Van Ness, © 2000
v. 12 No. 2, Summer 2000, pp. 23-24.
who serves a genealogical clientele usually has
collection development responsibilities in the area of local history,
too, as the two subjects are dependent upon and reinforce each other.
Unless you work at a major facility, your budget for such acquisitions
is probably small. You may live in a community without a regional
publisher producing local history books for purchase. In most places,
local history collection development requires active solicitation (of
people in your community) rather than passive selection (from
miniscule and/or there are few commercial sources for local history
materials, here are some strategies for building a collection. They are
based on my experience as a local history & genealogy librarian
a public library in a mid-sized, economically challenged Northeastern
city. Don't think for a moment that I've been able to carry out each
idea; plenty are still on my wish list. Remember to consult your
organization's policies and procedures before you act.
attitudes will help immensely in your work: respect, fascination,
for your patrons.
Local history buffs, especially those younger than "codger," often get
the message that their projects are vaguely wierd. They will respond
warmly to your respect.
for your community: if you don't think that your city's history is
fascinating, then no one else will, either.
anything published in or about your area, no matter how ephemeral or
minor: a Buffalo imprint is all I need to see to want to acquire an
item for my collection.
that you might consider collecting and retaining, if you aren't already:
or county directories, telephone books, "criss-cross" directories
histories and genealogies
yearbooks & histories
histories, annual reports, newsletters, product catalogs
& nightclub menus (especially if there are legendary
in your area)
planning reports, proposals, studies, environmental impact statements
publications (newsletters, proposals, programs from awards dinners,
newspapers (publications intended for segments of your population:
seniors, youth, religious denominations, neighborhoods, the gay
lesbian community, ethnic groups, suburbs, entertainment guides, etc.)
& theses (especially if there is a university nearby)
& video footage
which materials to collect, begin to get the word out to your community
that your library wants to build up its Local History Collection.
write up a
Call For Materials, in which you list those items you most wish to
acquire and how patrons can make donations. Add it to your library's
Web site. Make one into a bookmark to be given out at the circulation
desk. Hang it up on your bulletin board. Send it out as a press release
or a Public Service Announcement radio script.
library is part of a larger organization (county government, a
university), request permission from your payroll office to insert a
short flier into everyone's paychecks. Invite your coworkers to
consider the library when their churches publish their histories, when
they have unwanted high school yearbooks, etc.
yourself to the officials in your local government most likely to
produce publications: city planners, executive officers, school board,
highway department, etc. Ask to be put on municipal mailing lists.
public meetings on local controversies and look for literature tables
with free handouts (for example, new commercial developments frequently
draw vocal opposition, motivating people to produce publications
arguing against the project).
is a college or university nearby, students might choose or be assigned
to study your community’s architecture, industries, ethnic
so on. Introduce yourself to professors and offer to give class tours
of your library or department. If students then return to work on
papers with a local theme, ask if they might consider donating a copy
to the library when they are finished. Then have your business card
patron has something interesting, unique, or old and doesn’t
part with it, ask if you may make a photocopy for the
collection. This tactic is usable only when you are reasonably sure
that applicable copyrights have expired.
enjoy yard sales and second hand stores, examine the used books. Amidst
the National Geographics, romance novels, and textbooks you might find
all manner of locally-published material--for pennies. I look at all
slender, noncommercial-looking pamphlets or booklets at used-bok sales.
And I have a patron who will stop and examine books left on the curb if
it looks like there are high school yearbooks being tossed--and these
she will donate to my library.
a Researchers' Registry. Start a file in which your local history
genealogy patrons may voluntarily add cards for the families or topics
that they are researching and how they prefer to be contacted. When you
get to know your researchers, you might start noticing items in your
collection that this or that researcher would want to see. The
Researcher's Registry then gives you a mechanism for contacting him or
her. Many of these dogged researchers go on to publish their work in
one form or another, and may remember your kindness by donating to you
the source materials that they collected along the way, or copies of
their books or articles.
buildings or structures in your county been added to the Historic
American Buildings Survey or the Historic American Engineering
Structures Report (HABS/HAER)? Check the HABS/HAER page at the Library
of Congress Web site to find out and, if so, consider acquiring copies.
invite collectors with vintage photographs of your community to display
them. Ask permission to photocopy all images displayed and record all
names, dates, places, etc. These can be inexpensively bound and labeled
with the owner's name, e.g. "The Mary Smith Photograph Collection."
isn't a tactic but a tactful way to introduce your collection to local
celebrities: treat all local authors as royalty. Make a little fuss
over them. Even if the patron at your desk happens to have written the
crudest, most amateur self-published booklet in your collection, ask
him or her to autograph it. Invite them back to do research in your
department for their next books. Have an annual Local Authors reception
in your library and invite the public.
low-budget collection development ideas will get you thinking of ways
to involve your community in developing their local history collection.
Updated 18 March 2010