A Living History: WWII

It’s the day after D-day.

Okay, so not quite. I’m not crazy, I do know that the D-day of WWII occurred on the 6th of June 1944 and clearly we are well past it. No, let me rephrase, it’s the day after my personal D-day.

Now let me explain.

Let’s go back about 20 years or so to me in high school. I was young and impressionable and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life (more specifically, my career). I remember loving history, I remember being influenced by strong female relatives in my family, who had gone to college and done significant historical research, and I remember wanting to go to university. But for what? Why? What thus far un-known passion held my heart that would get me through the years of study ahead?

Quite possibly out of frustration, my mother, (yes, I have one of those, thank goodness) sat me down and went through one of those thick and intimidating ‘what-do-you-want-to-do-with-your-life’ career handbooks. I remember going through the alphabetized index of possible careers and checking some listed. Finally, one came up.

Librarian.

More specifically, there was a sub-heading: Archivist.

 

Archivist.

 

It was as if a light went on. It was as if one word held the value of my life’s possible worth.

That was it. That was my career path.

Could I get to it straight away? No.

What happened in the years following was a testament to the power of persuasive educators, supportive family and sheer will power. I could not be an Archivist, because an Archivist needed one thing that I in high school did not possess. They needed a Masters Degree.

Was I deterred? Hell, no.

I started university with gusto. I found a program with a teaching degree and history degree in one. No, it was not a double major as I’ve so often been told. No I did not have two focuses under the auspices of one degree.

I graduated with a Bachelors of Teaching AND a Bachelor of Arts in History. I was well on my way to achieving my goal. But then life happened.

It started somewhere with someone (actually a family friend) showing me that I could get a Masters degree in Ancient History. I love history…you had me at hello.

I did it. I did good. But I wasted time. Okay, education is not a waste of time, but at that point I did not understand the concept of hard and soft degrees. (i.e.: get your ‘hard’ degree first [teaching, law, medicine, accounting, etc], then follow with a ‘soft’ degree [art, theater, history- no these are not ‘soft’ because they are unimportant, but because society deems them less important and therefore pays the experts in these subjects less-  please do not be offended and yell at me for saying this, you are seriously preaching to the choir]).

Then finally I got to my Masters in Archives! Yay! I went through an Australian university, but by then I’d met my husband. Love of my life. Was he Australian? NO! Why? Because life, people…life.

I’d immigrated. I needed to do an internship to finish my Masters. I chose well. There is a place in Austin, Texas called the Austin History Center. Fabulous place, fabulous people, passionate about history. Great! I could achieve what I set out to do right?

NO!

Why? I told you: life.

My husband is in the military and even though my internship introduced me to the right people at the right time in my studies (there was even a job opening at the end of my volunteer time with the Austin History Center), we had to move.

We actually immigrated again (if that is what you call it), this time overseas to Germany where we were stationed and remained stationed for the next seven years.

Only one thing though.

I love history…and as far as Germany goes, it D.E.L.I.V.E.R.S!!!

And I’m not going to narrow it to Germany, but all of Europe. It nailed the whole history thing. I was in my absolute element. But I did not speak business German. Even after seven years. Languages are not my forte. Never have been. I’m surprised now that we are back in the U.S. about my German language skills. I did pick up more than I anticipated. I wish I had more aptitude at this level (and yes, before you ask, I’ve tried). However, I was never going to get a job as a Librarian in Germany and even stationed on post as a Librarian I needed to have U.S. citizenship (which came later). I was further from my career dream than ever.

 

But then we came back. Finally, I’d be able to step into the doors of a library and work the other side of the desk. I got a job at a fantastic library, as a specialist for English as a Second Language. I loved it. I was amongst the greatest things on the planet. BOOKS!!!!

I worked my way from an ESL coordinator to a Children’s Librarian and have been working at it since. It’s good for me. I love teaching, I love children, I love libraries. It is the perfect combination of the three.

Until one day…

One day, I saw in the School Library Journal a small post. It was from a museum (I will not name it) that specialized in WWII. They had some artifacts that they could deliver to us. They could be shown to young people as a way in which community members could actually, tangibly touch relics from WWII. There was even a curriculum included, to teach young people about the significance of what they were seeing and what it meant to have survived such a harrowing and all-encompassing era of history.

I may have semi-freaked.

Here was an opportunity to combine the loves of my life (at least career speaking). I could bring history to my library, and then show it to children. I could start something here.

I went to my supervisor. Great- she said- do it.

YAY!!!!!!!

Went to contact the museum. We were good to go- an enthusiastic library with a thriving children’s department that would love to experience the history of WWII!

Did it work out? NO!

 

Why? Because I got an email back from the museum.

“I’m sorry but we only give our traveling exhibit to real educational institutions…you know…like schools.”

 

I cannot tell you offense fellow librarians…

I cannot express to you the words that my (now former) branch manager said in response.

An educational institution? What are we? Cow fodder?

Libraries are the last bastion of free knowledge for all, no matter who you are or where you are from. You can come to the library and have the opportunity to be exposed to knowledge and resources, to learn, to achieve, to endeavor, despite whatever personal obstructions are in your way.

An educational institution???

Sir, we are the ULTIMATE educational institution!!!!!

We are the great equalizers of our society (which in my humble opinion, desperately needs a great equalizer).

Oh, the injustice of that email!!!!!!

What was a librarian to do. I swore…(no, not cussing, even though I actually did that too), I made an oath. To myself, to others, that I would create a WWII experience to rival that which could have been provided initially by this museum’s ‘traveling exhibit’ for ‘educators only.’ I swore that libraries would persevere in this.

Did it happen straight way? No.

Why? I think we’ve been through this….

 

 

I got busy with children’s department stuff. I got embroiled (as we so often do) in non-team players who say that dreams and endeavors are ‘too big.’

And it is hard, particularly when people who are meant to be team players, are not. It is hard to operate in an environment in which outside forces have deemed us ‘non-educatory’ and internal forces always want to make things smaller, not bigger. Are we not so easily influenced by people who lead us, who are meant to be our sources of victory, not our reason to flail? I am. I’m not ashamed to say it. I thrive, when a supervisor gives me reason to dream big, and I find it discouraging to operate under those who want to discourage libraries as innovative mechanisms. I think that most people are the same. I want libraries to endure, to endeavor against all odds, as we always have.

So my oath took a while.

 

It actually took another team player. It took someone else on my team to say “hey, that is a great idea, let’s do a tribute to our veterans on Veterans Day and let’s make it an awesome WWII exhibit that you swore to do months ago.”

 

AND WE DID!

 

Yesterday was my day to show that history, and libraries, and not just children, but everyone could be students. That we as libraries ARE institutions of education and learning, in fact, we are the ultimate educators for everyone. And we can deliver museum quality experiences in a way that connects our communities with history and with each other.

Yesterday was my D-day.

 

And it did not do it alone. Which is my other most important lesson. It takes a team. NAY! It takes a community.

 

And this is how it was done.

 

Paige Carpenter (incidentally, if you are interested check out her gorgeous artwork HERE) was the force behind the ‘let’s do it’ campaign. And seriously, everyone needs a Paige. Everyone needs that one person in their lives that says “what are you doing?, let’s stop pussy-footing around and let’s get this thing done.” She was it for me. Once Paige was willing to work on this- I was inspired to follow through with doing the do and not just talking the talk.

Then something happened. Hurricane Harvey.

Perhaps you heard that Houston flooded? Well we were there, we remember. In an acknowledgement to all of those that were terribly affected by the floods that happened at that time, I pay respect, but I also say that the best thing happened as a result; a sort of light in the dark. We got two more “we can do it” people, in the form of Paola and Cate from one of the flooded library branches.

Throughout all of my studies, and all of my professional career, through teaching and counseling, and library services, I have finally figured it out. It’s not ONLY whether YOU can ‘do it,’ but who you can find, the gems amongst the rocks, who can ‘do it’ too!

And so the four of us came together as a team, to do what I swore we as library professionals and ultimate educational equalizers could do. We delivered a community inspired, authentic, WWII museum quality experience to our local community in the space that our local library could offer.

Now, I know that I am not yet an Archivist. I know that I have not yet achieved that goal. But yesterday I reached that point in my career where I managed to follow through on what I set out to deliver, at least at the local community library level. I brought history to life for people who actually appreciated it. I delivered a history exhibit that had expert collectors and model makers present in the room to actually talk to our community about what they had collected throughout their own endeavors, about what had survived the years, through one of our most harrowing periods of history, to be present on the day.

I delivered history to our people. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Now, make no mistake. I know that I am by no means the Carla Hayden of the Archival world. I’m not even an Archivist…yet. But yesterday was my D-day. Yesterday, I achieved what I set out to achieve.

 

The way that it was coordinated ended up being simple, despite the amount of time, man-power and education it took to bring it all together on the day. We asked the community to contribute. That simple. Because at the end of the day, if you deliver a program (historical or otherwise) that appeals to the community, then they are willing contribute.

We ended up with three major players (outside of our library staff): Jacob Cosgrove from the Houston Heights WWII Museum ( you can find his page HERE), he’s a local young person who has been collecting WWII artifacts since he was nine (he’s now fifteen), and who enthusiastically agreed to come on in the library to show his collection on the day; a local gun enthusiast who had a relic from WWII and was willing to talk about his knowledge; and a model maker, who was not only a WWII buff, but also hand made models of WWII tanks and ships, and who was also engaging and willing to share his knowledge with the visiting community. That, combined with the team of “we can do it” people (Paige, Paola and Cate, and myself), we actually achieved something that the community described as ‘jaw dropping.’ We actually broke down the barriers of expensive museum experiences (no, not all museums are expensive and unattainable for the community- in fact there are some really good ones out there…[preaching to the choir already]), and big institutions that seem unattainable, to deliver history at a community level with enthusiasts that were actually present in the space to explain their collections.

We did it. We bridged to gap between the big hidden historical records that are kept in formidable looking institutions and the local community who want to remember history and the importance of those who lived it.

It was that simple.

 

Okay, maybe not. Maybe we all spent hours designing and meeting and coordinating the exhibits. Maybe we annoyed those “it’s too big for a local library” people whose time is dedicated to keeping things small and safe. Maybe it did, practically speaking, take time outside of the ordinary reference desk schedule of a local library to achieve a library-wide all-ages program that delivered history in a way that appealed to the faces of our community. Maybe it was a program that got “too big” and in the end and not suitable for the “non-educators” that we librarians perceivable fall into the category of being, but in the end it totally, and absolutely worked.

Our program was scheduled for one day between the hours of 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM. By 10 AM people were lining at the door. Veterans of all military branches came to visit. We had an entire Boys Scout troop come in and had a great time. A local large university sent in it’s students to research the impact that community library based exhibits could have oncommunity interest into history.  I personally spoke with these groups for at least half an hour. There were families that came in that spent the entire exhibit time there.

Why?

Because we, a seemingly local library, achieved the “non-educational institutional’ impossible. We bridged the gap. We found an area that our community wanted to see exhibited and we exhibited it. That simple. Maybe it was a lot of time and maybe the program itself met it’s skeptics, but we (in the words of Fat Amy) CRUSHED IT!

Image result for fat amy crushed it

 

So with no more bells and whistles and no more carrying on. I give you our WWII Living History Exhibit in pictures. We had an absolute blast doing this and yes, you’ll see that we totally dressed up for it, because Victory Curls are the in thing!

I hope that we can repeat this and other programs like it time and time again, and that we gave inspiration for other libraries to achieve the same we did here.

At least for me personally, this reaffirmed my love of history and my desire to bring all of the professional loves of my life together.

Enjoy the images below, maybe they will connect you with the history of WWII too!

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