Category Archives: Public Libraries

Subversive thoughts on National Library Week 2017

Librarians are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them.” Michael Moore 

As usual, Michael Moore sees beyond, behind, through and inside the exterior of things, events, buildings – and people.  Which is why this quote got me thinking about this National Library Week post.

National Library Week matters because if only because the theme gives us pause to think about how or whether “libraries transform lives,” as this year’s NLW theme asserts. (http://www.ala.org/news/mediapresscenter/factsheets/nationallibraryweek)

For most of us the word “library” prompts visual images of stately buildings of days gone by, rows of neatly shelved tomes, acres of accessible technology, children’s reading corners and quiet carrels.  For some nostalgic bibliophiles, there’s even an old book smell….

And yet, libraries are not just places.  What the library user sees is the physical manifestation of an intricate collaboration of library workers who breathe life into what is a truly human process.   It is human beings who select the library’s holdings, organize the collection, know how to locate resources through a maze of interlibrary connections, maneuver their way through print and digital reference tools, read to children, deliver resources to the homebound, partner with researchers, and otherwise link a unique bit of recorded information – a book, database, video, story or archive — with a seeker who has a need and right to know.

My thought is that NLW should be re-branded, maybe as National “Libraryness Week.”  Though obviously that’s not going to happen, rebranding would shine the light on the essence of the whole, the countless roles that committed library workers play – when they’re plotting not a revolution but a path from seeker to source, unlikely source to ready seeker.

The sometimes rugged path is laid by a team of library workers who shape the reality that comes full circle in the physical library setting – whether that’s an iconic Carnegie public library, a laboratory, law firm, elementary school, university campus, hospital or church basement.  Physical settings are essential but inert – human beings plot, then create, the settings, the flow of information and ideas, and the path that leads to learning.

Michael Moore nails it – those library workers aren’t just sitting there, or shelving or cataloging or reading to a group of six-year-olds or delving into a rare tome or deciphering a reference question.  Toiling in back rooms and endless meetings, they are, in fact, plotting a revolution, a revolution built on an informed democracy in which people seek truth, embrace wisdom, learn from the past, and share the intellectual legacy of a free people.

One of my favorite high school memories is of a beloved teacher with a mission who would dash down the hall declaring with gusto that she was “on her way to combat ignorance!”  That’s how I think of library workers who 1) design and share an integrated system that assures that every voter, student, inventor, parent, historian, new American, researcher, educator, caregiver or avid mystery reader has the opportunity to exercise the inalienable right to know, and 2) go to the max to see that truth-seekers have the skills, attitudes and awareness to make the information and ideas their own.

Though I wish I had a more poetic word for it I’m stuck for now with the idea of “libraryness” to express my commitment to this democratic – and increasingly essential — role of librarians and libraries – the port in the storm engulfing this nation’s truth-seekers.  The whole of libraryness is far greater than the sum of its parts; the strength of libraryness rests not only on ready access to recorded resources but on the creative vision and commitment of library workers.

Yes, we celebrate library buildings, library books, digital resources, archives, photos, magazines, devices, games, information collected, produced and consumed in ever-changing formats.  For me, this library quote “puts a face” on the wholeness and outcome of libraryness – an outcome impossible to measure, essential to preserve:

Librarians are just like search engines, except they smile and they talk to me and they don’t give me paid-for advertising when they are trying to help.  And they have actual hearts.

* * *

P.S. When/if you’re at Minneapolis Central Library visit the NLW exhibits that  include some lesser known treasures  that tell the story of libraries and librarian.  While you’re at the Central Library visit special collections to check out the excellent exhibit of digital resources that give reveal the treasures of the Library’s special collections: https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/opening-library-archives-from-the-outside-in

Honor library workers of yore who paved an early path on which today’s information highways are constructed by clicking on this NPR broadcast: http://www.npr.org/2017/04/13/522606808/file-this-under-nostalgia-new-book-pays-tribute-to-the-library-card-catalog?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20170413

 

Building a collection and a community: The John Glanton F Collection

I believe that any people’s story is every people’s story, and that from stories, we can all learn something to enrich our lives.

Harriette Gillem Robinet

Building the library from the outside in comes full circle as the Hennepin County Library Digital Collections staff reaches out to further develop the John F. Glanton Collection of photographs. The 800 photographs in the collection reflect, and capture for posterity, the lives of African Americans who lived in the Twin Cities during the post WWII years.

In brief, John F. Glanton (1923-2004), a civil engineer by profession, was also an accomplished photographer.   With the fervor, without the solipsism, of today’s selfie enthusiasts, he carried his Graflex black and white camera everywhere – to weddings, parties, sports events, musical performances, church functions and family gatherings – wherever members of African American community of St. Paul and Minneapolis gathered during the late 1940’s.

Though Glanton didn’t talk much about his photographic collection, when he died at age 80, his family discovered and recognized the value the permanent record he had created. Fortunately, they realized that the collection deserved to be shared with posterity. The family donated the entire collection of 800 photographic negatives to the Hennepin County Library Special Collections.

Recognizing the value of the visual record, librarians encountered just one challenge:   Glanton was more interested in capturing, than captioning…

The photographer who had recorded all those hundreds of images had not identified his subjects – no doubt because the viewers would easily recognize their friends and family!

The solution: To build the collection from the outside in by engaging the public in the process – and fun – of identifying the subjects of Glanton’s photos.

Thus, on a warm day last July, generous members of the public gathered at Hosmer Library to enhance the resources of the Hennepin County Library by supplying names – and stories — for the subjects that Glanton had photographed.   The story of that project was widely shared in the local press; check these links for an overview of what’s preserved in the Glanton collection:

Members of the public also participated in follow-up sessions again at Hosmer Library and at St Peter Claver Church in St Paul.

Today, the photographs, now digitized, captioned and partially searchable, are an important feature of the Library’s Digital Collections. (See earlier posts on this blog.) And yet, the Glanton Collection remains a work-in-progress. Because many of Glanton’s subjects are not yet identified librarians continue to turn to the public to lend their eyes and memories to the group effort.

One way to contribute is as easy as a click on the collection to view the photos; if you are able to identify an event or subject, simply make a note in the “comments” section at the bottom of the screen for each photo. http://digitalcollections.hclib.org/cdm/search/collection/p17208coll1 Another possibility is to contact the library directly (specialcoll@hclib.org or 612 543 8200) to share the information or to obtain further information.

Or make it a social event by taking part in a gathering similar to the Hosmer and St. Peter Claver events. Staff of Special Collections are now working with staff at Sumner Library to schedule a Glanton Collection event in North Minneapolis, tentatively set for sometime in March. Staff are also working with the family that donated the photographs to plan an event during Black History Month in February.

 

Search Tips: Hennepin County Library Digital Collections

The best way to explore the possibilities of the Hennepin County Library Digital Collections is to just plunge in – some very basics to know before you take that first dive:

The Digital Collections may be accessed from anywhere at any time – no library card is needed.

  • There are two ways to find your way into the digital collections: You may go from the Library’s website: org>browse>digital collections or go directly to digitalcollectionshclib.org. 
  • Librarians suggest that you start your search from the broadest angle; search across all collections rather than a specific collection.
  • Collections are keyword searchable or searchable by field
  • Descriptive information attached to each item will link you to related content
  • The items digitized from the existing collection generally cover Minneapolis and Hennepin County historical topics — which is not in the least restrictive since local residents have always been engaged in world events, politics, immigration and every other conceivable area that involves human beings! It’s just the Minnesota slant on what’s happening.
  • Focus tends to be on images, i.e. photos in most cases.   Still there is some text, including letters, manuscripts, diaries, yearbooks, and more.
  • It’s important to remember that the collection is open-ended, i.e. New materials are constantly being digitized and added to the collection. These are living documents. If the yearbook you’re looking forward isn’t online yet, wait a bit and it will be added.
  • Note re yearbook: Because of copyright laws the yearbook collection is digitized through 1977.
  • Full resolution downloads are available for most items in the collections. Depending on the digitized material specific items may be downloaded as jpg files or pdf files.

More tips to follow  – after you get your feet wet and your appetite whetted!!!

For an intro to the HCL Digital Collections go to previous post:  https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/opening-library-archives-from-the-outside-in/

 

 

 

Opening library archives – from the outside in

The concept of preserving history, collating full archives, making them as usable as possible so the public have access to them, I really feel that it allows the public an ability to engage with their own history. Sarah Harrison, journalist

For the past couple of weeks I have been exploring an endless profusion of photos, letters, yearbooks, and more photos – from the comforts of home!   I have actually been trying to learn enough about the new Digital Collections platform at Hennepin County Library so I could post an informed post for this blog.

Thinking I needed a bit more skill in searching the massive collection – and a better sense of the possibilities I might be missing — I made my way to Special Collections, 4th Floor at the Minneapolis Central Library, just to see if they might have a helpful cheat sheet….

Hearing my query, Librarian Bailey Diers demonstrated some of the tricks of the searching trade. Actually, she offered a brilliant tutorial for my colleague and me.

And yet, that’s not the topic of this blog.

What really came through to me is the premise of this new HCL Digital Collections! It’s akin to thinking of the library’s collection from the outside in.

First of all the content of the archives began with the lives of the people of this region – whether it’s high school yearbooks or photos of famous visitors or the local newspaper, it’s OUR story – a story that the library has forever valued, collected and preserved. Though the library has always played this role, it is seldom the main thrust of a major initiative.

Just as important, it is significant that the library is turning to the community to enhance the collection. The story of matching names of individuals in the Glanton collection is unique and telling. More on this aspect of the current project later.

Third, is the implicit fact that the entire focus of the digital project is on users who are not IN the library. We have long been able to search the catalog from home, but with the current project we have a deep dive into the essence of the recorded history of this community. The relationship between the library, specifically the library staff, is reoriented – and it is healthy for the system and for the user.

Digitization is not a new technique and remote access to library collections is not a revolutionary idea. What seems to me unique in this initiative is the focus on the stories of the local community – a way for us to see ourselves and our history at the core of the library’s role as a unique community resource.

Another intriguing aspect of the project is the story of the library’s turning to the community to augment the existing archives. More later on that project and searching tips in forthcoming posts.

 

 

Autumn Leaves Lots to Learn!

There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen, as if it could not be, as if it had not been!  

Percy Bysshe Shelley

The harmony and luster of autumn somehow inspire us to learn, to engage, to think deep thoughts about “life, the universe and everything.” The good news is that creative colleagues offer food for thought in the form of theater, literature, film, stories and more. Once again, the in-basket is so full of intriguing programs and activities that I plucked just a few that might ignite some plans. To be sure, the list is random, incomplete, intended as a prompt not a calendar of possibilities!

* Theatre Latte Da opens the new season with production of Ragtime, the award- winning tale of life in turn-of-the-century New York, the melting pot of Jewish immigrants, a woman of privilege, and a Harlem musician. The musical, based on the book by E.L. Doctorow, opens September 21 and runs through October 23. (http://www.theaterlatteda.com)

* A reminder that the Twin Cities Zine Fest is set for Saturday September 24 – details in earlier post (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/twin-cities-zine-fest-2016/)

* Stories, Down by the Riverside are featured when storytellers Larry Johnson and Elaine Wyne share their experiences – and those of past residents, their friends and neighbors. It’s Sunday, September 25, 2:00 p.m. at the Hennepin History Museum, (http://www.hennepinhistory.org) They’ll spin tales of “The Great Richter Drug Store Robbery,” “The Day the Old Radio Dramas Vanished” and one about thousands of Minneapolis school children who, in 1896, pulled the John and Helen Stevens house from Cedar-Riverside to Minnehaha Park. Guests will be invited to share their own stories of the Cedar-Riverside community.

* The well-received Women’s Human Rights Film Series sponsored by The Advocates for Human Rights launches September 21; the series is a collaboration with the Saint Paul Public Library where the films will be shown at area public libraries during the weeks to come. “Profiled”, set for September 21, at the Hamline Midway Library, relates the stories of mothers of Black and Latin youth murdered by the NYPD, depicting how the women channel their anger into a struggle for justice. “Red Light Green Light,” set for Thursday, October 13, at the St. Anthony Park Library, explores several nations’ efforts to prevent and cope with the travesty of sex trafficking. “Don’t Tell Anyone”, showing Wednesday, November 3, depicts the life of a young woman who is undocumented, one of the generation of DREAMers “eager to end their silence and push for social change.” All films will be shown at 6:30 p.m. (http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/womens_human_rights_film_series)

* Writer and teacher Wendy Brown Baez (http://www.wendybrownbaez.com/POP-UP-Readings.html) is all about Pop Up Readings, aka Classroom in a Backpack. The first Pop Up workshop is set for Wednesday, September 21, 6:30 p.m. at Eat My Words Books (http://www.eatmywordsbooks.com)

* Nimbus Theatre will inaugurate their new home with an original production of The Kalevala set to run October 8-30. The show is written and adapted by Liz Neerland and directed by Josh Cragun. Based on the 19th century epic of the same name, the original nimbus production overflows with fantasy, giants, gods, maidens and others of their ilk set in the “fierce lands of the north” (https://www.nimbustheatre.com/discover/production/kalevala)

* A quick reminder that the Twin Cities Book Festival is set for Saturday, Octobber 115 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. More about this free event in a separate post.

I’m so glad I live in a world where there is autumn.

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

 

Lifelong Learning Thrives on Digital Digging

After a work life ruled by a cluttered desk calendar I’ve shed blind allegiance to a schedule. Evolving technology has only reinforced my disinclination to commit to the calendar or clock. This somehow justifies my reluctance to register for classes, concert series, monthly meetings, haircuts and most especially medical appointments.

The drive for independent, affordable learning is reinforced by the inability to pay for OLLI or college credits, health club membership or store-bought books. I find that learning thrives when sparked by the freedom to carpe diem and that an active life of the mind is best measured not by the learner’s ability to pay but by his or her thirst for knowledge

Thinking and writing about Older Americans Month which starts today (May 1) sparks thoughts about the freedom that seniors have to explore the borders of knowledge. I originally categorized this independent path as “random acts of learning” – till I compulsively googled the phrase and learned that there’s a blog thus named….A little learning can be a deflating thing….

Still, “Poking Around with Mary” fairly well describes my thrifty and rigor-free methodology. “Poking Around” is the term my friend would use to describe my learning style — how I would hop off the bus to check out a neighborhood or drop in at an outdoor concert or start up a conversation with a stranger while we stood in line for a common purpose, or pursue a person, place or idea on the web.   That, she said, was “poking around” and the blog could simply reflect the “pokes.”

Writing for the blog frequently inspires me to poke a little deeper. Now, when I hear of or see something of interest – a display, an event, a park, a coffee shop, a reading space, a specialty shop, a book – I want to learn more – and to share what I’ve learned. Blogs are great for ad hoc poking around, especially when fueled by a compulsion to share….

Since most of my learning is random it’s a challenge to list, much less categorize, the options. Some random thoughts:

  • My favorite poke is probably bookstores, especially used bookstores, where it’s all wonderfully random – authors, subjects, eras, format, language. I tell myself I can identify with all those writers, then internalize their ideas and literary style through osmosis. In fact, it’s the bibliophiles who tend these bookstores that truly inspire me to hang out and learn. Several blog posts reflect this love of bookstores – more to follow.
  • Similarly, many libraries are good, some are great. Librarians are often genetically disposed to share the quest for knowledge. Libraries of all types – public, college, even corporate, church, ethnic and other special libraries, are interconnected in functional networks that facilitate access through any portal – physical or digital. For most learners, the public library is the best port of entry and the most convenient way to explore the learning opportunities, ranging from public programs to home delivery. MNLink https://www.mnlinkgateway.org/zportal/zengine?VDXaction=ZSearchSimple offers a handy gateway to the endless possibilities. Still, especially with libraries, it’s often best to shop locally.
  • Those who work in great libraries are fortunate and indispensable fellow travelers on the path to learning, James K. Hosmer Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library (http://www.hclib.org/specialcollections\ is unchallenged as my favorite because of the incredible collection, stellar service, and the ambient environment that inspires serious research. Check the website – hours are severely limited.
  • The archives at the University of Minnesota are beyond wonderful. Exploring the Archives blog http://www.continuum.umn.edu/primary-sourcery/#.VyShhUtEB4M is both random and revealing of unimagined – yet essential – resources.   And if you’ve been wondering about what’s planned for the Bell Museum Library check https://www.bellmuseum.umn.edu
  • Libraries and librarians are inclined to listen to the needs of learners who have physical challenges to reading or to poking around the collections; seniors sometimes fail to realize how many learning options are accessible at or through their local library. In fact there are statewide and national networks set up to expand options beyond the local collection. One of several good starting points can be found here: http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/StuSuc/Lib/MBTBL/AudioBks/index.html
  • For a thorough and timely guide to resources there is no more comprehensive resource than that prepared by staff of the Legislative Reference Library. http://www.leg.state.mn.us/LRL/LINKS/links?links=disabled
  • You’ve probably visited the Minnesota History Center, but have you checked out the library? (http://sites.mnhs.org/library/) Though it’s accessible virtually the setting inspires the will to know more. I am always in awe of the serious learning in progress as scholars, genealogists, History Day students, journalists and PhD hopefuls plumb the State’s historic record. [I find it’s best to refresh with coffee and a muffin at Café Minnesota and/or a stop at one of the irresistible museum shops.
  • Though I have made pit stops at most state agency libraries that collaborate through the Capitol Area Library Consortium I know for certain that all constantly evolve and grow, add resources and programs, and create a unique corporate culture. The great news is that searcher can take a virtual tour with just one click of the CALCO directory. http://mn.gov/library/directory.pdf) A quick tour underscores Governor Perpich’s vision of the “brainpower state”, built on a firm foundation of accessible information services and top-notch professionals who build and mine the power of the resources accessible through this network of libraries and librarians.
  • Over time Pokings have taken me and readers to unique library settings. One of my former Northeast neighborhood haunts, the Polish American Cultural Institute of Minnesota (PACIM http://pacim.org) has found new digs and new life on the banks of the Mississippi.  The original blog post is woefully dated so check out the new profile and site to learn the latest – and check the online catalog to learn more about the library collection.
  • Though I haven’t visited yet I’m impressed with the collection, the programming and the mission of the East Side Freedom Library. The very special library fosters ideas and action in the former Arlington Hills branch of the St. Paul Public Library. Again, the library features a unique collection and a robust public programming agenda. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/east-side-freedom-library-gives-new-life-to-carnegie-library-st-paul-neighborhood/

One goal of taking this approach on the first day of Older Americans Month is to ease the way into a longer range goal – to demonstrate in tangible and useful ways far exceed most newbies expectation – it just depends on the keeper of the keys to envisions worlds far beyond shopping, paying bills, FB and email.   Armchair learning is within ready reach of any keeper of the keys for whom the goal is to learn.

Life experience tells me that everyone wants to know more about something – it might be presidential politics or polo, violin making or veterans, Iron Range history or hieroglyphics, football or food safety, car repair or climate change, Russian literature or road construction, immigration or isotopes, antiquities or animal protection…

The pitch today is “there’s an app for that” – in my mind, “there’s an opp for that” – an opportunity to enrich the life of the mind. Though the app may unlock the digital door it remains to the seeker to carpe diem. Bear in mind that “on the Internet, nobody knows [much less cares] you’re an “’Older American.”(1)

(1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Internet,_nobody_knows_you’re_a_dog

 

Featuring Fun Food for the Mind at the Fair

The Snelling Avenue Bridge is re-opened – a good sign that the Great Minnesota Get Together must be nigh. As always, the state’s highways and by-ways are at the ready for action – in fact, they are already teeming with vendors, exhibitors, builders, chefs, entertainers, transit drivers and others converging on the Fairgrounds to do what needs to be done to ensure that all is in readiness for Thursday, August 27, when the gates open!

Liberal arts majors and their progeny may want to take note of some Fair favorites that are long on bargain, short on deep fried edibles.

Representatives of the Minnesota Historical Society are a visible and audible presence all week. They’re performing at the Schilling Amphitheater with their popular “History-on-a-Schtick!” vaudeville show. Or orient yourself to the fairgrounds with a cell phone walking tour around the grounds. Listen to fascinating stories of Minnesota State Fair history while you learn about the buildings and the stories those walls can tell. MHS also sponsors a booth in the Education Building where visitors can learn about the organization’s resources, the statewide network and outreach activities.

Wednesday, September 2, is library day at the Fair. The first treat of “Read&Ride Day” comes at the gate when public library cardholders will get discounted admission. From 9:00-5:00 Carousel Park will be abuzz with activities for every age, including yoyo tricks, magic, hypnotism, old-time and bluegrass music. For young readers and reader wanabes there are muscle and brain-building activities, picture books, a scavenger hunt, bookmarks and more. Visitors who show their library card will get a deck of “Get Carded: Make your next stop the library” playing cards.

Rain Taxi will join the September 2 reading bonanza with a full schedule of events, starting at 9:00 with the chance to write a short “good morning poem” using impromptu exercises with poet John Colburn. At 10:30 Moorhead teacher Kevin Carollo will craft cardboard animals, while poet Paula Cisewski will write an on-the-spot poem based on the requester’s Tarot cards.

Also from Rain Taxi, from 1:00-2:00 Minnesota hip-hop writer and performer Dessa will sign copies of her Rain Taxi chapbook, A Pound of Steam. From 2:00–3:30 poet-troubadour Brian Laidlaw will lead a drop-in songwriting workshop. And from 3:30-5:00 graphic novelist and comics professor Ursula Murray Husted will create a gigantic collaborative comic – fun for all ages.

** Public Library Day is funded by the Minnesota Legacy Fund.

P.S. Just as I polished off this post the latest news from Minitex popped up – featuring a tempting smorgasbord of top ten fun things to do at the Fair. https://news.minitex.umn.edu/news/library-news/top-10-things-do-state-fair-read-ride-day.  Click and learn!