Local History

I had an epic struggle choosing a major when I was in college. I started off  as a sociology major, then social science (sociology, history, and criminal justice), but all the while I was also taking English classes. Eventually, I realized having essentially three minors as a social science major was probably not the best idea. At the end of the day, how I decided to mark the paperwork as history is that I had one more class done than in English. The reality is that I thought everything was interesting–no wonder LIS was so appealing!

However, before library school, I was in a history MA program for a week…until I found out I’d be able to go to library school. Ultimately, I think I would have stayed on if I had found my little history niche. I was surrounded by people who were really into specific areas–Latin American protest art, Civil War, etc. It’s only now that I have worked in public and college libraries that I realize my little history place is actually local history, and I think it’s more because I know it can be a big challenge to actually do effective history research at the local level. There is so much that is forgotten or boxed up. (Recently, I read a really neat article by history professor Peter Knupfer and his experience in developing and guiding students through a project-centered study on a nearby community’s grapple with desegregation; students in his class were able to appreciate that local history research is difficult because the sources are not readily available.  A service-learning style project like this would be such a cool way to apply the Framework, don’t you think? My librarian heart swoons at the possibilities.)

In the summer of 2009, I volunteered at the Merced County Courthouse Museum and at the UC Merced Library. At the museum, I researched the building of the Japanese Assembly Center during World War II in Merced. My research was used in a documentary called Merced Assembly Center: Injustice Immortalized and in the Densho Encyclopedia. Here is a Merced Sun-Star article that references my research. I also wrote an article eliciting more information from the community in the Merced County Courthouse Museum’s column in the Merced Sun-Star, but there isn’t a digital copy–this is another difficult thing about small local papers and doing local history research. (Speaking of UC Merced and hidden collections, I discovered that UC’s Calisphere collections contain WWII Japanase American Assembly Center newsletters and the beginnings of a Merced Local History collection. Pretty cool!)

While writing up the laundry list of stuff for the new librarian coming on board to know, I began drafting a section about things I didn’t get a chance to do but would have loved to see through at the Los Banos Campus Library at Merced College. One of the things I really wanted to do was create a local history area. Here’s a little write up from American Libraries magazine, “What To Collect?,” from last summer that outlines the kinds of resources a public library might think about collecting to create a Local History Reference Collection (LHRC).

At the Los Banos Campus Library, there is a mishmash of items in the 300s, 500s, 900s, and in reference that deal with Los Banos and Merced County, but I would love for these things to be housed together. I have asked off and on for approval to do this from the main library, but I haven’t ever gotten an answer to any requests. Honestly, it just requires us to make changes in the catalog for location and call number–all we need to do is put a letter in front, like we have R for reference–and redo a few stickers. We don’t have tons and tons since we’re such a small library. The question is what letter should go in front? SC for special collections? LR for local reference? LHRC is just way too long.

Another thing related to this would be to work with the public library and the little local museum to compile some kind of pathfinder for researching local history. The museum is barely functional from what I understand (I never got a chance to visit–working and living in different counties is rough), so I am pretty curious what kind of resources are housed there.

Aerial view of Merced Assembly Center, California, c. 1942. (2015, July 17). Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved May 5, 2016 from http://encyclopedia.densho.org/sources/en-denshopd-i224-00004-1/

Knupfer, P. Consultants in the classroom: Student/teacher collaborations in community history. The Journal of American History, 99(4), 1161-1175. doi:10.1093/jahist/jas602

 

Book Management: Weeding

Libraries sometimes get a lot of negative beef when it comes to getting rid of books. This isn’t done haphazardly. It’s part of our jobs to make room for newer materials and changing tastes based on demographics. In the case of a small community college campus, some years, it seems like all the writing courses are focused on food politics. Other semesters, the hot topic is social media, terrorism, gangs, etc. Materials also become out of date. Every time I get a new copy of one of those Opposing Viewpoints books, I send back the oldest version to the main library to be discarded.

Libraries don’t have  infinite room. Just like a closet, you need to clean out libraries to make room for classics, items that actually get used, items that are up to date, and new items. In libraries, we call this weeding. (The featured image on top includes a photo of books that were on our shelves that had seen better days.)

Collection management, I have learned, is not my favorite part of my job as a campus librarian. It’s a lot of work, and I don’t really have the right training to run reports on our integrated library system (ILS) to actually check when items were last checked out; I key in every book individually without a scanner (I need to ask the campus dean if we can buy  one) to find out those statistics.

This year, to help me in the weeding process, I created weeding slips.

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They are based on the slips used by librarians at California State University Stanislaus, my undergraduate alma mater. (In addition to my full-time job, I also work at CSU Stanislaus one or two Sundays a month during the academic year.) The slips come in handy because I can fill out all the necessary criteria I need in order to send books to the main library for possible deselection. The librarians at the main library take a look at the notes on the slips, and the collection development officer, the library director (not my boss), makes the final decision. These is also a section on the slip where I indicate whether or not the main library has a copy of what I am sending, which also helps their weeding process. When they weed books, they also check to see if our campus has a copy. It’s been an effective system thus far.

Part of the weeding process also includes inviting faculty in the specific discipline to look over the items for potential weeding. I don’t get a lot traction on that front, so I do a two-week call. If no one comes, I send them on to the main library.

I weeded certain areas this fall, but the true masterpiece was the fiction section. Here is the before and after. I forgot to take a photo of the fiction section before I started weeding, but the photo on top is the biography section, which looks very similar to what fiction looked like before the weeding process. Now imagine both sides of the bookcase looking like the bottom photo. We now have breathing room!

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With the new empty space, my plan is to put just a few books face-out on the shelves, like in bookstores. I do a lot of displays along the outer edge of the library, on our lower reference shelves, and it does encourage some circulation, but I like the idea of displaying books directly on the circulating shelves. I have students who tell me they like to browse when I notice them at the shelves and check to see if the students need help finding something. Because of the browsing behavior, I plan to make some signs in our signature lemon yellow to advertise putting items on hold from the other campus. I also want to advertise the eBook app available through the county library system, as well as let students know that they can put items on hold from across the county library system to pick up at the local library (a lot of them are surprised when I tell them they have access to way more than what is physically available at the local library). I did a hug sign re-haul last year, but I want to experiment with putting a few signs face-out on the shelves.

I also plan to tackle the biography and 900s (geography and history) sections in the spring semester.