Saturday, January 26, 2013

Recognizing Your Sense of Place

The catalogs have started coming in the mail, shaking me out of those feelings of frozen isolation. They remind me that, indeed, spring is coming. It may not be here as soon as I want it to be, but the soil I like to run through my fingers is sleeping and preparing itself for me. The yard that I have grown to love so deeply because it is MY yard is still there. Winter makes me feel off kilter sometimes, but when I remind myself that the place is as it should be and that it is growing and changing with me, I feel more stable. I now have those gardening catalogs to help remind me to hang on to that gardener identity and remember what is important to me during the ups and downs of the season.

I am honestly tired of looking out the windows of my home to see the evergreens holding their needles tightly and the rhododendrons curling their flat leaves into long, thin finger like protuberances. I am tired of gray and snow. I feel done with the smell of cold. (Do you too know that feeling that gets into your nose and tickles it until you swear that cold does have an odor?) On a snow day home from school two weeks ago I lit a fire in my fireplace and kept it blazing all day long, with a blanket on the recliner, a cat on my feet and computer in my lap. For once, I was glad that my MacBook tends to run hot. Hot coffee is extra appreciated when you wake up and the thermometer reads -2 degrees fahrenheit. But, it's those catalogs -- no, it's the thought of those catalogs -- that really helps me get through it all.

Last week, I bought some frost damaged plans at Home Depot. Large, beautiful plants were on sale for $5. With a pretty good green thumb, I knew that a little pruning was all that was necessary to turn them right. I brought the greenery -- beautiful symbolic greenery -- home and trimmed it up. I have kept the new plants isolated from my old for about a week now to make sure I don't have any bugs or diseases that can contaminate the rest. I was right. The plants are luscious. (Is that the right word?) I'm heading back to Home Depot for some more. This time, I hope to gather up some $5 plants to decorate my school library. My assistant suggested adding plants for a more homey feel and she's right, that's exactly what this place is missing.

I have lived in three houses in my lifetime. I have lived in two dorm rooms and four apartments. They became "home" as soon as I hung a picture on the wall and as soon as I brought a plant into the space. That's what makes me feel at home. I like homes with views of greenery. It can be a public park or a manicured yard. I like work spaces with books and art. My office must have a picture of flowers. I love flowers because they make me feel grounded. They make me feel like me. I recognize that wherever I am, whatever time of year it is, I can focus on that feeling of being connected to a space. Then, I know I am alright.

It is when I un-tether from our surroundings that I feel out of sorts. I try to bring my sense of place with me. Where are those flowers around here? Where is the art work and books? Where are the signs of nature mixing with man's hand that remind me of communities and my role? I have done so much reading, thinking and writing about sense of place that I now very consciously seek it. I recognize it wherever I go. I can find it whenever I need it. I seek to mold the idea of my surroundings to what I need it to be. Recognizing my sense of place makes me feel part of something bigger. It ties me to the history and communities to which I have dedicated my life as an archivist and information professional.

I wonder...What do you recognize as integral to your own sense of place? Do you have times that you feel detached and out of sorts? Does paying more attention to your surroundings help you shake the winter doldrums too? 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Boston Public Library Local & Family History Lecture Series

"The Boston Public Library's Local & Family History Lecture Series is in its 10th year of sharing information about the history of Boston and its neighborhoods along with tips and guides for those beginning their own genealogical research."

I am pleased to be included among the speakers at this year's BPL Local and Family History lecture series. I will be at the library on January 23rd at 6pm. The librarian emailed the following when she asked me to participate, "Your quote 'We can each have some control over the history that is remembered when we maintain and make plans for our own documentation' brings the history and the genealogy together."

Getting this message out to genealogists [and others] is important. Often caught up in the history of the past, we forget about the history of the future. By that I mean, we need to remember that the things we do today will be important to our descendants. We need to be aware as we search for answers about our ancestors that we can also leave clues about ourselves. We are not just digging for history -- or in my case saving the records of history -- we are also living history.

While in the past we did it somewhat shoddy job of recording and keeping information about how we lived, we have an opportunity moving forward. We have tools and awareness of the value of history that can help us share what we know with future generations. As a genealogist or person with an interest in local history and family stories, YOU are responsible for telling your story. How will you be remembered? What do you have to say to others? What does your life represent? And, not only is this a responsibility, it is an opportunity to think about and live your life as you want -- to evaluate who you are and how you want others to begin to think about your place in history.

You are the center of history
My life is a blip on a timeline of history, but it is ON that timeline. Each one of us is important. We have the power to help our memories survive by documenting them and thoughtfully passing them on. It is the stories of everyday life that count. It is these stories that help us better understand societies and how the "common man" functions, survives and changes. As part of larger communities, individuals help mold those communities. Whether we are aware of our impact or not, our participation in anything changes that thing. I have found that being aware of this makes the study of history more significant and allows me to better understand my role and purpose in the world.

My presentation, "The Unofficial Family Archivist" will help arm you with techniques for telling your stories. I hope to make you realize (if you don't already) how life's little moments are what make you and what makes your communities. How do you find, record, and save the stories that surround you that are worth telling? My books on archives, communy and memory provide a little more focus with worksheets to assist. [I didn't want to make this blog post a book sales pitch, but I do think the tie-in will be helpful to some.] I hope that you will join me this Wednesday if you are in the Boston area. Come tell me YOUR stories. I love hearing about what is important to other people. Not only do I like growing my personal network, but, selfishly, learning about others helps me better understand myself too. I look forward to seeing you soon!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop: Joe Louis, Shirley Temple, and Shorthand

I have been working on the transcript of my recently found Manchester Diary. While the second entry in my Kennebunkport Diary discussed the largest train crash in Maine, the January entries of this current diary include nothing so momentous. However, the diary of Eileen Langmayd, 1935-1939, discussed the every day activities of a depression era teen, providing a good scope of life at that time.

This is a generation that we are quickly losing and I'm sure that Miss Eileen's diary came to me for this reason. Born in the early 20s, now into their 80s, the American children of the depression held memories that can make us better understand this important time. I suspect that Eileen Langmayd's diary had been part of an estate sale that entered an antique shop quietly and sat unassumingly among the non-paper based antiques in the store. But while the objects are admired mostly for their form, it is the diary that reveals the thoughts and deeds of its owner. It is the diary we should value for preserving memories and it is the diary that should be highlighted for the intimate connection it offers us to those who came before us.

Eileen Langmayd spent her days going to school, working, practicing her transcription and shorthand (I assume she was on her way to becoming a secretary), eating popcorn and fudge as treats, sledding down hills, sewing, listening to the radio, shopping with her mom, and going to the theater. None of these activities may strike us as particularly unusual or maybe not even particularly interesting, but woven together the diary entries give us a remarkable sense of time. They tell us of life as a young woman in Manchester, NH in the 30s and tie Miss Eileen to larger communities and larger national scale events.

  • "January 12, 1935. Saturday. In A.M. helped mother. In P.M. went up to Irene’s for a few minutes. Later in afternoon Mama & I went to “Shirley Temple” in “Bright Eyes” at State Theatre with Jimmie Dunn."

It turns out that Manchester, NH had many theaters where the local population was entertained. To my knowledge, one remains - The Palace Theatre on Hanover Street, where an historic feel remains palpable even when one primarily just attends summer matinee plays for children in the 21st century.

  • "January 25, 1939. Wednesday. Got a letter from Joe. Went over to “Mil” G. Met a girl, Albertine Dunn. Very nice. Had cocoa and cake. Came home about ten. Listened to fight which lasted two min. Joe Louis won."

With a very quick search, I learned that it was on this date that Louis won the heavy weight title. While it seems to me that Miss Eileen would not be the kind of girl to today listen to a boxing match, in 1939 it was the thing to do. It was an important major radio event and among her short diary entries she recorded the experience.

My goal is to finish transcribing the 11 months of diary entries that cover 5 years in this girl's life. Each page has one date that includes 5 separate entries from the various years. When Eileen got the December 31st of one year, she would turn back to the beginning to record January 1st of the next year. For example:

  • January 16

1935. Wednesday. We rod home from school in Lizzie.[?]

1936. Thursday. In P.M. Wayne down. Took his picture. Hope this one comes out. In Eve. “Gwen” & I went over to church. Quite a few kids there playing piano. Warren took my scarf & put it up on T. pole.

1937. Saturday. Worked all day.

1938. Sunday. Had quite a cold so didn’t go to S.S. In P.M. Gwen & Hilda came down. We took Marion’s wedding gift, a picture, down to her. In Eve, pasted in scrapbooks.

1939. Monday. Received an air mail letter from Jo Jo today. Also received two records which Wilks sent me “[?] of an Engineer” and “I Wish I Had You.”

I am getting a sense of this 5 year span that includes schooling, boys, birthdays and more. It is actually a little funny and perhaps awkward to not transcribe one year straight through, but I wanted to keep the authenticity of the diary and decided to keep the transcript using the diary's current form. I find myself wondering where in the diary I'll learn things such as exactly who Wayne is (he shows up quite a bit.) I find myself growing closer to Eileen, wishing for her that Wayne is a steady-beau, that he's not heading off to war, that the depression doesn't affect her too much.

  • 1936. Friday. In A.M. Hilda and I went down to WPA Administration building. We got an application to fill out. Later we went to drugstore to get pictures. Wayne’s came out. Hilda down to study in P.M.

And life went on...and my life goes on with hers in it...I live her past in my present. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Young Adults, Sense of Place and Archives

ArchivesInfo has always promoted the idea that archives provide a foundation for building a sense of community. Using information as a resource for social connections and understanding can be applied in any environment. My school experience is a reflection of this in action.

I spent much of the first term as the new information specialist at a local high school, building a sense of place. Sense of place does not always come naturally. Sometimes it needs to be molded and focused, and cultivated to reflect this idea. To begin to create that feeling in our library, I've re-arranged the room a bit; I've hung posters and created exhibits aiming to get students to think about our library as the heart of our community; And, of course, I've started a school Archives.

There is A LOT going on in this very busy environment at the physical center of the school. We are building tech opportunities as well as focusing on the "traditional." But my focus here is on building a sense of place -- with a goal to make the physical center the metaphorical heart of our education.We aim to create a comfortable, enriching environment. This, I believe, adds to a feeling of community and certainly to the sense of place. In addition to trying to provide educational opportunities in diverse forms all around our room, we fill our display cases each month with exhibits focused on building community.  (Let me know if anyone is interested in the "educational opportunities" aspect and I can talk more about that specifically in a future post.)
  • In September our first exhibit involved using mind-mapping to envision the library as a community space. 
  • In October, we built an exhibit about Archives Month that introduced the idea of school archives. 
  • In November, we focused on food traditions and encouraged students to dig up their own food memories and recipes. 
  • In December we introduced a pen pal project with the Teen Center in Botswana where we will be connecting our community with one in Africa to explore a different culture and get to know people from across the world. 
  • We are now focused on our favorite books. In December we encouraged teachers and students to create a holiday chain that listed their favorites. I've made a list of them, have ordered ones we don't have here, and made an exhibit with the help of my staff. With the help of this current project, and through surveys and collection development, we have added materials for all levels of library users. We are aiming for diverse educational resources to tap the needs, and spark the interests, of as many students as possible.
We aim to reflect the soul of our community and that's where the archives really shine. An archives committee, currently made up of just a couple of students and staff, is working to build a collection that focuses on our building. The building was constructed in 1965, so we are preparing for a 50th anniversary celebration. We are collaborating with the local historical society and have visited their collections to get a sense of where we, as a school community, fit in our larger town community. I'm trying to have students think of our school as just one ring among all the communities in which they participate. An alum contacted me about a blogging project his graduating class is building. We will be reaching out to them. We plan to conduct oral histories and ask the people in the town about their memories of the school and to see if they have materials related to the high school's place in the community. I hope that the project will spread to other schools as well and I will meet regularly with other school librarians to tie our respective educational communities together on an informational resource / sense of place level.

I have a sign on my office door that says, "Libraries are in the curiosity business." I hope that when one enters a space encouraging exploration that also reflects ties to the past -- a place that shows its roots AND a forward movement -- that one feels energized. I leave little "sparks" around the library with the hope that I can ignite students' interests, whatever they might be. I aim show them that no matter the subject in which they have an interest, there are learning opportunities to grasp. I want students to remember this place as one where they felt safe and free to learn beyond the classroom and that their experiences here will help them build an enriching life where they recognize opportunities for lifelong learning. The long-range plan is coming and this will continually be a work in progress.