Sunday, June 23, 2013

Work Update: Exhibit

“Chester’s ‘Tommie’ Barker – a Year in Professional Women’s Baseball, a Lifetime of Memories” exhibit, Rossney E. Smyth Memorial Display Case, Chester Library, Chester, New Jersey. Photograph © Debra Schiff 2013.

I'll admit it. I'm a bit envious of libraries with multiple display cases and areas dedicated to exhibits. While the image above shows a fine, sizable display case, it's the only one we have at Chester Library.  If we had, perhaps a square museum case, I could place it in that corner all the way in the back by the quiet study rooms. I could outfit the case with one of our not-quite-rare, but certainly scarce, old books. For now, I'll be happy with the one above.

The exhibit shown in the image above is focused on the terrific Tommie Barker, our resident sports legend. She played professional women's baseball in 1950, not long before the end of the All-American Girls' Baseball League. Tommie (whose father wanted a boy and whose real name is Lois) played softball on a team she helped create, the Chester Farmerettes and previously on the Roxbury High School team before the League's tryouts in Irvington, New Jersey.

After earning a spot in the "camp" phase of the tryouts she took several trains to finally arrive in Indiana. Tommie earned her spot as the oldest rookie in the League at age 27, although she fibbed about her age and said she was 21. She was signed to the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Chicks for the 1950 season, and quickly made new friends in her teammates. The framed photo in the upper right corner of the image above shows her team photo.

Because Tommie's items are on loan from her personal collection, she agreed that I could make digital facsimiles of all the materials for a future online exhibit. The yearbook in the center bottom of the case is from the Chester Library collection, although it was a donation from a former Chester resident who wanted it to go to a good home. You can see Tommie in the yearbook on the left page, top-most photo.

When I visited Tommie to talk with her about her life and experience as a professional women's baseball player, I learned that she only played for one year because her father had become ill. "Back in those days," she said, "You had to come home and take care of your parents." When the League mailed her a renewal contract for 1951, she returned it unsigned due to her devotion to her father.

She didn't keep her uniform, but she did hold on to the round sweater patch (on the right) and the shield-shaped uniform patch (on the left). They are in excellent condition, and I placed them on top of some black velvet cut in a way that I hoped would make them pop even more against the light blue background. The blue paper is actually archival wrapping paper which is acid-free and buffered. I thought that it would provide a stable background for the items in the case.

The other framed items include a tinted black and white portrait of Tommie and her certificate from the Baseball Hall of Fame, which had inducted the League in 1998. When I unframed the items to make digital facsimiles, I discovered two other photos in the portrait's frame. First, there was black and white signed portrait of Tommie in the same pose, and a baby picture with three children. When I see Tommie next, I'll ask her about that baby photo.

I used small bench weights to keep the framed items in a tilted standing position, hiding them with other items. For future exhibits, I will likely wrap them in black velvet to make them less noticeable. One of the items used to camouflage the weights is a digital facsimile I received from the Grand Rapids Public Library. It is a copy of a 1950 program from a Grand Rapids Chicks game. The Special Collections librarian at GRPL made a digital copy of a few of the inside pages, including one that shows the team photo. I'll hang onto that one for the online exhibit.

The baseball is held in place by a coiled string weight that you cannot see from above. These types of weights are typically used to hold book pages open. They resemble white shoelaces. Finally, I also used the tilted frames to hide some silica gel packets to help prevent humidity from causing damage to the items.

On top of the case, I used an acrylic stand to hold a list of the items within the case. I hope that it helps to discourage patrons from using the case as a stand for their items. Because the case is currently located between a copier/print station and another copier, I've seen my share of people setting items on top of it.

Last, but far from least, I was able to locate an historian who is an expert on women in baseball for a companion program on July 25. Leslie Heaphy is the author of the Encyclopedia of Women and Baseball, and is an associate professor of history at Kent State University. Tommie Barker has the date on her calendar, and although the 90-year old has had some health challenges, she can't wait for an evening of women's baseball history in her hometown of Chester.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The Service Side of Being an Archivist and Local History Librarian

Some may characterize library service as being available at the reference desk for appointments, phone calls, email and web requests, and "walk-ins." However, library service is all-encompassing, from the moment a patron enters or contacts a library until (s)he leaves/disconnects. Libraries are places that people trust for their ability to provide answers whether via the reference desk, a book or database, a special collection, or any number of resources, especially the library workers. It is for that reason that I take an holistic approach to library service.

At both of my employing libraries, I regularly work with some terrific volunteers. In Chester, one is a Friend of the library who shares great photos of her husky dog and clips newspaper articles for Local History. She had attended one of my "Caring for Your Family's Treasures" workshops and asked if I might help her with some specific preservation questions concerning some old photos and a Bible. I readily agreed because

1. She asked for my help, and that's what I do...HELP.
2. Preservation isn't work for me, it's fun.
3. I was excited to see what she would bring to my office.
4. The request entailed shopping for archival supplies, and those web sites are my kind of candy stores.

Later, the Friend brought to my office a huge family Bible, cabinet cards, and larger mounted photos all dating from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. The Bible clearly had some binding issues and had been used (as many are) to hold genealogy documents, which had become acidic and fragile. Some of the photos were in better shape than others, however all were notable not only for the sentimental value to the volunteer, but for the subjects' expressions, costumes, and poses. After we measured them, I placed the photos into suitable folders until she could put them into polyester sleeves.

She also asked me to help her select supplies and house the Bible because it was so large. The illustrated family Bible would require a custom sling to help place it inside (and remove it from) the box she would purchase. Typically, a special collections department would purchase a custom drop-front box for such an item, but these types of custom boxes can be cost-prohibitive for many people (such as our volunteer). In her case, I let her know that I would be happy to create a way of working with a box already available in dimensions suitable to her needs.

I guided her to items that she would need for this project. She navigated the University Products site easily and placed her order within an hour of her first showing me the photos. We were able to stay within her budget and begin her early preservation work.

The Friend was very grateful, and her gratitude was contagious. Not two days after our shopping session, she brought to my office the president of another local organization who needed help preserving the group's 20+ scrapbooks. As ever, I was happy to help.