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