by Mara Gregory

If you have ever secretly wanted to draw in a library book (or are actually guilty of doing so) #ColorOurCollections, an annual social media campaign hosted by the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) Library, will likely appeal to you. Launched in 2016, #ColorOurCollections is a week in February when cultural heritage institutions around the world share coloring books made up of images from their collections, and invite the public to get creative. Inspired by the adult coloring trend, this event allows audiences of all ages to engage with historical materials in a fun and interactive way. 

Social media graphic for #ColorOurCollections, from NYAM Library toolkit

The NYAM Library is an independent institution that holds major collections related to the history of medicine and public health. As part of its mission to make these histories broadly accessible, the Library hosts a variety of public programs and has an active social media presence. Staff at the Library initially developed the idea for #ColorOurCollections as a way to build relationships with other institutions and to raise awareness of the Library’s unique holdings. In 2016, an impressive 200 institutions joined the coloring festival, and the NYAM Library has continued to coordinate the campaign every year since then. In addition to conducting outreach to potential participants, the NYAM Library provides detailed guidelines for institutions and hosts a website with downloadable PDFs of the coloring books. Institutions promote their coloring books on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest, as well as through blog posts and in-person coloring events. 

During the most recent campaign, on February 7-11, 2022, 101 institutions participated, including public libraries, digital libraries, universities, historical societies, museums, corporations, botanical gardens, and historic landmarks. Although many are located in the United States, there are also representatives from the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Spain, Poland, and other countries. Unsurprisingly, given this diversity, a prospective colorist can choose from a huge array of images. Coloring books include black-and-white versions of book covers, illustrations, maps, engravings, photographs, cartoons, patent drawings, advertisements, and more. Anatomical drawings, botanical specimens, and animals (real and mythical) feature prominently. Many coloring pages are decidedly whimsical or mysterious, depicting anthropomorphic butterflies, dancing skeletons, animals in fancy dress, or a mountain goat with “an exquisitely sweet expression.” Coloring enthusiasts may also enjoy filling in intricately detailed illustrations from a 19th-century edition of Chaucer’s works (University Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign), images of historic playing cards (Bibliothèque municipale de Soissons), a 16th-century chart used for urine analysis (National Library of Medicine), or motorcycle ads from the 1950s (Harley-Davidson Archives). It appears that institutions select images for their aesthetic qualities as well as their potential to inspire wonder and interest in the collections. 

An “Exquisitely Sweet Expression,” from the 2022 Washington State Library Coloring Book [colored by a family member of this author]

To encourage further engagement with the institutions and their collections, the NYAM Library provides templates for the coloring books with space for institutions to add their names or logos. Guidelines also strongly encourage institutions to cite the sources of all images. However, participants have implemented this guidance unevenly. Some, like the National Library of Medicine, provide full citations and helpful blurbs with historical background. Other coloring books include no citations at all. A number of institutions also neglected to include their name or logo on any of the coloring book pages. As a result, many images are removed from their context, leaving one to wonder: What is this? Who created it, when, and why? While many people may join #ColorOurCollections for a brief and relaxing diversion, others may wish to learn more. The coloring books that include links back to the institutions and their collections are therefore more likely to successfully convert a fun activity into longer term engagement with the institution.

Coloring book page template, from  NYAM Library toolkit

Although most of the outreach for #ColorOurCollections occurs during one week in February, this project has produced new archives of material that the public may access at any time. The NYAM Library’s Our Collections, Colored pinterest board is a kaleidoscopic gallery of images colored in past years. The NYAM website also preserves all the coloring books created by participating institutions. Although scrolling through the various books can be a joyful experience, searching for any particular topic is not easy. The website has no search function. Instead, users may explore the coloring books by filtering for the year posted or by the contributing institution. The website does include topical tags, but buries these at the bottom of each page beneath a list of hundreds of institutions. Improvements to the user experience of the website would likely foster more engagement with the coloring books outside the annual week of the campaign.

Overall, #ColorOurCollections is a clever project, building on the popularity of adult coloring to reach wide audiences, including people that might otherwise never interact with the participating institutions. This campaign also democratizes a recent trend of artists drawing on archival sources for inspiration. With #ColorOurCollections, anyone can be an artist, and anyone can engage with rare and curious items from cultural heritage collections. Certainly, some people may color an image of prancing unicorns simply because it is fun, and not because they have any particular interest in 17th-century texts or the library where they are held. But others may start to follow that institution on social media, explore its website, or even plan an in-person visit. In 2016, staff from the NYAM Library reported that the first campaign was a success, resulting in over 9,000 total Tweets, new followers across the Library’s social media accounts, and coverage in the press. While exact metrics are unavailable for later years, this success has likely continued. In addition, #ColorOurCollections is an excellent example of a collaborative campaign, in which cultural heritage institutions pursue a shared goal and promote each other’s work. 

This author, for one, is looking forward to next year’s campaign and a new suite of weird and wonderful images to explore and color.

Books Unbanned at the Brooklyn Public Library

by Klara Pokrzywa

The Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned was created as a response to the American Library Association’s report on book banning in 2021. That year saw the greatest number of book challenges and bans since the ALA began collecting data in 2000, with most bans occurring in school and public libraries. The report’s findings prompted an outcry among library professionals and teachers—and in April 2022, the Brooklyn Public Library announced that they would allow teenagers and young adults (13-21) from around the country to receive an electronic BPL library card. Since children and teenagers are the most impacted by these book bans, Books Unbanned seeks to provide them with electronic copies of commonly banned books, as well as the tools to prevent or challenge bans in their communities.

            The National Teen BPL eCard gives teens across the country access to a list of “always available” books in addition to the BPL’s full electronic catalog. These “always available” titles are chosen based on data from the ALA’s list of frequently banned books, and, as the BPL and ALA both note, are overwhelmingly by or about LGBT people and/or people of color. By removing the long waits for popular titles that often plague ebook checkout, the BPL ensures that teens will have access to these books as quickly and as easily as possible. Despite the complexities of licensing permissions this surely took, this tactic is not only beneficial to potential readers, but also beneficial for the BPL, as it ensures that they can accommodate for the spike of interest in popular titles in the wake of media coverage about the bans. By making some titles always available, the BPL is signaling that they understand the bans are an exceptional problem that requires exceptional solutions.

            One caveat of the project, however, is the lack of communication about how long the eCards will be available. On the sidebar where the BPL website encourages teens to apply, it notes that the eCards are always available for teens in New York State, and available “for a limited time” for teens nationwide. That specification may cause a website visitor who is planning to apply for the first time to wonder whether the national card will be eventually discontinued, or what the parameters of receiving one are. This information is easy enough to locate through external sources: each eCard will be active for one year after receiving it, with the option to renew, and the initiative will be run indefinitely, meaning that readers need not worry about their card being discontinued after receiving it. Unfortunately, the Books Unbanned webpage itself does not communicate this, which could discourage potential readers who do not seek out an answer on their own from applying.

            In addition to electronic catalog access, Books Unbanned offers a variety of resources and programming related to the surge in book bans. The project is closely affiliated with existing programming for teens at the BPL, such as the Teen Bookmatch service, where teens trained in reader’s advisory can recommend books to their peers looking for their next read. By referring visitors to the Books Unbanned page out to these existing resources, the BPL is demonstrating an eye for the longevity of the program beyond the initial window of media attention: integrating new readers into a community of teen patrons will both encourage them to continue reading habits access to the BPL’s collection might foster, and ensure that the BPL is integrating the new initiative into existing outreach efforts. This is also evident in the creation of the Intellectual Freedom Teen Council, which meets once a month to discuss book bans and other censorship issues relevant to teenagers. These meetings are virtual so that teenagers around the country can join. The variety of outreach programming on this topic helps underscore the BPL’s commitment to their teen readership and ensure that the project is not only reacting to the bans, but also proactive about trying to combat and prevent them.

            These efforts are particularly important to note in light of the perhaps obvious fact that the BPL typically serves a more local, albeit sizable, population. Books Unbanned employs familiar tactics for expanding outreach to a new demographic: creating community between existing patrons and new ones, ensuring that different access needs are being met, and using existing resources, such as an already-extensive electronic catalog, for new purposes. The unusual scope of the project—public libraries do not often serve a national population—complicates and raises the stakes of these tactics, particularly given the charged political context in which they occur. The library’s expanded reach has also come with expanded risks for both librarians and patrons: Summer Boisimer, a teacher in Oklahoma, was reprimanded by her school’s administration and publicly castigated by her state’s education secretary for referring students to the Books Unbanned program. She was placed on administrative leave, and, in September, resigned from her position. While this story in many ways only further highlights the necessity of Books Unbanned, it is also a reminder that outreach projects can have unintended consequences that libraries must take into account when proposing and defending their programs.

            Despite these risks, Books Unbanned has been overall popular: in a September 2022 interview with CNN, the BPL’s chief librarian Nick Higgins spoke of the program’s success, saying that over 5,000 eCards have been issued to young people across the country. Teenagers from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. have received cards, going above and beyond the initiative’s goal of providing books to students nationwide. This success underscores an outreach thesis Books Unbanned has in common with smaller projects: that expanding access to new demographics and innovating new methods of responding to changes in the profession is worth the time and funding it takes to do so. Books Unbanned is a complex project that relies heavily on technology, external promotion, risk mitigation, and the engagement of patrons librarians will never meet face-to-face. Its payoff is a convincing argument to internal and external BPL stakeholders for the continued funding of such projects, since the risk the library took on investing a great deal of resources into serving a new—and very distant—population was rewarded not only by increased usage, but also frequent and positive national coverage. The precedent set by Books Unbanned means that the staff at BPL has a persuasive case to point to when fundraising for future projects: in this, as with so much library outreach, success may beget further success.

Further Reading:

“Brooklyn Public Library has issued 5,100 free library cards to make banned books available for teens” by Nicole Chavez for CNN

“How the Brooklyn Library Helped Fight Book Bans in Oklahoma” by James Barron for The New York Times

“Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2021” by the American Library Association

“The Library Bill of Rights” by the American Library Association

A Tale of Two House Museum Tours

by Clark Geiling

Amidst the cobblestone streets and brownstones of Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood stands the Nichols House Museum, an impressive four-story brick estate designed by the architect Charles Bulfinch in 1804. Though the structure has existed since the early 1800s, its life as a historic house museum began with Rose Standish Nichols, a landscape architect, suffragette, and anti-war activist who resided in the home from 1885 until her death in 1960. To bring people into the space, the museum offers a general history tour Wednesday through Sunday all months of the year and a special “hidden spaces” tour once a month. The general tour is $16 for general admission, $8 for students, and free for museum members and EBT card holders, which serves to alleviate financial barriers for low-income community members who want to visit the home. This program focuses on the Nichols family, with particular attention given to the life and achievements of Rose Standish Nichols. In the later decades of her life, Nichols felt it important to curate a space where people in the greater Boston community could appreciate the beauty of both the home itself and the art and craftsmanship within. As a landscape architect, she was interested in bringing aesthetic beauty to anyone who wished to enjoy it. While walking through the home, the tour guides highlight many of the same things that Nichols herself wished to highlight–the extensive collection of Asian art, much of which was made for export, the furniture that Nichols hand carved at her artists’ colony in New Hampshire, and Flemish tapestries her mother painstakingly preserved. But between descriptions of these artistic objects, a story emerges about Nichols herself: That of a progressive and driven woman from a distinctly upper class background, who devoted her life to her career, and to the feminist and pacificst concerns of the time. Throughout the tour, I noted that most visitors were women between the ages of 17 and 60, and many inquiries were related to how Nichols, as a working woman who never married, was received by society in her lifetime. For those interested in a general overview of who Nichols was, what she built, and how she fits into the greater landscape of women’s history in Boston, this tour is a great place to get your feet wet. Delightfully, the tour concludes in the home’s kitchen and visitor’s center, where visitors are offered Rose Standish Nichols’ favorite blend of tea. As we walked down Mount Vernon street with our tea in hand, my friend who I brought on the tour with me remarked that it felt like “living a day in her life”. The audiences of both the general tour and the “hidden histories” tour had similar demographics in terms of gender and age, but the hidden histories tour had a much larger group of attendees. This program is unique in that it seeks to make visible the legacies of the women who were employed by the Nichols family as domestic servants. Interestingly, although the hidden histories tour was geared towards working class experiences, it had a flat fee of $17 and no option to present an EBT card in exchange for a free ticket. While I commend the Nichols House Museum for trying to bring in low-income visitors for their general tour, I felt that it was somewhat ironic that low-income visitors faced potential cost barriers when it came to attending the tour centered around working class history. While it feels important to acknowledge the cost of tickets as an area of growth for the museum, the tour itself provides a fascinating look into the conditions of labor for domestic workers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Unlike the general tour, this program takes visitors into the maids’ living quarters, the root cellar, and through the back staircases they would have used to move through the home. Importantly, it complicates some of the narratives presented in the general tour, creating a more textured picture of how women lived during the so-called Gilded Age. The difference in turnout between the general tour and the hidden histories tour provided a glimpse into the effectiveness of various kinds of outreach. The tours had many things in common–same museum, same day of the week, same time of day. What set them apart was their content. A general tour of a house museum on its own might be interesting to local history buffs, particularly those interested in women’s history, but a tour that allows visitors to access a secret, “hidden” history provides a level of intrigue that the former might not. Interestingly, the general tour is conducted by a museum professional, while the hidden histories tour is led by a volunteer from the neighborhood who self defines as a “hobby historian”.In this way, the hidden histories tour performs two types of outreach that the general tour does not. First, it contradicts and stretches the historical record presented in the general tour. This creates a more transparent view of how the archive documents history. In the hidden histories tour, the volunteer guide notes that the museum has far less documentation about the domestic staff than they wish to but feel it’s important to present the information they do have, however incomplete. Though the “evidence” that supports the hidden histories tour is less extensive that the “evidence” behind the general tour, the stories themselves are equivalent in value. The museum knows the limits of its knowledge and had no qualms about inviting visitors to share anything they might know. Second, the hidden histories tour guide shares his own story with visitors. He started as a casual volunteer, became passionate about the project, and eventually was able to give tours on subjects he was interested in. His relationship with the museum communicates to visitors that, in addition to going on tours, they can engage with the museum and its history through their volunteer program. While the general history tour is a worthy and engaging project in its own right, the hidden histories tour offers visitors new avenues for connecting with the Nichols House Museum. These avenues may just bridge the gap between passive participant and enthusiastic museum advocate.  

Native Land Digital

by Grace Millet

Native Land Digital, also referred to as simply Native Land, is a digital database and map that contains information about indigenous peoples’ lands throughout the world. Started and led by indigenous activists from around the globe, Native Land does its best to create a comprehensive map of territories that are or once were solely occupied by native peoples.

The mission of Native Land is stated on their “About/Why It Matters” page: “Native Land Digital strives to create and foster conversations about the history of colonialism, Indigenous ways of knowing, and settler-Indigenous relations, through educational resources such as our map and Territory Acknowledgement Guide. We strive to…develop a platform where Indigenous communities can represent themselves and their histories on their own terms. […] Native Land Digital creates spaces where non-Indigenous people can be invited and challenged to learn more about the lands they inhabit, the history of those lands, and how to actively be part of a better future going forward together.” The goal of Native Land is twofold: to provide information to indigenous peoples and to further the understanding of colonialism’s effects on indigenous peoples for non-indigenous individuals who might want to learn more.

There is an enthusiastic focus on outreach by crowdsourcing information and asking community members for their knowledge as soon as one opens the website. A popup appears, acknowledging that the map beyond it is not perfect and asking for input from those who find discrepancies or errors. This simple statement reaffirms their mission to allow indigenous communities to tell their own stories. There is also an acknowledgement that the land boundaries represented on the map do not necessarily reflect legal territory boundaries at this time—the history of indigenous territories is fraught and deeply complex and cannot simply be presented on a map, interactive or static. Native Land’s effort to document these land boundaries is noble but also humbled by such recognition. The team at work behind the scenes seem driven by their mission statement and understand that they are not working to tell the story on behalf of indigenous peoples; rather, they are working diligently to facilitate the ownership of this history by indigenous peoples themselves. This community-centered outreach is necessary to tell fuller, truer stories about those who may have otherwise been left behind by history and to allow them to more accurately fill in the gaps of the narratives that have already been recorded.

The flagship project of Native Land is the interactive map on their homepage, which documents the entire globe, including arctic and Antarctic land masses. This colorful map that highlights different indigenous territories and their overlapping boundaries allows users to zoom in and out, enter their address for more information about the land their home is on, and, once those territories are clicked, offers information about the tribes and native peoples who once lived there with hyperlinks to current information about these groups. The map is dynamic, and it lets users engage in research that empowers them to continue on to learn more about who used to live where they live, as well as what other tribal lands surround those territories. It begins conversations about indigenous groups in the area that the user might not have been aware of before their search, tribes they had never heard of, or tribal presence that is much more deeply rooted than a user might have thought. And, beyond this revelatory information, Native Land’s map can provide information not just about those indigenous peoples’ histories and current circumstances, but also a way for those who have descended from settlers to attempt to pay personal reparations to the tribes who have an ancestral claim to the land on which the user currently lives and from which they benefit.

I discovered Native Land a few years ago and have used it to look into paying reparations to local indigenous peoples and to learn more about those who used to live where I grew up. Since happening upon the website, I have checked back every year around Thanksgiving and have watched it continue to grow with more information, more colorful territories popping up on the map, and a wider breadth of knowledge about the world outside of North and South America. To my delight, there have been other resources added to the website, such as growing territories, languages, and treaties lists; the expansion of the site into the mobile app environment to facilitate further outreach; and a teacher’s guide to help educators start conversations about colonialism and indigenous peoples’ treatment with their students. These resources consolidate information on the history of indigenous peoples and the effects of colonialism, as well as the sheer magnitude of the diversity between indigenous peoples; they allow users to understand that the phrases “indigenous peoples” or “native peoples” encompass a multitude of different cultures, rather than a single type of individual within a larger cultural group. These resources—especially the mobile app and the teacher’s guide—also allow for easy sharing of this information, whether it be by word of mouth between friends or in a classroom.

Overall, Native Land is an excellent example of a community-focused database for the cultural heritage of many groups that have, since the recent past, not been acknowledged or was thought to have been at risk of historical erasure. With a strong connection to their mission and a leadership composed of indigenous activists and allies, I can see them continuing to grow and updating their resources to keep their users well-informed about the valuable cultures of the peoples they document.


*Please note that all hyperlinks connect to their corresponding pages at native-land.ca and are present for the reader’s convenience.

Have a Drink with an Old Master

by Angela Tillapaugh

The Frick Collection, located in New York City, is an art museum that houses paintings primarily by the Old Masters, as well as sculptures and decorative

1 St. Francis in the Desert at the Frick's current location on Madison Avenue in New York. Image by Joe Coscia, The Frick Collection.
1 St. Francis in the Desert at the Frick’s current location on Madison Avenue in New York. Image by Joe Coscia, The Frick Collection.

arts. While the Frick’s original building, Henry Clay Frick’s Beaux Arts mansion, remains closed for renovations, they are showing a portion of their collection at the Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue. Even though the galleries of the Breuer building stand in stark contrast to those of the Frick mansion, all cool shades of gray and hard concrete to the mansion’s colorful walls and vibrant textiles, the curatorial staff has chosen to present the artworks similarly. That is, without object identification labels or wall texts. The Frick relies on other methods for conveying details about the art, including educational programs.

Cocktails with a Curator started on April 10th, 2020 after the museum closed to the public in response to the pandemic and streamed live each Friday at 5pm for over 60 weeks. After the completion of the livestream, videos are put on their YouTube channel. This series became immensely popular with the public, often receiving well over twenty thousand views, an improvement on a few hundred views on other videos. The Frick collected two awards for the Cocktails series, “Best Virtual and Remote Experience: Arts and Culture” from the Webby Awards and “Best Digital Exhibition or Online Education Program” from the Global Fine Arts Awards. As Cocktails with a Curator is ostensibly the Frick Collection’s best performing online program, what made this series so popular and caused it to resonate with audiences?

The structure of the videos is fairly simple. One of the two Frick curators presents the viewer with artwork from the permanent collection and a cocktail that they have chosen to pair with it. From there, the curator explains why they have chosen that beverage to pair with the artwork. Afterward, the curators give some historical background on the artist and the artwork; this includes details about when the Frick purchased the work, information about the artist and their body of work, and the purpose of the work. The curator then provides the viewer with a deeper analysis of the work, both from an artistic and socio-economic standpoint. As an example, we can look at the July 17th, 2020 video on Johannes Vermeer’s painting, “Officer and a Laughing Girl”. Curator Aimee Ng presents details of the painting and explains the way Vermeer uses paint to capture light. She also discusses the beaver skin hat the officer is wearing and the extensive damage that the beaver trade had on indigenous populations of North America. By providing this information Ng gives the audience a chance to understand the artwork as a whole, explaining both Vermeer’s painting techniques and the context in which he painted the work.

2 Still from Cocktails with a Curator: Vermeer's "Officer and a Laughing Girl"
2 Still from Cocktails with a Curator: Vermeer’s “Officer and a Laughing Girl”

These videos certainly resonated with the target audience, the general public. I think there are a few reasons for this. First, the curators do not assume the audience has prior knowledge about art. They always provide definitions for specialized language and other details important to understanding the work. By doing so, they allow viewers to learn about art without getting frustrated by opaque language. They uploaded the videos to YouTube, making it easier to find and watch. If it was only accessible through a page on the museum’s website, it would have a higher chance of being lost to digital decay. The videos are relatively short, usually clocking in around 20-25 minutes. A curator could discuss the artworks for much longer, but many people do not want to commit an hour to watching a YouTube video on a topic that is a casual interest. Presenting information through the guise of a cocktail hour makes learning about art more inviting to viewers. A cocktail hour feels like being invited to an informal social event, not an intellectually rigorous lecture. The Frick provides the recipes in the description box for each video, so you could make the beverage ahead of time and join the curator in enjoying the drink.

3 Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’s The Portrait of Countess d’Haussonville in the Frick’s original building. Image by Michael Bodycomb, The Frick Collection.

I think it is important for the Frick to provide these friendly, close spaces for people to interact with art. The videos allowed viewers to learn about a work of art without the distraction of all the other items in the gallery, and with more detail than is provided in a Frick gallery. Additionally, the Frick Collection can seem intimidating to users, especially people who do not frequent art museums. In their original location, the artworks live in highly decorative rooms. The Gilded Age opulence can seem overwhelming and unapproachable. At the Madison location, the art is hung in sparse gray rooms that look cold and sterile. The Frick does not provide wall texts, and there are stricter rules for visiting that other museums do not have (they do not permit photographs, bags, or children under ten to enter). These elements combined can make visiting the Frick Collection daunting for visitors.

The online format appeals to people, and the Frick Collection appears to have understood what made the Cocktails with a Curator series popular with

4 The Portrait of Countess d’Haussonville in the Frick Madison. Image by Gus Powell for the New York Times.

viewers. They started a new series called Continuing the Conversation, which is a free event open to the public that occurs live over Zoom. This series of events, unlike Cocktails, invites attendees to join in the conversation. I think the Frick Collection has more work to do to make their museum more welcoming to those visiting in person, but the Cocktails with a Curator series certainly achieved its goal of getting viewers interested in their collections throughout their closure. Providing these comfortable spaces for people to engage with artwork online will likely have long term benefits for the Frick. The educational programs allow people to see past the less than genial galleries, and view the Frick as a place where they are truly welcome to visit and enjoy art.




Meet Kathryn Kuntz: The Richardson-Sloane Special Collection Center Supervisor for the Davenport Public Libraries

by Amanda Miano

Kathryn Kuntz always knew she wanted to work in history, but she did not feel suited to K-12 education which was the primary path for those attending Black Hills State University. People would ask her, “Well, what are you going to do then?” It was not until she took a course entitled “Introduction to Public History” that her perspective changed, and she realized just how many unique opportunities there were for someone with a passion for history. After interning at various institutions in Deadwood, South Dakota, Kathryn realized she had developed a passion for cataloguing, and considered pursuing a degree in Museum Studies.

While researching different archival schools across the country, she discovered the wonderful world of Library Science. She ultimately decided to attend Indiana University, as they offered a master’s degree in Library Science, with an emphasis on rare books and manuscripts. While in school she managed to hold down three or four jobs at the same time, including several internships. Kathryn’s mindset has always been one of giving back within the library profession. This has sometimes meant doing work whether she was being paid for it or not. This really speaks to how much Kathryn appreciates all that goes into making things run right, especially within a Special Collections.

After graduating, Kathryn worked at her hometown public library, and in November 2017 she accepted her current position as Supervisor of the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center. Kathryn takes great pride in stating her full job title, emphasizing the name of the department, as it came about because of a large monetary donation on the part of Alice Richardson-Sloane and Loren Ted Sloane in 1999, which led to an entirely redone space for the special collections.

Through all her experiences, perhaps the most important lesson Kathryn has learned, and was generous enough to pass on to an archivist-in-training, is that “Communication is key.” Kathryn’s view is that to properly reach ones’ community and promote those outreach events that are so vital for drawing attention to the various library departments, it is important that all staff members know what is happening in the various departments, ensuring that they can accurately tell patrons about the events being offered. In that way, the entire library staff, and not merely the small, but mighty, staff Kathryn has under her supervision, can be advocating for the Special Collections and the work they are doing.

Along with communication, Kathryn also believes that connections are just as essential, going so far as to say that “Advocacy and outreach … is about building those connections [with the people who make up the community you have been tasked with serving], and making people excited about it,” and in that way, “Public Library Special Collections have that unique job of being community builders” (Kuntz, K.). After attending a “Museum Crawl” in Iowa City, an event which capitalized on this idea of establishing connections amongst various archival institutions in the community, Kathryn says that she was inspired and wanted to find a way to hold a similar event in the Quad Cities, as a way of highlighting, and therefore advocating for, the Special Collections and its holdings. Unfortunately, the first event was not the success Kathryn had hoped it would be, and so she went back to the drawing board, considering how she could best get her specific audience interested in an event such as this one. The answer came in the form of an Archives Fair. The Special Collections, partnering with other local repositories, hosted this event which invited patrons of all ages and demographics to come and learn all about local institutions by visiting various booths, promoting one-on-one interactions between patrons and staff members of the various participating repositories. Kathryn says that she was pleasantly surprised with the turn out for this second event and looks forward to putting on the next one.

Kathryn is quick to assert that she is incredibly pleased with the outreach efforts that have taken place during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Kathryn even took it upon herself, working in conjunction with one of the library’s reference librarians, “. . . to encourage people to write down their stories from this time … and submit them” to the Special Collections (Kuntz, K.). The program was entitled QC Life in the New Normal.  In this way, and in many others, Kathryn is seeking to preserve history, a subject she has cared about from the very beginning. Kathryn has proven that there are many things that can be done in the field of history if one has the right amount of passion and appreciation for it.

Works Cited

European Studies Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries (2018).

[Image of Kathryn Kuntz]. Retrieved March 30, 2021 from https://ess.lib.byu.edu/newsletters/wess-newsletter-archive/wess-newsletter-spring-2018/2018-spring-personal-institutional-news/

Kuntz, K. and Miano A. (2021, March 25). Interview with Kathryn Kuntz. Zoom video meeting.


Meet Alex London, Reference Librarian Extraordinaire

by Gretta Cox-Gorton

London considering one of the thousands of microfilm reels held at the WPL, courtesy of the Worcester Public Library.

What’s a public library to do when a global pandemic shutters its doors? While some of us were making banana bread, researching mutual aid, and figuring out how to get our eager hands on recent bestsellers, our public libraries and the librarians who staff them were hard at work trying to find ways of gracefully bridging the divide between in person and remote access to collections.

Enter Alex London, a reference librarian and subject specialist in Local History and Genealogy at the Main Branch of the Worcester Public Library. The Simmons alum has worked in libraries since he was a teenager, and has been in this position since 2015.

Day to day, London’s responsibilities are extremely similar to the other two dozen or so reference librarians at the WPL, including tasks such as assisting patrons at one of the library’s six service desks, performing regular collections maintenance, purchasing materials, and staffing the online chat reference service, answering questions from far and wide on topics of equal variety, like “was my item renewed?”, “are you taking donations?”, “how do I read ebooks on a laptop?”

Outside of these duties, London, in collaboration with another librarian, is

Outside shot of the Main Branch (mid-renovation) in March 2020, courtesy of the Worcester Public Library.

responsible for the library’s Local History and Genealogy collections, which contain thousands of printed materials such as books and periodicals, photographs, microform, and digital resources dedicated to Worcester’s cultural heritage. Researchers from all walks of life have come to the Worcester Public Library to access these historic collections, but the combination of a global pandemic and a long awaited, large scale renovation of the ground floor, Periodicals area, and Childrens Room have made it difficult to foster access. “Popular [historical] collections at the Worcester Public Library all have something to do with providing a sense of place” says London, as we sit down for our chat at a large table in the middle of the Local History stacks on the third floor, where countless patrons over the years have poured over city directories, yearbooks, and large, historical maps of Worcester county. It’s difficult to maintain a sense of place when the building is inaccessible to patrons and staff, respectively, and most of the materials in London’s charge can only be accessed in person. 

With this barrier to access in mind, London and his coworkers are doing their best to tailor programming to bolster virtual accessibility. “The collections that get used the most are the most user-friendly”, he says, and the numbers back him up. Since the onset of the current global pandemic, the migration of programs to a virtual medium has exploded – participants have doubled, and oftentimes tripled, especially in classes relating to local history and genealogy. Classes which promise to impart practical skills in specific databases and online resources have done particularly well in the last few months, such as “Research Your Family History Through Digital Real Estate Records”, “An Introduction to Finding American Military Records for Genealogists”, and “Read All About it: Finding and Using Newspapers in Genealogy Research”. Beyond classes for unique audiences who need extra guidance, independent searches on databases such as Ancestry have more than quadrupled since last year. This has to do with the increased numbers of people now at home and becoming interested in tackling the family history, but also in the popularity of the programs and classes which focus on how to navigate important sources. In this regard, London’s position is one of a facilitator, not gatekeeper. Instead of relying on antiquated methods of information exchange, he can instead prioritize the creation of avenues for service, and can actively seek to connect researchers directly to resources. This is a crucial aspect of any cultural heritage professional’s responsibilities – democratizing the means of access to ensure transparency and to build trust in user communities.

Even though the pandemic has forced programming to be entirely online, and reference services have morphed, London finds optimism in the current building renovations at the Main library wrapping up and what the space will mean for community engagement in cultural heritage in a post-pandemic world. When asked about how the new and improved space would affect this relationship, he mentioned that the library is purchasing, amongst other kinds of technology, a VHS to digital file converter, which would allow patrons to bring in things like home videos and commit them to a variety of digital formats. London hopes that this technology will serve as an attraction, and promote the library as a center for patrons to not only discover their past, but to preserve it for the generations to come.

Further Reading

Worcester Public Library’s Local History and Genealogy Resources: https://www.mywpl.org/?q=local-historygenealogy

Worcester Public Library’s Online Program Calendar: https://www.mywpl.org/?q=online-calendar






Meet Caitlin Oiye Coon at Densho

by Kai Uchida

One of the most prominent community archives in Asian America is Densho. Translating as “to pass on,” it is an organization that is dedicated to providing resources and archival material related to the World War II Incarceration of Japanese Americans and Japanese American heritage. Densho was founded in 1996, and emerged as a community archive that sought to preserve the voices and memories of those who experienced incarceration firsthand. Densho operates as a nontraditional archive that follows the post-custodial model of collection policy. This means that they work directly and primarily with Japanese families to digitize letters, family photo albums, military papers, and other documents relevant to their incarceration, then return them to their owners. They also work with National Archives and Records Administration and several schools within the University of California to digitize at risk documents and to locate and process other materials relating to Japanese cultural heritage. Caitlin Oiye Coon is Densho’s Lead Digital Archivist, and I spoke to her about her role in Densho’s evolution and her shifting priorities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coon came to Densho in 2012 and arrived with a background as a historian and with a recently acquired master’s degree in Archives and Records Management from San Jose State University. As Densho’s resident digital archivist, Caitlin manages a team of two part-time and two full-time archivists who operate as digitization technicians. Processing is the bulk of their labor, and they conduct significant amount of item-level description on a weekly basis. Using software that they produced at Densho, they create metadata for a wide variety of objects but are renowned for their oral histories. Perhaps their most visible outreach initiative that serves their mostly Japanese-American donor and scholarly user base, their oral history series represents the essence of their mission at Densho. By interviewing and filming Nisei testimony, Densho not only provided a means by which survivors of incarceration could disclose what had been a previously difficult subject to navigate in Japanese-American families but also filled a historical gap that had lacked direct testimony from survivors.

Through the pandemic, Densho has been uniquely adaptable and prepared for the realities of remote work and outreach and has found success with recent events. This is due to the structure and nature of Densho as a hybrid organization. Caitlin says that they can attribute this success to two main reasons. First, Densho’s post custodial and digital model meant that work on processing collections and allowing users to browse collections remained unimpeded. Second, their methods of outreach were already nontraditional because user engagement was already prioritized within the context of remote access. With many Japanese-Americans using their time during the pandemic to pursue genealogy, workshops run by Caitlin on building family trees tripled in attendance through Zoom meetings. Indeed, Coon identifies Densho’s most recent and ambitious new outreach project – a podcast produced by Japanese American brother-sister team Hana and Noah Maruyama about the history of the incarceration called Campu – as a vital part of Densho’s push for a younger audience’s attention to Densho’s collection. Their experiment with this new media medium has proven popular enough for a second season to already be in the planning stages.

However, there are more than a fair share of downsides, challenges, and disadvantages with which Caitlin has had to contend. The intense competition for grant money, funding, and ensuring the long-term life of Densho’s repositories and its staff continues to be an inherent problem. Much of these problems stem from the fact that Densho is not only a non-traditional archive with no physical on site space to exhibit their collections, but also because they are a community archive that receives far less attention compared to traditional and more academically aligned repositories.  While they are a nationally recognized organization that is better known than many other community archives, they still receive little attention or consideration from traditional grants from the likes of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. To counteract this lack of attention and to organize archives collectively to find consistent funding and support, Caitlin has partnered Densho with the Community Archives Collaborative, which is a network that seeks to build connections between community repositories and share ideas and practices that allow for them to become their best advocates.

Caitlin’s role within Densho speaks to how Japanese Americans are taking the lead as stewards of their heritage and memory in building community archives like Densho. Indeed, their post custodial and digitized model ensures that collections can be accessed remotely and kept firmly in the hands of the Japanese Americans. In light of remote access being more important than ever to repositories and the increasing importance of community archives for marginalized and vulnerable nonwhite communities, Densho and its archivists are positioned to thrive as an instructive example of how community repositories should serve their users.




Liberty and Union Festival at Old Colony History Museum

by Ashley Perry

On October 21, 1775 the Taunton chapter of the Sons of Liberty created what came to be known as the Liberty and Union flag — a banner of red cloth with “Liberty and Union” stitched boldly upon it with the Union Jack on the upper left corner — and flew it high on the Taunton Green in protest of British rule. This flag is considered to be one of the first flown of the American Revolution, and it’s inception is celebrated annually at the Liberty and Union Festival, sponsored by the Old Colony History Museum and the Downtown Taunton Foundation.

Founded in 1853, the Old Colony History Museum is one of the oldest historical societies in New England and is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and exhibiting the history of Southeastern Massachusetts. OCHM’s secondary mission is “to interpret the area’s history in ways that are accessible, inclusive and meaningful to local residents and visitors” through outreach and events. Their vast collections contain over 13,000 objects including textiles, silver, and militaria as well as 500 linear feet of archival materials. The Museum also houses a sizable research library containing genealogical materials related to Plymouth County. Rotating exhibits highlight important moments of the “Old Colony’s” history. Visitors can now see the latest special exhibit, A View of Plymouth Colony: Then & Now, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower.

The Downtown Taunton Foundation is a relatively new nonprofit organization established in 2011 to “promote the arts, strengthen small business, eliminate blight, create affordable housing, and improve overall quality of life in the Downtown neighborhood.” The Downtown Taunton Foundation collaborates often with the Old Colony History Museum, and has sponsored the Liberty and Union Festival since the organization’s creation.

The weekend-long patriotic bash now known as the Liberty and Union Festival has taken place every October since its inception in the 1990s. Originally beginning as a small parade, the event has expanded over the years to encompass a full weekend of historical and local fun. Activities vary year to year, but the festival always includes the raising of the Liberty and Union flag complete with historical reenactment and rousing speeches. Over the years, the festival has even drawn groups of reenactors from across New England to partake in the celebration. OCHM also brings in a variety of local historians and scholars to give lectures and talks, and the festival typically includes free tours of the Museum and the First Parish Church as well as walking tours through downtown Taunton.

While the festival was created to highlight an important historical moment for Taunton, it also serves as a celebration of local art, culture, and business. The 2013 festival included a stall with 18th century cuisine prepared by Taunton High School culinary students as well as a “Liberty Libations” pub crawl in the evening. 2015 showed one of the largest turnouts to date at about 300-400 people, and further incorporated food trucks, arts and crafts vendors, as well as musicians and dancers. Other favorites included 18th century dance lessons, colonial games, and pottery demonstrations. While the 2020 Liberty and Union Festival couldn’t take place in-person due to COVID-19, OCHM was determined to continue the tradition. Through online games and activities as well as a live stream of the flag raising ceremony, the Museum was able to bring the patriotic celebration right to families’ homes.

The Festival has a little bit of everything, which may be why it’s been so successful in connecting with the community. It embraces Taunton’s historical significance while simultaneously celebrating the local artists and businesses of the present. While locals appear to make up most of the festival-goers, Liberty and Union also attracts visitors from other parts of Plymouth County as well as regional politicians and officials. While the program is designed as a community outreach event, it has also been an effective way for the Old Colony History Museum to advocate for their program. Not only was the Museum able to get more visitors through their doors (including those who didn’t realize the Museum even existed!!), their patrons kept coming back for more after the event’s conclusion. For that, the Liberty and Union Festival deserves a grand “Huzzah!”


For Further Reading:





The State of Utah vs Joe Hill

by Jack Oldham

The project I chose to profile is the “The State of Utah vs Joe Hill,” which was created by the Utah Division of Archives and Records Service.  This is an active project that looks to tell the story of Joe Hill who was a Sedish-American labor leader and activist.  In 1915, Hill was convicted of the murders of two men in Salt Lake City.  The night of the murders, Hill appeared at the office of a doctor with his own gunshot wound, causing suspicion that he was involved.  Hill’s trial and subsequent execution spurred international headlines and discussion about his innocence and whether or not he was being targeted for his work as a prominent labor organizer.

“The State of Utah vs. Joe Hill” serves as a digital exhibit on Utah’s state archive’s web page.  The goal of this project is to fully digitize and transcribe records related to Joe Hill, his trial, and the international conversation that it created.  In order to make these records publicly available and accessible, the Utah Division of Archives and Records Service is asking the public to help with the transcription process.  There are currently three collections available for the public to transcribe, “Governor Spry Joseph Hillstrom Case Records,” “Governor Spry Joseph Hillstrom Petitions,” and “Governor Spry Joseph Hillstrom Correspondence.”  This project appears to have reached an enthusiastic and participatory audience as more than half of the materials have been accurately transcribed in just over a month.

Looking at this project from an advocacy and outreach perspective, I was struck by the use of crowdsourcing transcription and how that works to the benefit of the institution in more than one way.  As we have discussed in class, government archives oftentimes find it difficult to access an adequate amount of funding.  Crowdsourcing serves as an interesting strategy to keep costs low while also increasing institutional productivity.  Furthermore, crowdsourcing looks to be an effective method of outreach for institutions as they can thoroughly engage with a wide audience.  In this case, the Utah State Archives are certainly looking to serve their people in an effort to help create a community, specifically for Utahns and individuals interested in labor history in the United States.  This is a particularly effective way to create a larger and more involved community during the Covid-19 pandemic.  Given our inability to gather and come together in person, crowdsourcing through the internet is a great solution that helps further the institution’s goal of community building.  This goal of the project aligns with the institution’s mission and values to provide its citizens with a more complete understanding of Utah and its people.

Another important aspect of this project is related to Joe Hill’s innocence.  There is much evidence that indicates that Joe Hill was innocent and received unjust treatment from the Utah Justice System.  By digitizing and transcribing this collection, the Utah State archives are providing documentary evidence of past wrongdoing against citizens.  In doing so, the institution is providing greater transparency and accountability to the Utah state government.  There also seems to be an element of attempted inreach in the Joe Hill project.  By detailing the past transgressions of the state government, the Utah archives can inform and remind the government of its commitment to serving its citizens with transparency and justice.  Greater engagement with the public and those within the Utah state government are laid out as key goals in the Archives’ “Outreach and Advocacy Guide.”

Further Reading

“The State of Utah vs. Joe Hill” special project:  https://archives.utah.gov/digital/joe-hill.html

Utah Division of Archives and Records Service “Outreach and Advocacy Guide”: https://archives.utah.gov/documents/utah-state-archives_outreach-guide_FY2021.pdf