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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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.

 

A New Career In A New Town, Chattanooga, TN, Family, Libraries, Life, Portland, ME, Titusville, PA

A New Career In a New Town: Librarians on the Move

I make an effort to check into LinkedIn at least once a week. As a social network, it is pretty pitiful but as a place where you can update and display your resume it works like a charm. I mostly use it as a way to track what I’ve done in libraries in case I need my resume or to put something I’ve done into an official document/grant/etc.

I’ve been going on there recently because I’ve been updating my resume. Right now I’m in this head space where I am seeing what else is out there when it comes to library jobs and, if it fits some very specific parameters, I am applying to those jobs. I figure this: why not, I’ll only live once, and if something inspires me why not give it a shot? So…I’m applying to some jobs. We’ll see what happens. Maybe it will be my next step, maybe it will just be an interview experience, or maybe it will be nothing. It doesn’t hurt to try something new.

I’ve also had to come face to face with my work history as I update my resume. When I moved to Chattanooga, TN a lot of people told me I was nuts because it was another job and that my resume was growing to look like I go from job to job. This always irked me. To me, it wasn’t about moving from job to job. To me it was all about getting the  experience I craved and moving up into roles which challenged me. I guess it could be an age thing. The people who doubted my moves were also people who had been at the same library for 10+ years. At some point in my life I may like that, but for the moment (and I guess it continues to this day) I crave growth, learning, and adventure.

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“RESUME STUFF”

A new job at a new library in a new town is just that: a way to experience the world, to grow as a person, to learn more, and to give back something to a community. When I was younger I used to think this a lot: “if I’m not growing, then I must be dying” and as I write this post that comes back to me.

I also think about the librarian profession and how screwed up it can be for those searching for jobs or looking for experience in their current job. Not every library and not every state are created equally, and you’ll see this in the details of every state library organization page and their job opportunities page. For example, the Pennsylvania Library Association recommends a salary of $59,791/year for a “Full-time librarian who supervises at least three professional librarians”. At my current job I am the director who supervises 7 employees and I make $35,000 /year. Go ahead and browse the other jobs on the PALA Library Job Openings and see what else is out there. I see a Part Time Teen Librarian job that pays $30,000/year and a Children’s Librarian job that pays $32,000-$37,000/year. And let’s not forget how hard it might be to “level up” at your current place of work. What if there’s no way to get into management at your current library but all you want to do someday is be a director? What can you do? In both of these cases, you look for your next adventure, a new job at a new library in a new town.

To end, I bring it all back around to my experience and my time in libraries. Despite what others have said, I am not hopping from job to job because I’m discontent. What I’m doing is looking for that next challenge and that next growth opportunity. If I ain’t growing, I must be dying. In the name of complete honesty and transparency, here’s where I’ve and why I’ve made a move. Have fun. And remember, if someone tells you that you need to stick around just so it looks good, give them the truth. You wanna grow. You wanna learn. You wanna go on an adventure. Trust you gut. Follow your heart.

  • 2 years in New Jersey? I was an entry level teen librarian who wanted to gain management experience, plus I couldn’t afford to live and buy a house in New Jersey.
  • 3 years in Maine? I was a teen librarian who got basic management experience and was not able to move up in that library system so I left for a job who really wanted me to come work for them AND which gave me a lot of management experience.
  • 2 years in Chattanooga? I was a Youth Services Manager but I felt the urge to move into a Library Director role, plus life in the South just wasn’t what my family and I were looking for (too hot and muggy for us east coast people).
  • 2.5 years in Titusville? I am a director but I get paid $25,000 below state average and I am looking for work that pays me a better living wage so that my family and I do not need to be on food stamps. I also crave challenge, be that as a director of a bigger library or in a leadership/administrative role at a larger library.
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:

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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:

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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, Local History & Genealogy, 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, Fidelia Hall, Life, Titusville, PA

Fidelia Hall (Winter/Spring 2017 Update)

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Photo by Nadine Byers

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 

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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

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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

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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)

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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!

 

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Management

District Consultant (Librarian III) Erie and Crawford County

 

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Hey all! My library (Benson Memorial Library) is part of the Erie/Crawford Library District and guess what? They’re looking for a new District Consultant!

You can view the full job posting by clicking here

If I was in a different place in my life, I would apply for this job! It is a great chance to make a difference for two counties in Northwestern PA. There is lots of great potential here!