Monday, October 21, 2013

Publicizing Your Historical Society at Local Events

This past weekend I attended a fall festival where the local historical society had set up a table. The table included a few artifacts, a sign listing the institution's name and hours, some flyers for historical society events and some decorations. The table would be of interest to historical society fans, but to few others in the community. This has prompted me to post a few tips for those of you who are trying to boost awareness of your institutions at tables during the holiday season.
  • If you are going to decorate, do it right. A couple of pumpkins and a few leaves at a pumpkin festival is not going to catch the eyes of your audience. (A nutcracker won't do it at Christmas time either.) Think themes and dive in! My library assistants recently made paperback pumpkins to decorate our space. They have gotten a lot of attention. People stop to look at our tables because the pumpkins first catch their eyes. Think unusual, classy and seasonal. DIY decorations are in. Find someone creative in your organization and set them on a mission.
  • Create eye catching signs. Stenciled letters and glitter glue scream cheap and unprofessional. Find an artist to do your sign. Or, splurge on a large sign from a company to advertise your work. I splurged on a canvas sign for ArchivesInfo  a few years ago and it was great for displays at book signing events. It showed off my business and hid the supplies I needed under my folding table. 
  • Think exhibits! Your table should show off your best side and some of your best items. Bring artifacts to display or photographs of artifacts. Write label copy describing collections. Take the time to explain the provenance of your items and the context. DO NOT COPY INFORMATION ABOUT THE ITEMS OFF OF WIKIPEDIA!!!!! Personalize the experience. Show how your items are relevant to your community.
  • Think about your audience and your POTENTIAL audience - Your table should not be aimed solely at people who are already interested in historical societies. If you advertise only to these folks, you are in jeopardy of losing any audience for your organization in the near future. Think about what would attract a young audience. The table I saw had included this idea. They advertised that they were running their train display at the historical society that day. Yet, most of the people who would be interested in the trains would never come to the table to see the advertising because there was nothing there for them. Offer candy. Show off a real train. Give away stickers. Think about what kids like. Think about what young parents want to show off to their kids. They are not going to take a chance to go to hop in their car and drive to your organization from a fun seasonal event if you do not prove to them and their kids that it is worth their time. They are not even going to drag their kids to your table unless you cater specifically to families. Make it easy for parents to convince their children to go. Show them the fun!
  • Having a special event for adults? You still should think "show, don't tell". Photos of items you are having at an auction may gain you attendees. Images from past events could do the trick too. Publicize information you have about local families, homes, businesses. Include things that bring back memories and will get people to come over to talk to you.
  • Bring membership forms! Seek members at the event! Get as much information from attendees as you can. Ask for emails. Ask people what interests them about their community history. Ask about their family history. Do this to show that joining your organization relates to what is important to them.
  • Try to excite the senses. Think sound (old music playing softly from your table perhaps?). Think modern sights (maybe a computer slideshow on a tablet at your table?). Think taste (maybe some old-fashioned treats to give away, or even to sell as a fundraiser?) Think touch (Maybe keep some items at your institution that you are willing to have people play with and bring these to shows to spice up your table?)
  • Think of your publicity as an extension of your institution. Is your institution stuffy and boring? If not, don't make your display table appear that way. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Gifts of Heritage 2013

As the leaves begin to turn here in the Northeastern United States, we begin to think about the holiday season. In past years, I have posted about making holiday gifts of heritage. [Gifts of Heritage 2011Gifts of Heritage 2010] This year, I am going to post about finding gifts. Fresh from my local Comicon event, I am thinking about the things from our childhoods that bring back memories. Giving items that bring back holiday memories for the recipient is fun, but it is also fun for each of us to set out on a mission to find items from our past.

Love for Comics Span Generations

Last week, we walked through the aisles of the Granite State Comicon searching for My Little Pony items for my young crazed fan. MLP has a huge audience these days. In fact, My Little Pony was an "in" toy for 80s children a few years younger than I. Today's audiences are a whole different breed. Kids today like the big eyed ponies, rather than the rounder bodied ones of my youth. The ponies are also popular with "bronies,"which was something unheard of in my day. Comic books bring us together and could make a fabulous heritage gift for any living generation. For my parents, Howdy Doody and Superman comics abound. For me, it was the Marvel superheroes, Archie, and Casper. Check your local comic book store, Ebay, or the local garage sales to seek those characters who bring back happy memories for the holidays. One does not need to be a collector to enjoy a bit of one's most fun childhood reading material.

Food Heritage Gifts

 I'm big on creating and recalling memories with food. Consider filling a Christmas stocking with a comic book and some good old fashioned candies. [Consider that it's also not too late to buy some heritage candy for the Halloween season, since I got a jump start on this column early this year!] Many companies these days offer the candies of old. Search Google for "old fashioned candy."

When I was young, my holidays were filled with potato pancakes and matzoh balls. We don't make these things often enough in my house. While many of us still hold on to cooking and baking traditions, so many of us have given them up. We bake cookies in December in my house, but when I was young my mom covered the dining room table with chocolates that she gave as gifts to teachers and others who helped us throughout the year - chocolate covered cherries, chocolate and mint wafers, peanut butter cups...she even made a chocolate house for the family to enjoy. It would be nice to bring back some of those traditions from my childhood to share with my kid.

Toys with Memories

I plan to include this photo of me drawing in a gift of
brush markers for my daughter this coming holiday season.
The toys from our past still make great gifts and can bring back comforting memories. Do you have memories of a favorite toy? Consider sharing your love for that item writing down your memory of it and including it in a wrapped gift to a child. For example, I remember sitting in our large front hallway zooming Matchbox cars back and forth with the neighbors. My daughter loves to hear stories of my childhood and sharing it through my childhood toys adds to the interest.

This year, I began bringing games into my library for my students. I brought in some of my thinking favorites such as Mille Bornes and Battleship. I asked the high school students what else they wanted. Reminiscing about their earlier childhoods already, they asked for games such as Candyland, Monopoly and Chutes and Ladders. I was surprised that teens wanted to play these kids' games. I was equally surprised that so many of their games were games that conjured memories from my own childhood.

So when thinking about gifts this year, think about those memories that you can share. Think about connecting generations with gifts that appeal to all. Go out and look for them if you don't have them in your home. Bring your child to help you find gifts for your significant other. Talk to your parents and spouses about their most special old toys and foods and try to bring back that feeling of "specialness". They say that you can't really ever go back, but you can keep the memories alive. And, you can create memories for future generations based on past traditions.