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.”
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.
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.
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.
When we decided to buy a 144 year old church building and a house that’s most likely also over 100 years old, we knew that we would be looking at nonstop home repairs, upgrades, and more. We knew that once we completed a project that it would be onto the next one, and that each project would help us “discover” what the next project would be. All of that has been true up to this point. Fixing the back roof led to us discovering just how much water damage had occurred to a certain area of the community room. Fixing the boiler led us to discover just how many of our radiators were damaged beyond repair. These things happen. Even though it’s not usually the best news to hear that you’re gonna have to find more money and time to fix something else, we’ve decided to take another approach: everything we discover we fix, and every little fix gets us one step closer to our goals. It is a slow process for sure, but we feel that a positive outlook on things makes the process go a whole lot smoother.
And now….onto the updates:
PART ONE: Downstairs at Fidelia Hall
This winter we made a big choice: that our family would be moving into the downstairs space at Fidelia Hall. Why? As with so many parts of our story, it starts with water. We found that there is most likely some kind of a leak behind a few of the walls in our house. Small water leaks are never great, as they are hard to pinpoint and then there’s always the possibility of mold (especially in a house that’s over 100 years old). With all of this in mind, we evaluated where we were at and what we wanted to do and….we’re moving into the downstairs of the old church building.
But there was (and still is) work to be done, and some of that is in the photos above. What you’re seeing is the downstairs space, now free of carpet and a drop ceiling! Underneath the carpet and drop ceiling were two great unpolished gems: a hardwood floor and the original tin ceiling. Both the floor and the tin ceiling are in need of some love, but we’re getting there. Over the last few months, we (Haley and I) have been using an air compressor to blast away any of the chipped and flaking paint on the ceiling. We’ve got one room left and after that we’re onto painting the tin ceiling. That should happen soon! All of the carpet has been pulled up and soon we will head to the local True Value to rent a floor sander and get that hardwood floor back to looking beautiful.
There’s a lot more to do with the downstairs and I’ll just post that here: my parents have been extremely kind and helpful to us with this project and a month ago they purchased a new furnace for the downstairs space. This week we will begin installing that furnace, and after painting the ceiling we will move onto the duct work that will heat the downstairs. A few other projects involve building a downstairs bathroom, fixing up the electrical wires and switches, and then moving onto fixing the kitchen ceiling. Like I said above, everything we discover we fix, and every little fix gets us one step closer to our goals. We will get there.
Once we move into the downstairs space at Fidelia Hall, we will then move onto the next project: gutting the house. Why gut the house? A lot of what exists in the house today was something that was built on top of something that was built on top of something, and so on. You have to remember the history of the space: it was always the home of the pastor of the church and their family. With that in mind, we like to think that all of the repairs done to the house were part of a deal we call the “parishioner’s special”, where the pastor asked members of the church to volunteer their time to help fix up the pastor’s house. A lot of the repairs we’ve seen in the house are totally DIY work, and while these are fine over the years they haven’t held up so well. We want to fix that. With that said, if we dig deep in the house during this process and find that the damage to the bones of the place have been compromised, we may end up tearing down the house. I don’t think it’ll come to this, but who knows. On the plus side, we’ll have more space for gardens and chickens and all of the things we love.
PART TWO: All the other little things
While the downstairs space at Fidelia Hall has been our major focus at the moment, we’re also thinking about everything else. In February, my father, my brother, and I got to visit an old convent in Pittsburgh, PA that was in the process of being torn down. From that convent, we got 10 radiators, 3 fire safe doors, 2 fire safe door frames, a water heater, and a few other odds and ends. It was a day full of a lot of work, but we got what we needed at a really cheap price (only $125!) and we are sure that all of this great recycled stuff will eventually find its way into Fidelia Hall. The radiators will be installed in the upstairs space we’re calling The Great Hall and with a few tweaks they’ll be heating that space up next winter. Finding this stuff second hand was quite an amazing moment for us: while all of this stuff isn’t brand new, it works and it gets us one step closer to our goals.
We hope to complete these repairs by the winter of 2017-2018. Moving into this new space and having heat in the upstairs of Fidelia Hall will allow us to focus on cutting down our utilities (electric/heat for two buildings can get expensive).
PART 3: Spring and Summer and Gardens and Chickens
We love spring and summer and we know you do too. At Fidelia Hall, we really love building gardens, feeding all of the birds around the property, and building flower gardens for the bees and butterflies who live all around us. This year, Haley has come up with some great ideas for the gardens. Expect to see us dabbling in growing some kiwi, apples, and other fruits as well as our standard vegetables. Last year’s straw bale gardens were a success, but this year Haley is interested in hugelkultur for the gardens. What’s hugelkultur? It’s basically the process of taking rotting wood, twigs, branches, and other things and using that to build your gardens. It basically will look like this (image from http://permaculturenews.org/2012/01/04/hugelkultur-composting-whole-trees-with-ease)
And for now, that’s all we got. Thank you to everyone for keeping up with our family, Fidelia Hall, and more. We’re getting there!
Like a computer our brains need to be restarted every once in awhile. Events and shifts over the last few years of my life have made me realize this. I no longer work to only serve kids, tweens, and teens. I no longer live in an urban area. I no longer live in a world which I fully understand. My life these days is very different than what it used to be, and with that I feel the need to reset myself. This post is an attempt to put this reset into practice using words to coalesce my thoughts into one coherent belief that moves me forward in my work as a librarian.
I believe that a strong part of the future of public libraries will be in focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level. This differentiates from where I believe public libraries are focusing their efforts now, which is looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession to see what they are doing before acting themselves. No more is this apparent to me than the recent effort for public libraries to shift a lot of focus towards STEM/STEAM/Makerspace/Coding efforts. Please do not get me wrong: I believe in teaching and exposing citizens to things such as these, yet at the same time I do not believe in a one size fits all solution that can be applied to every public library. This is the case here, as it was with eBooks and any other “trends” in recent history.
The idea that we should be focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level instead of looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession is doing became clear to me when I was completing a survey sent to me by our State Library. In that survey, participants were asked about STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and nothing else. I understand that the point of the survey was to better understand the libraries in my state, but while reading it I thought of the following scenarios as I imagined another librarian in my state reading the email:
The State Library is focused on STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and we’re not doing this at all so we must be very behind.
The State Library created a survey about this, so it must be very important and I must get behind this trend even though I do not know if it is right for my community.
I need to learn more about all things related to STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and if I do not I risk losing patrons and support.
I understand that not everyone will follow one of the paths that I laid out above, but many will. Human beings are creatures of habit and enjoy following the leader. There is probably something embedded into our DNA that makes us this way.
The problem with following the hype and trend of the moment is that it is usually fixated on something that worked well for one particular library and that it does not translate well to other libraries. When I lived in Portland, ME I felt like my library was focused on what happened everywhere else and the idea that “if they’re doing, we should be heading that way too.” In reality, Portland was its own very unique community that needed a specific set of programs and services. A huge part of why I moved to the Chattanooga Public Library in 2013 was because they were looking (and still do) at their programs and services on a hyperlocal level. Programs like DEV DEV, The 4th Floor, Makeanooga, and many more worked and continue to work because they are programs for that community, not programs that were copied/pasted from what someone else in public libraries was doing.
Why are we at where we are now? I believe that social media, large organizations, and large publications have led the charge towards public libraries focusing outwards towards everyone else in the profession instead of inspiring those in the profession to think for themselves and focus inward on their communities. A culture of “here’s how to be successful with your public library in 5 easy steps” combined with ego boosting catchphrases like “rock star librarian” have not helped us but instead presented public libraries with the path of least resistance.
How do we change the conversation?
We need more public librarians out there willing to share their stories about how their focus on a hyperlocal level is benefiting their public library and their community. To start, I recommend following the work of librarians and libraries in New Zealand and Australia. You can do that by starting here with this Twitter list that I have compiled. The work done by the people and organizations is focused, inspiring, and uplifting.
Share through any platform that you feel comfortable with. I personally would like to see an increase in public librarians writing more and maintaining their own blogs or Medium profiles
Remind each other that our communities come before everything and to keep the message positive. Support and reminders from other public librarians is one way that we can spread the message that we need to focus our work locally.
Ditch the hype. Don’t copy and paste. Focus on your Community. This is what I believe to be the path forward.
EXPAND OUR LOCAL HISTORY/GENEALOGY OFFERINGS Titusville, PA has a wonderful and rich history (for a glimpse of it, just read this). As our local public library, I believe that we should be doing as much as possible to make that history accessible to our everyone in the community. To date, we’ve done a few things to increase awareness of our great history. Jess Hilburn started up a blog to share some great local stories she digs up in the Titusville Herald Archives. We’ve got the Titusville Herald archive online for in library use. But in my opinion we’ve got to do more, and slowly but surely we are getting there.
A partnership between the library, the Titusville Historical Society, Drake Well Museum and Park, and the Titusville Alumni Association came about in 2016 and resulted in the beginnings of the Titusville PA Heritage Connection, a website/digital portal that aims to bring all of our organizations together in one online space to make it easier for people to find what they’re looking for. While the site isn’t anywhere near complete, the fact that we have it up and the framework is there is a step in the right direction. A big thank you to our Clarion University of PA intern Kerry Neely for her help in getting this set up!
Since moving to Titusville, PA, I’ve been wishing we’ve had that kind of thing to spur some excitement. Our internet options here in town are lacking, and the ones we can connect to have average to terrible service. HOWEVER, I hope to change that in 2017. To my excitement, I discovered that the town does have fiber internet lines in a few places. After some conversations with people around the community and others in the state, I found out that THERE’S FIBER LINES SURROUNDING THE ENTIRE BENSON MEMORIAL LIBRARY. Here’s a beautiful image of that fiber line coming right down in front of the library and turning right down our alley. Wow.
In 2017, I’m gonna do my best to get us connected to these fiber lines so that in the future we can offer better internet access to our patrons. I don’t know how this will look, I don’t know how much this will cost, and I don’t know if I’ll fully succeed, but I’m going to try. As far as I know, we’d be the second institution in Titusville to access this connection (the University of Pitt at Titusville is the first) and the first public space to offer high internet speeds. Like I said above, we’ll see, but for now I’m gonna dream big and try out something that’s potentially huge for our community.
PROGRAMS, PROGRAMS, PROGRAMS
One of the big things that libraries do best these days is to offer educational and fun programs for all ages. In 2016, we’re going to have offered 320 programs that were attended by over 8,000 community members. That’s not bad for a public library that has a service area of around 14,000 people.
2017 is gonna bring a lot more of that and hopefully in larger numbers. I can’t and won’t take my foot off of the gas pedal when it comes to programming in libraries. We have to constantly be offering something to our community members. Programs are unique to libraries and something that we do very well. Story times and after school clubs work best for our younger audience, while nighttime events and musical performances work well for our adult and senior citizen crowd. We plan on having more of those throughout the year.
DO MORE TO ESTABLISH THE LIBRARY AS A COMMUNITY SPACE One of the best things public libraries have going for their is their space. Most, if not all of us, have amazing buildings in centrally located areas. These buildings are one of our biggest assets. They do some of the simplest things that a library can do: provide space, warmth, comfort, and adventure. I’ve been thinking and speaking about this idea for a few years, and in 2017 I hope to do more to make that idea more cohesive and understandable to everyone out there.
STAY POSITIVE No matter what we face directly in front of us in 2017, we have to remember that there is love and support all around us. Take a look around at your online social networks, groups like EveryLibrary, and your local community organizations that support the library. Take a moment and look at the community members you serve on a daily basis at your library. All of these groups and all of these people believe in the work that you do. I’m going to do my best to keep that up front in my head and my heart in 2017. I urge you all to do the same.
Let’s get it out of the way before we jump into everything: 2016 wasn’t a great year for most of us and there are way too many reasons out there to put here into this blog so I’m not gonna do that. Let’s try something else, something that we all remember from way back in 2014-2015: positivity.
At the time of this writing, I have successfully arisen from my slumber on 337 out of the 366 days in 2016. I’ve spent most of the time I have been awake during those 337 days doing two things: spending it with my family or working for my community. I don’t have a fancy photo or some numbers to show you to back this up. I can just promise you that my family, our home, and the Benson Memorial Library continue to exist, thrive, and go about doing things that have a positive impact on the world. It’s the only thing that we know how to do.
I have enjoyed listening to all kinds of music. I’ve played so much Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I’ve got to watch some great films. I can’t recall what their titles were but they were enjoyable in the moment.
I did eat way too much food and I didn’t go on enough walks. I am going to do my best to fix that in 2017.
I really enjoyed meeting lots of new people this year as I did some traveling. I think traveling is the best…you get a chance to connect with people you have never met before, and in doing so your world grows and you grow as a person. I never want to stop growing and being a better Justin. I think that’s where my recent obsession with cyborgs comes from. Cyborgs can upgrade and change. I’ve been trying to figure out a way that I can do that myself as a human being. I think I’ve got it!
Goodbye to you 2016. I can’t think of a better way to say au revoir than Bowie’s Lazarus.
This way or no way You know, I’ll be free Just like that bluebird Now ain’t that just like me