Elizabeth Shulman is one of our participants in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Elizabeth for a year. You can read her previous posts here.
Happy summer time from the Mallbrary! Last weekend was my first Summer Reading Kickoff for Durham County Library and it was an interesting experience. Summer Reading is the program that most public libraries run to encourage people in the community to read books. People can log minutes they have read and earn prizes along the way. Summer Reading also includes a nice positive catchphrase, which is put onto t-shirts the staff has to wear. This year’s theme is “Build A Better World.”
So how does an archivist end up getting involved in Summer Reading? Well first off, it is an all-hands-on-deck program. Theoretically, people can come to the North Carolina Collection to log points and claim prizes for summer reading. It also happens that the Summer Reading Kickoff was held at Northgate Mall, the currently home of the North Carolina Collection. Right outside our doors there were people making balloon animals, two bouncy castles, a fire truck, and a dunking booth. Recognizing that people would be wandering into the North Carolina Collection out of curiosity, I knew we had to have an event of our own. Rather than explain what the North Carolina Collection has in its holdings, I pulled a sample of materials for people to handle. I called it the “Archival Petting Zoo” since people could touch and “pet” the materials.
For the Archival Petting Zoo, I pulled print and archival materials from the collection. From the archival world, I pulled the Pleasant Pickett Paper, some funeral programs from the R. Kelly Bryant Obituary Collection, and a box from the Durham Public Schools Records. I wanted people to have a chance to experience some of our older materials and materials that represent the community. Pleasant Pickett lived in the area that is now Durham during the antebellum period and died during the Civil War. The R. Kelly Bryant Obituary Collection is a collection of funeral programs from African-American funerals in Durham from 1934-2013. They are organized alphabetically so I pulled a random folder. The collection is in the process of being digitized by the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center which is very exciting for us. From the box I pulled from the Durham Public Schools Records, I displayed a folder of minutes from the school board meeting about which African-American students would be admitted to Durham schools as part of integration. In addition to print manuscripts, I also pulled a photo album and a map. The photo album was images of Civil Rights events and moments in Durham’s history. The map was a map of Durham in 1867-1868 when most of what is now downtown was all farms. That map is one of my favorite items we have in our collections.
From the printed materials, I pulled things that are most commonly used in our collections. Our most commonly used printed materials are city directories and yearbooks. For the city directories, I pulled one from the 1960s and the most recent directory. With the yearbooks I pulled one from every public high school in Durham covering every decade from the 1950s to 2000s. The most interesting one I pulled was one from Durham High School in 1962, which demonstrated how the school was integrating very slowly. The last items I pulled were genealogy books. Genealogy is an area that I have limited experience in but we see a lot of researchers using our materials in that area. I pulled books from Durham County and Orange County. My reason for pulling books about Orange County (where Chapel Hill is located) is that Durham County was mostly part of Orange County until 1881.
I found the Archival Petting Zoo to be very successful. We had about 25 families wander into our space during the event. Not all of them were interested in learning about the North Carolina Collection. Some were children wanting to sign up Summer Reading or wondering if our branch of the library had children’s books. (The only children’s book I know we have is about a squirrel visiting various locations in Durham) However, some parents enjoyed that opportunity expose their children to our materials. The most popular items were the map, the photo album, and the city directories. People were really fascinated that they could learn who lived in their home in the past using the directories.
The greatest success was finding a potential donor in the visitors to our space. I had one woman who was very interested in all of the materials and how I got involved in archives. While we were talking, she mentioned that she and her husband had found papers belong to the family of the previous owners of their home. The family indicated that had no interest in keeping the papers. I told them the Pleasant Pickett Papers that I had on display had been found by a realtor selling another house in Durham. I gave her my business card so we could set up a meeting where I could appraise the papers. I have no idea what their laundry basket full of letters holds but I am excited to see them. Definitely not something I was expecting to get out of my Archival Petting Zoo.
Running the Archival Petting Zoo was not without its challenges. As much as this was an opportunity to education, there was also a need for policing. We put up a no food/drink sign on our door but this did little to dissuade people from bringing in their bottles of water or kids from trying to eat their bright blue ice pops in our space. There was also the need to educate my fellow librarians on how to handle our materials so they could assist me in running this event. However many of my colleagues expressed that they were excited we put on this event.
I had a blast running the Archival Petting Zoo and hope that the visitors who stuck around long enough to handle our materials got something out of their visit. This was my first real outreach event since I started this job and not doing any sort of programing so far has been one of the downsides of being in this job by myself. It is definitely an event I will run again if our Summer Reading Kickoff is at the mall. And I hope that this is just the start of more outreach events hosted at the North Carolina Collection. So I leave you an image of the actual Archival Petting Zoo.