Saturday, December 7, 2013

Building Community, Building Archives in Any Institution

People love to share their thoughts. They want to announce what is important to them. They want to see if what is important to them is important to others. They want to acknowledge shared traditions, noting differences, and making others' knowledge part of their own. One of the primary purposes of Archives is to capture individual experiences and to hold them together with other life stories. This enables our communities and those yet to come to extend their community circle. The stories that sit on our shelves are the stories of US. The archives represent individuals who have been acknowledged by us. Their experiences have been saved so that they may share their thoughts and we may make their knowledge part of our own.

Festive winter picture adds to the ambience
of this post. (Yes?)
These experiences do not need to just come to us passively to enter the Archives. We can build them. You can build experiences (and traditions) at a genealogy conference, in a public library, or with your family in your home. December is a ripe time for building community experiences - capturing the laughter and love, and creating a circle that brings in those who might normally feel left out. This is a difficult time of year for many and your institution can be a grounding force if you choose that path.

With all of this in mind, I have designated December as a special month in my institution. My goal is to help bring my large school community together in my library, to capture the experience of togetherness and to build upon it throughout the year. Each December we will pause to focus on traditions and diversity by bringing a microscope to who were are as a group.

So what did we do?

We began in November with our Tree of Thanks. This is the second year we've done it and it is wildly successful. The students love telling us for what they are thankful. We have people who tell us they are thankful for family. We have students who wrote the names of their best friends. We had others who were thankful for their phones. etc. etc. Some of the thanks are unusual, many are the same - togetherness and diversity in one. All of the leaves we placed on our tree last month have been saved and put in our school archives.

This month we are building a paper chain that lists our favorite books. What began as a simple way to decorate our library and generate some discussion about reading has become a challenge. Some students told me that they don't like to read, so I made them reach back to their early childhoods to remind them to think about how much they loved Dr. Seuss or Winnie the Pooh. Some students still didn't have anything to write down or resisted, so we've been having conversations about why they don't like to read. I ordered some books without words to show them another way of "reading" and we can build from there. We are hopefully building a tradition and culture of reading. Our main immediate goal has become to build a paper chain that wraps all the way around our large library. English teachers are grabbing piles of colored paper so that their classes will write books down and bring them to add to the library chain. I've been walking around every period talking to students and getting those slips into their hands. I then take their slips to add or let them add their own links to the chain if they want. And yes, the paper chain will become part of our school archives.

Last month we had an exhibit about food traditions that included recipes from our school community. Yes, the recipe book will become part of our archives. This month the exhibit morphed from looking at our own local foods to examining foods around the world. We took it one step further. Every Wednesday is food tradition sharing day this month in the library. I brought in potato pancakes this week. One of my marvelous library assistants brought Bucle de Noel. A family that is very active in our community supplied Hanukkah cookies. (Thank you community Mom. You know who you are and I assume that you are reading this! ;) We offered the food at the end of an early period of the day. It went fast. Word spread throughout the school fast. I walked around the library and asked students if they had tasted those foods and what they thought. Everyone liked the food and very few had tasted those dishes previously. We've asked staff and students to bring in their own traditional foods this coming week. I can't wait! The foods we offer this month will be noted and included in our archives. I'd love to build this up next year to capture students reactions...hmmm, maybe I can do that next week.

We have an extensive craft table set up this month to make ornaments that students can take home or hang on our "tree of thanks." The tree of thanks has morphed into a December holiday tree. I am trying to tell each and every person I see in the library about the craft table. Saved ornaments? Part of a special "archives" that will be reused each year so we can remember past students. Also, this month we will also have our second annual chess championship. This year it will become a Chess and Checkers event. We have a certificate of achievement handing on our wall with last year's champion who was a senior. We remember him and his certificate will be removed and stored in the school archives to make room for this year's champion.

We are making paper right before the holiday. This paper will bound into journals to help celebrate our school's anniversary...but I'll give more information on that in a later post.

And on and on...I have goals to bring the food sharing to the halls next year. I envision English classes writing poetry to put in our Archives. (It's poetry slam month and I'm judging in a week.) I can see our inclusive activities growing and being a regular part of the library and archives each and every month with December putting a cap on it all.

Yes, all of this can be done at home. Some of it can be done in your office. It can most certainly be adapted for your library, archives and museum. Record, record, record your events. It matters to your sense of community.

Have a very happy holiday season. I'll try to write at least one more update before the end of the year and I will also fit in the ArchivesInfo annual Top Ten and Year in Review.

Feel free to comment and share your family, archives, library and museum December inclusive traditions. I'd love to here them!

1 comment:

  1. Melissa, I have always appreciated your underlying theme of building community, and you have certainly showcased that here!

    In addition, these same efforts to build community can extend to the many organizations to which we belong. I think some non-profits and religious organizations are so busy with the overwhelming tasks of today's to-do list that they lose the sense of the need for retrospection.

    Every organization needs a historian--even the new ones and those who pride themselves on their "modern" mission. Each organization undergoes a process, and in the long run, that process becomes a history. We gift ourselves with organizational insight when we find ways to preserve our own history.

    Your post reminds me of the value of doing so for every organization.