic Bread Flour: Aurora Mills, Linneus ME
Organic Yukon Gold Potatoes: Nature’s Circle Farm, Houlton ME
Butternut Squash: Levesque’s Organic Farm, Leeds ME

*all of the breads and rolls were made and cooked by Nadine Byers using local ingredients*

NON LOCAL, BUT STILL NEEDED/PRETTY DANG COOL SHIT:
Cleaning supplies: Graciously donated by Sun and Earth, King of Prussia PA.  In a way, they sponsored our Thanksgiving, as they donated cleaning supplies to us.  Instead of spending money on cleaning supplies, we used that to buy more local food.  I’m not gonna hit you over the head pitching their product now, but I will say this: their stuff is GOOD.  All of their products have an amazing citrus smell that made the house smell wonderful.  It was nice to add that to the mix of all of the food being cooked.  Thanks Sun and Earth!

Lima Beans: We couldn’t find anything local so we opted for store bought frozen Lima Beans.
(Yes, lame, I know, but…they’re a tradition for me and I couldn’t miss out on them)

Brownies: For dessert,  we used a simple Trader Joe’s baking mix for brownies.


All in all, Happy Holidays from all of us to you.
Here’s a video of Finn playing with his new kitchen (which was also made in Maine!)