The Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Self-Guided Walking Tour

by Noelle Stockwell

With the changing weather and blooming fall foliage, I love going to the state parks and forests controlled and maintained by Massachusetts’ Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Looking at the Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park through DCR’s online website, they have created interpretive resources for self-guided walking tours in Uxbridge, Blackstone, and Millville. Out of these options I chose the Millville Walking Tour which highlights the history of Millville, the Blackstone Canal, and the surrounding railroad and mill industries. Such an outreach resource provides enduring opportunities for visitors to engage with cultural heritage landscapes without having to establish additional staffing or support resources to be enjoyed.

The self-guided walking tour resource is formatted as a multiple-page pamphlet with a map, historical description, points of interest photographs, and suggestions for sites in the surrounding area. It is available as a PDF file through the DCR website, which I accessed through my phone. The Millville Walking Tour includes the Southern New England Trunkline Trail,  Lock #21 on the Blackstone Canal, the Triad Bridge, and sites along Central St in Millville as points of interest. There is a convenient, free parking lot located next to the trail where the walking tour begins. It was easy to follow the trail down and back, following the map and directions to a couple of the side trails, and then return to make a loop along Canal Street to view some of the industrial buildings and canal sites. Overall it was a very enjoyable walk and it connected me with the park in a way I otherwise would not have through introducing the cultural heritage context of the area.

The self-guided nature of DCR’s walking tour was a major benefit. I could choose to participate in the established resource when best for me personally, and can return to it if I so choose. I could also choose to go at my own pace, taking the time to read and reflect on the descriptions created in the walking tour pamphlet. A degree of historical imagination was required to understand the canal and railroad operations described since many of the structures are no longer existing or functional. However, what was incredibly useful were the historical photographs included in the pamphlet that portrayed the historical landscape described.

Although I enjoyed many aspects of the walking tour, some information could be added to the pamphlet to make use easier. One of the first problems encountered was in where to go to begin the walk tour. Although there is a section for directions from surrounding interstates, a street address or name of the parking lot would have required less investigative work on the part of the visitor and made locating the property easier. I also found it difficult to plan as there was no estimated time or distance the self-guided walk would take. Typically this is information that would be valuable to visitors, and was a feature I noted in several of the other DCR self-guided walking tours I viewed.

Given the informational tone of the pamphlet, it would be more appropriate and accessible for older students to adults. While on my walk I saw many other people using the park space, but it seemed like I was the only person using the walking guide resource and engaging in the interpretive material. Instead, I saw people of all ages jogging, biking, walking their dogs, or otherwise enjoying a walk. People are drawn to the park without the interpretive material that peaked my interest. Being located along the Southern Trunkline Trail, one of Massachusetts’ longest rail trails, I was unsurprised to find others enjoying the space.

Observing how many people were naturally drawn to the park, I was disappointed by the lack of signage advertising the opportunities available. When entering from the parking lot there are limited signs, none of which make mention to the self-guided walking tour. One sign has an interpretive description of the history of the area, of which the walking tour could be a great supplement with the addition of a QR-code or other reference to the online resource. The other board was a covered message board with only a couple flyers related to cycling trails. Currently there is ample space that a printout of the self-guided walking tour could easily be added. Following the path, there are also no markers to the points of interest mentioned in the walking tour, some of which could be entrance points to engage passing visitors. Some of the features visible from the pathways, such as the crossing rail lines viewable from the Triad Bridge and Lock #21 along the Canal are visually and artifactually interesting that I believe visitors would be drawn to background information if present and easily available. It is a missed opportunity to not engage those visitors naturally coming to the area who are not doing prior research.

            The Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park covers an expansive area and is only a portion of the public land managed by the DCR. Though I see opportunities for improvement and greater attention to detail in the current version of Millville’s self-guided walking tour, it was likely a comparably low-cost outreach project to add greater detail of the Park’s cultural heritage background. Those who are interested in the heritage and historical background of the area have access to it if, like me, they are interested and go searching for it. Advertising the interpretive resources available through signage could make the resource more successful amongst those drawn more organically to the Park and the Southern Trunkline Trail.

For further reading:

Millville Walking Tour

Blackstone Walking Tour

Towpath Walking Tour

DCR Programs and Events, Interpretive Programs

Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park

What the Water Knows

by Katie Kerekes

Tucked off to the side of the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, past the condos and tennis courts, is the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum. This beautiful stone building is the former High Service Pumping Station, which pumped water from the reservoir to Boston. While the station was decommissioned in the 1970s, the reservoir remains an emergency backup source of water. Given this history, the Waterworks Museum is unsurprisingly best known for its Great Engines Hall, which houses the three historic, steam-powered pumping engines, and can count school groups, nonprofits, and wedding parties among its regular visitors.  

Beyond its engines, the museum also regularly hosts special exhibitions in a small space overlooking the Hall. This season’s special exhibit, Reservoir: What the Water Knows, examines our complex interactions with water. Curated by Arlinda Shtuni, the exhibition

presents new and freshly rendered works by six noted local artists that probe our complicated relationship with water. The artists look deeply into how climate warming is impacting us–both from the outside in and the inside out–and inquire: how are our watery bodies registering and responding to these shifts?[1]

The multimedia show not only features local professional artists, but also includes soundscapes created by current Northeastern University music students. The result is an effective, locally-rooted and immersive exhibit, where visitors are asked to visually and aurally consider their personal relationship with water. The exhibit is also intentionally interactive; visitors are presented with a series of questions about their relationship with water, ranging from the mundane—“do you have a favorite water shape?”—to the existential: “Our bodies are mostly made of water. Our hearts are full of water. So is our blood, sweat and tears. As the climate warms, what do you think happens inside of us?” These answers are collected physically in a clear glass jar outside the exhibit and electronically in a survey that will “remain open in perpetuity.” This is a low-stakes way of getting visitors to participate with the exhibit, and a way to extend the influence of the collection to audiences who may not make it to the museum in person.

In late September, the museum hosted three local authors for “What the Water Knows: A Reading.” The free community event was so well-attended that the organizers needed to set up additional chairs in the exhibition space to fit everyone. The three authors featured had extremely different styles of writing, but all focused on the theme of water and its powerful nature. The first author, Nina MacLaughlin, read two excerpts from Wake, Siren, her 2019 retelling of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. These poetic verses highlighted the anthropomorphic nature of water in myths, as well as the water inside our bodies. The second author, Christina Thompson, read a chapter from her nonfiction exploration of the wide Pacific, Sea People, which touched on themes of colonialism and water as movement. Tracy Winn closed out the night with a short story based on a recent devastating New England flood, drawing attention to water’s destructive power.

The activation of the exhibition objects through the use of reading aloud created an interesting layering of space. Attendees were surrounded by art inspired by water, listening to texts inspired by water, overlooking massive engines that ran on water, and were physically situated next to a body of water. This event was a wonderful entry point into exploring the connections between artistic creativity, industry, and the environment, as well as a fun and out of the ordinary way to interact with the museum. It effectively connected community members to each other, to local art, to the museum, and to the reservoir.

Afterward, attendees were welcome to chat informally with the invited authors and exhibition curator or explore the Great Engine Hall. It became clear at this point that there was a strong sense of community among the audience. Attendees were mainly drawn from nearby condo residents, writers’ groups, and friends and family of the artists and authors represented; all seemed to know each other. It felt like a bunch of old friends catching up, which was beautiful to watch but difficult for an outsider to feel welcome and break into these conversations. The event fostered existing community, but did not extend it to newcomers.

The audience (and the authors) heavily skewed white and over fifty, which is likely a reflection of the neighborhood and of the writer groups present. This was somewhat frustrating, as a major theme of the exhibition and readings is the precarity of our water resources and the impact of climate change, which will disproportionately affect young people and minorities. More efforts could be made in diversifying the audience, in terms of both age and race; perhaps tapping into the university student partners would be a start, or inviting authors from marginalized communities to participate in future events.

The museum has put together an impressive number of outreach programs centered around the special exhibit. June saw a music ensemble performance, while October featured a multidisciplinary panel of artists, activists and writers discussing the connection between water infrastructure, cities, and climate change. The exhibition’s closing reception in November will include a poetry reading. Based on this programming calendar, it seems that the museum is deeply interested in and effective at reaching creative audiences and tapping into existing local communities of writers, artists, poets, and other creatives. Perhaps this is another area for inclusion; the museum could reach out to more diverse groups of creatives and intentionally invite communities from beyond the Chestnut Hill neighborhood.   

The Metropolitan Waterworks Museum is open Wednesday-Sunday with free admission for all. Reservoir: What the Water Knows closes on November 18, 2023. A closing celebration will be held on November 18 to mark the end of the exhibition. Tickets are available on the event webpage.

[1] “Reservoir: What the Water Knows,” Waterworks Museum, accessed October 12, 2023,


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.  

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

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:

Worcester Public Library’s Online Program 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:

Utah Division of Archives and Records Service “Outreach and Advocacy Guide”: