Sunday, October 28, 2012

Collaboration is our Destination!

A school does not educate in isolation. A whole community has a vested interest in raising learned children who can help the town grow and prosper. The institutions in a place can play a great role in helping to educate students. In turn, engaging students will benefit the institutions by encouraging patronage, support, discussion, and a shared sense of belonging that supports common interests.

A school has always been a valued part of the community. Rather than rehashing the history of public education here, I refer you to a good source on the subject. PBS has a great web site devoted to the story of public education in the U.S. and ran a four part series on the subject:

America's noble experiment -- universal education for all citizens -- is a cornerstone of our democracy.

A large goal for cultural heritage institutions should be to support the engagement of the community and to work with appropriate people in schools to support common interests. I have spent my career on the cultural heritage side, reaching out to schools and others to demonstrate what resources such institutions can share. I am now on the other side, but remain dedicated to the idea of promoting the value of museum, libraries and archives. To this end, in my role as a high school information specialist, I met this week with a member of the local historical society to discuss how we can collaborate to support each other. Upon initial discussions, this is what we may seek to do.
  • Teaching - Support public education using resources from the historical society. An initial goal is to review sources at the historical society to see what information they have about our school so that we may prepare for an upcoming anniversary celebration. I hope to involve a school archives committee made up of students and teachers in the research process.
  • Exhibiting - Provide the historical society with space for exhibits within our library that relate to school interests. This will support our curricula and allow the society to show off their collections and make stronger community connections.
  • Outreach - Perform outreach to the community together to help support our anniversary project at the high school, to seek materials that support out mutual interests in caring for historical materials related to the community, and to support programming, events and more.

I have a long list of other ways we can build a relationship with our new historical society friends.  This initial three pronged strategy can help build a base for cooperation, making everyone aware of the potential, avoiding stepping on anyone's toes, and remaining flexible and open about our needs, general ideas, and potential collaborative strategies.

These orphaned rewards of merit are some of my favorite
things among my personal antique shop finds. They can
(and have) hoped sparked interest in archives among students.
I hope that we may find some more interesting things in
our historical society collaboration that may relate directly
to our own community and students' worlds.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Time Capsules Still Mark Milestones

When asked about her school's history, she answered that she had a memory of a time capsule buried here when the building was erected. It may be just another artifact waiting for us to find it. Dinosaur bones. Gold nuggets in a riverbed. Lost tombs. My grandmother's ring lost while busy at play when I was five. Perhaps someone will find the artifact. Perhaps someone already has. Perhaps it will sit forever, watching people come and go, witnessing the changing seasons with no feeling at all. Still. Lost. Almost forgotten.

December, 2015, marks the 50th anniversary of my school building. That thought hit me during our first school archives meeting this week. I sat with a library assistant and our first student archives volunteer, a freshman, who will be spending her senior year with us when the milestone is reached. We were discussing how to launch into a school archives. What can garner enough interest to encourage many volunteers who will stay to see the growth of this project? Anniversaries often mark great archives launching opportunities. How fortuitous is it that our building's 50th anniversary approaches?

A few years ago, I served as an advisor on a time capsule project for the high school in the town in which I live.  The time capsule was made by a member of the first senior class to be graduated from the school. With this memory in the back of my head, I had the thought that the high school where I work must have a time capsule somewhere. Perhaps one was placed in the cornerstone of the building. Perhaps one was placed sometime during the last fifty years to mark a special occasion such as the lunar landing or the end of the cold war.

Many stories of past generations and our historical
communities remain hidden. I found this album in an
antique shop. I wonder what gems are hidden right under
my feet!

We've begun spreading the word about our work. The high school Friday memo, newsletter, morning announcements, flyers, web site, and our twitter feed are the first places we are reaching out. We are telling about our plan to collect the historical documents and other artifacts of our school, with an initial focus on comparing the students of the two-thousand teens with the students of the 1960s. From this idea, we will create a collection development policy and begin recruiting committee members.

Oral history will likely play a large role in our archives. The library assistant who participated in our first meeting has already approached some of the older staff members. One woman was a sophomore when the school building opened. She told us that she seems to remember a time capsule that was placed in the main entry way of the building. The main entry way is no longer our primary entrance. It makes perfect sense to me that a time capsule may have been buried in that hallway. We are going to ask more questions of our community to see what other memories we can dig up. Perhaps there may be some paperwork about it somewhere too. Maybe there is even a news article from the local paper that marks the milestone and mentions the artifact.

I can hear the time capsule calling to us. (I choose to believe that it does exist and will work with that assumption for now.) We are excited about preparing our own time capsule to connect the dots between 1965 and 2015. I'd like to leave a note to encourage those around in 2065 to continue the tradition, creating a chain through the milestones in our history that will be dotted by cultural artifacts.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Diary Project Revealed

I found a diary in an antique shop in April 2011 and had a mission to discover its writer. To follow my research adventures, search "Diary Project" in the search box of this page.

January 8, 1882

"Today commenced very nicely, but commenced to cloud up about ten oclock, and rained a little in the afternoon and quite hard in the evening. I went to church this morning and played the organ. This afternoon I was married by Mr. Lyman Chase at the parsonage at half past ten in the afternoon..."

I was so confused. This short passage contained the only mention of a wedding - just one line. I thought that either my diary writer was using the word "married" in a way that I didn't understand. I thought that perhaps, 130 years later, the word "wedding" lost a certain connotation. Or, I thought, my diary writer was NOT a hopeless romantic.

It turned out to be the latter.

I found the record at the Historical Society. The "Marriages" book is arranged alphabetically, so I hunkered down for what I thought would be a long morning of browsing to find the date mentioned in the diary. I was lucky. The date revealed itself in a matter of minutes rather than hours.

Edward C. Miller was a prominent pharmacist. Leading Businessmen of Kennebunkport states, "...The rarity of the cases where any harm has come to customers on account of the ignorance or carelessness of Pharmacists, speaks volumes for the ability of those engaged in this line of business, and one of the best-conducted establishments of the kind in this section is that carried on by Mr. Edward C. Miller, here in Kennebunkport. This gentleman is a native of this place, and succeeded Mr. Brown in the ownership of his present store in 1881, it having been opened by Mr. Brown three years before...Especial and painstaking attention is paid to the quick and accurate compounding of prescriptions, and moderate charges are made in this most important department. Mr. Miller is connnected with both the Free Masons and the Odd Fellows, and is one of the best-known men in town."

My research has revealed much about the life of this gentleman, but there is a lot more work to be done. For my part, the diary transcript and research will be used as a tool to teach about primary sources, close reading, and more. I will leave the biographical, historical work to a historian. Someday, I will find a good home for the original diary - in a proper repository where it belongs.

Mr. Miller, thank you for coming into my life. I look forward to returning a piece of your memory to your community.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Archives Month: Teach the Value of Archives to the Young

A full understanding of the differences between primary and secondary sources should be a priority for our society. Misinformation, propaganda, looking forward without understanding where we've been and how we got here...these are all things that threaten the health of culture, civil discourse, and cooperation. Helping individuals understand how archives chart our development as a civilization within overlapping communities leads to a better understanding of self and others. It leads to a thoughtful populace and a more productive conversation that can help all of us achieve our goals as good citizens.

October is Archives Month. This annual celebration of primary source materials highlights the work of archives and archivists. October is a perfect time to bring out hidden collections, explain archival methods, and promote the archivists' strong sense of purpose to diverse audiences. It is a time to connect our work to individuals and communities so they better understand the archivists' role and can apply it to their lives. In a school setting, highlighting archives can help students develop a deeper appreciation for history.  Archives Month can help our students develop a better understanding of knowledge in general, so that they may become better consumers and users of information.

You don't need to be an archivist to start these efforts. School librarians are perfect to lead the charge. Talk to professional archivists in the community to guide you, if necessary. Archivists have an interest in documenting many different communities and should be happy to help! (I can, and have, written whole blog posts and a book on this subject so I won't go in depth here. See Cultural Heritage Collaborators: A Manual for Community Documentation if you want to learn more about documenting communities and the roles of various community members in doing so.)

In my high school library, I guided staff and volunteers to create a display that includes information about what archives are, how they achieve their goals, and what archives we have related to our school community. We have formed a Library Archives Committee with a group of students who are interested in caring for our school's history. Our initial goal will be to find materials related to the history of our school, make collection development and community documentation plans, and begin collecting and organizing materials. I see oral histories in our future (I hope.) I imagine using materials from our archives to support class lessons in all fields. Archives can provide new close reading materials to support common core objectives. Archives can help build collaboratives in which other repositories in town see the school community as a partner in larger community efforts. Archives will provide promotional materials to support our teams and other school interests. They will support lessons in deciphering materials to better understand that some of the things that people call "facts" are not always based in truth and that knowledge often has shades of gray.

Here are some tips to get you started. How to start a school archives:
  1. Form a committee. (I introduced the topic of archives to all freshmen in an introduction to information class that I designed. The class dovetailed with Trails Nine assessment testing.) I like the idea of having your students make up your committee. This will be a great learning experience for them!
  2. Pick a date and time when most of your committee can get together. Try a few times - after school, before school and during lunch periods on different days. - to accommodate anyone interested in learning more.
  3. In an initial meeting, get students thinking about what aspects of their school experience they want to share. Share materials that other generations have left for them. You probably have yearbooks and at least some brochures in your school library. Get students thinking about themselves as part of a timelines of students passing through this school. Talk about the legacy of students and how students help shape what the school is and what it will be for the future. Introduce the idea of "sense of place" and discuss how their lives in the school help develop a school culture.
  4. Brainstorm the different aspects of a typical school day and what activities need to be documented. Explain the idea of a collection development policy and work on one with the students.
  5. Begin announcing what you are doing to the larger school community. Ask teachers and staff to contribute to efforts. (You should be spreading your efforts by word of mouth right from the beginning and hopefully building steam and excitement for the project as you go.) Have the students start talking to teachers and staff about what archival materials might be hidden around our school.
  6. Engage the yearbook staff. Their materials are most often considered the school "archives." They have valuable resources and knowledge and should be a valued part of your team.
  7. Once a solid foundation is formed and the ball gets rolling, introduce the larger community to your archives. Get in touch with the Historical Society to tell them about the project. Get in touch with individuals in the community through social media and student contact (with their parents, clubs in which they already take part, etc.) and tell them about the project. Encourage them to share things they have in their own collections and homes that relate to the school. If they are alums, ask them about their experiences and ask if they have materials related to their time at school.

A school archives can be a very valuable resource.  I look forward to sharing more of this journey with you and will have more tips as this project grows.

See great info on school archives from the National Archives