Preservation, Display and Promotion of the James A. Michener Special Collection of the James A. Michener Branch of the Bucks County Free Library in Quakertown, Pennsylvania
The James A.
Michener Branch of the Bucks County Free Library,
The James A.
Michener Branch of the Bucks County Free Library (BCFL) lies just outside the
Borough of Quakertown, in the upper portion of
Despite the wide
area served by the branch, most of the population (33,000) lives within 5-10
miles of the current location, in the communities surrounding Quakertown. This
immediate area has seen impressive growth in the past 10 years, although
education levels have grown slightly slower in this area than within
Branch’s current facility, which opened to great fanfare in 1973, is now
inadequately sized to serve its constituency, and is moving to a much larger,
newly constructed building in 2004. The present location was designed to hold a
maximum of 30,000 volumes; however, current holdings are at 89,000 volumes (BCFL, 1973; D. Davis, Michener Branch manager, personal
communication, May 17, 2003). The new building will be triple the size of the
existing location, at 25,000 square feet (D. Davis, personal communication,
The branch was named after James A. Michener upon the dedication of the then-new facility in September 1973. According to Harry Weeks, the library director, and Joseph Garvin, the president of the Bucks County Free Library Board of Directors in 1972, the board saw Michener as “one of the better known community residents who has added much to the cultural life of both our community and the nation” and wanted to recognize his years of support for and dedication to the development of the County Library System (personal communication, memos & letters, September-November 1972).
The vision of the BCFL, as stated in its Long Range Plan, reflects the goals and objectives of the library community, its staff and trustees (2002c):
-A wealth of current and popular materials that satisfies the desire for knowledge and makes leisure time more enjoyable.
-The information, resources, and assistance they need to achieve success in formal and informal learning.
-Opportunities to gather together and find out about subjects of common interest.
-New and more efficient ways of accessing homework information and drawing upon the Library’s reference expertise for research.
-Materials and resources that reflect their own cultural heritage or the heritage of others.
-Treatment as “most valued customers.”
-Attractive, safe buildings that are maintained in an efficient, cost effective manner.
Lifelong learning, formal learning support, and improving cultural awareness are all clearly stated components of the BCFL’s Long Range Plan (2002c). The library holds year-round programs designed to benefit and educate the local communities, including book discussions, storytelling, computer classes, discussion on history, literature and travel, children’s programs, seniors’ outreach and cooperative functions with the local schools (BCFL, 2002b).
The Michener Branch
employs 16 people on staff, half of whom are part time. There is a branch
manager, an assistant branch manager, a full-time reference librarian, two part
time reference assistants (one each for adult and children’s services), six
circulation clerks, four shelvers and one custodian.
Several members of the staff have been with the library more than a decade. The
board of the BCFL comprises 10 dedicated, resourceful members of the
author and consummate traveler, James A. Michener was born and raised in
He had a somewhat
difficult childhood, having been abandoned at birth and later adopted by Mabel
Michener, where he lived in a home without much money, but with much affection
and laughter. After a successful academic career, with a scholarship to
Swarthmore, graduate work and teaching positions at the
In the Navy, where
he was sent island hopping on information-gathering expeditions, Michener
developed his lifelong love affair with the South Pacific. This was also the
setting for some of his first experiments in writing, as many of his letters
and stories home to friends and former colleagues at the
Michener was a
lifelong lover of reading and continued learning. Even though he had a
difficult childhood, his mother instilled in him a love of reading and fine
literature. As he told his biographer and friend, Lawrence Grobel,
he was one of the first to check out a book at the new Doylestown library and
humorously described his views on learning as “a very grand experience, but the
minute you taste knowledge, you get caught in this tremendous battle…which
you’re going to lose” (Grobel &
Michener, 1999, p5). After his success he remained very humble and believed
wholeheartedly in philanthropy, donating more than $100 million to public
institutions around the country, favoring museums, libraries and universities (Albin, 1997; University of Northern Colorado, 2002). When the
To that end, it is
with great excitement that the James A. Michener branch of the Bucks County
Free Library recently received a donation of original Michener memorabilia from
The family who donated the memorabilia stipulated that the materials be: archived and preserved properly; be on permanent display; and be available for educational use, all in keeping with Michener’s personal beliefs about the importance of libraries and education. The donated materials have been inventoried and catalogued, and are awaiting a formal conservation appraisal and treatment recommendation. Although most of the documents are in relatively good condition, it is imperative that the library be proactive and engage in preventive conservation actions (AIC, n.d).
The branch’s plans include a formal conservation treatment proposal, archival housing and display options, and a promotional event to coincide with the gala grand opening of the new library building in the late spring of 2004. It is important to showcase these remarkable items, Michener’s connection and importance to the local area, and the educational and cultural value of these works. It is the goal of the library to make these materials available for study by local residents, students, scholars and visitors to the area.
“Preservation: protection of cultural property through activities that minimize chemical and physical deterioration and damage and that prevent loss of informational content. The primary goal of preservation is to prolong the existence of cultural property.” (AIC, n.d)
The James A. Michener Branch of the Bucks County Free Library proposes to employ preservation and preventive care treatments with the donated Michener memorabilia collection. This program will consist of stabilization treatments and preventive care regarding formulation and implementation of policies and procedures for the materials’ handling, care, storage, display and use, reformatting materials wherever possible to a more permanent and lasting format, including digital reformatting to later use the increased educational impact of the World Wide Web. The library also plans to highlight this new collection with a series of promotional events coinciding with the gala grand opening of the new library facility, scheduled for May 2004.
The library plans to properly display a periodically changing assortment of the collection (to minimize potential damage from light exposure), along with currently held materials on the community, the author, and the historical connection between the two. Although areas to house such a special collection will exist in the new building, appropriate, environmentally correct, permanent display cases will be built or purchased. These will include the recommended UV filtering Plexiglass™ enclosures, appropriate temperature controls and archivally sound matting, frames, folders, etc (AIC, 1997; Library of Congress, 1998a, 1998b). The portions of the manuscript and research notes on display will be housed in polyester film folders, which are clear and non-acidic. During storage, all paper documents will be kept in acid-free archival folders (Library of Congress, 1998b). Original photos on display will also undergo conservation and preservation treatments, and will be stored in chemically stable paper or plastic enclosures, again depending on their current display status (AIC, 1997).
Although no significant damage, such as stains, tears, mold or cracking, has been noted on the donated papers, it is important to stabilize these documents and prevent any further deterioration. A full examination by the selected conservators will result in a report fully evaluating the condition, proposing a final treatment, describing the limitations of said treatment, and outlining the costs of the selected program. Photographs will be taken and written reports delivered to the library and its board during the treatment process.
The Northeast Documentation Conservation Center of Andover, MA, under the leadership of Mary Todd Glaser, Director of Paper Conservation, will handle the preservation work, preventive care schedules and policies. Ms. Glaser is also a well-recognized member of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works. The project’s goal is for all materials to undergo appropriate stabilization and preservation treatments and return to the library at least 6 weeks before the grand opening.
It has also been
recommended, and thus the library proposes, that the materials be digitally
reformatted to the fullest extent possible, to allow for greater preservation
and archiving. Reformatting by scanning and filming the documents, first onto
microfilm and then onto CD-ROMs, will also allow for later digital use,
including Web access to scholars from areas outside the immediate community.
Although the library does not currently have such a comprehensive Web site, it
is more cost effective to undertake this process during the initial
preservation stages than at a later time. Reformatting will be executed by
Preservation Resources of Bethlehem, PA, the only organization in the
To bring attention to this valuable new addition to the library’s holdings, and add excitement to the grand opening festivities, a series of promotional tie-ins is proposed. First will be a public showing of the movie South Pacific, in Quakertown’s Memorial Park, the weekend before the grand opening. To go along with the movie, a librarian will host readings and discussions of Michener’s South Pacific short stories and novels. Second, the library will sponsor an essay contest for local students, both middle and high school, featuring stories on travel, exploring new places, meeting new people and a love of adventure and learning—all Michener-inspired themes. Awards will be presented at the grand opening gala. Finally, the library will start a Book Club series devoted to readings, lectures, and discussions of Michener’s works, along with other writers of his era, style and genre, plus contemporary authors perhaps inspired by Michener. The library also plans to work with the local school districts in conjunction with the activities of the Book Club, sharing speakers, lesson plans and discussions.
The Michener Branch manager and the assistant branch manager will execute this project, with support from the adult reference assistant and oversight by the director of the BCFL. Additional support will come from members of the Friends of the Library group, and volunteers from the Quakertown Historical Society, the Richland Township Preservation Board, the Nockamixon Historical Society, the Milford Township Historical Society and the Bucks County Historical Society.
Diane Davis, the
Michener Branch manager, has been with the BCFL for 5 years, and has 20 years
of professional experience in the library field. She has been responsible for
overseeing the selection and transition to a new computer system for
cataloging, book borrowing, and patron reference, as well as preparing the
library and its nearly 90,000 volumes for the smooth move to the new facility.
Ms. Davis has an MLS from
Aileen Johnson has
been the assistant branch manager at the Michener Branch of the BCFL for 10
years, and has almost 20 years of professional experience. She received her MLS
Ryan Dunlap has
been the Michener Branch reference assistant for 3 years and has worked in
libraries for the past 5 years. He is currently working part time on his MLS
As stated under the individual plan components, the timetable for completion of activities centers on the grand opening of the new library building, scheduled for May 2004. All original paper and photographic materials will have undergone treatment and be back at the library for final display preparation 6 weeks before the event. Microfilm and digital reformatting is anticipated to take longer; however, it is still expected that significant portions of the work will be complete by the opening. It is also planned that samples of the best items in the collection will be scanned and digitized first so that they may be used in promotion efforts by the library.
The library expects attendance at grand opening festivities to increase at least 20% versus previous estimates for attendance before the collection was acquired and announced. Volunteers and library staff will measure acceptance of VIP invitations and public attendance figures at the festivities to provide statistical evidence for follow-up reports.
Mr. Dunlap, who is overseeing publicity efforts, will continue in that capacity for several weeks after the grand opening event to monitor and measure the publicity received by the collection and opening events. He will work with the volunteer groups to administer a telephone survey of residents in the areas served by the library, 3 months before the opening, to gauge their awareness of the Michener collection and associated library services. A second survey, after the grand opening, asking the same questions will help measure the effectiveness of community and library efforts surrounding the gala unveiling of the special collection. Clippings from all newspaper or magazine articles will be saved, along with copies of transcripts or programs from any radio or TV coverage. Library staff will also take notes of phone calls or e-mail inquiries about the collection in the weeks immediately before and after the opening.
Dissemination of Information Regarding Collection and Program Results
As mentioned in the sections highlighting promotional plans and program evaluation, the library believes it is vital to craft a strategic public relations plan regarding the Michener Collection. In addition to making use of local community organizations, civic groups, the school system, and the network of historical societies, the Michener Branch will inform local news media of its event plans. Information about the collection, its highlights, connection to the area, significance to the library and its patrons will be sent to the following media groups: the two local papers, The Morning Call and The Intelligencer; all local TV outlets in the Philadelphia and Allentown areas; local radio stations, with an emphasis on WXPN (a nonprofit, NPR-affiliated, news and music station) and other NPR-affiliated stations, as well as the news radio stations (including the two based in Bucks County). The Michener Branch will also send information to the above-mentioned community, civic, school and historical groups, asking that a link or banner about the collection and the grand opening be placed on their Web sites. As part of the project, the library will work with a local printing firm on the design and production of a 4-color brochure describing the collection and Michener’s connection to the local area and the library. It will be available for handouts at the grand opening, as well as providing an ongoing source of information to library patrons and visitors.
After the festivities, when the library has collected and reviewed data on the measurements of attendance, publicity and patron surveys, it will communicate these results to the same appropriate media. The library will also contact relevant journals and magazines in the library profession to share the activities and successes with the professional community, including: American Libraries, Public Libraries, Library Journal, and the newsletters or journals of the state library association. A formal report and analysis of the entire project will be written by the project head and submitted to the BCFL Board, the Bucks County Commissioners, the funding agency, the ALA, the PLA, and Public Library Quarterly.
The area served by the Michener Branch of the Bucks County Free Library is experiencing growing pains. Its residents are in need of a greater cultural awareness and a stronger connection to the rest of the county and the world beyond. The library believes that the establishment of a permanent display of the newly acquired collection of original Michener works will demonstrate just what kind of global impact a “local boy” can have. This local product saw the world, experienced different perspectives, learned to share his thoughts and teachings with others, and wrote about those encounters in style that appealed to millions. It was Michener’s hope, and is the hope of the Michener Branch as well, that seeing and studying these works will similarly inspire young adults, residents, scholars, budding writers and visitors to the area.
Albin, Kira. (1997). Interview Conducted with Michener. Retrieved
American Institute for Conservation of
Historic & Artistic Works.(n.d.).
Definition of Conservation Terminology. Retrieved
American Institute for Conservation of
Historic & Artistic Works.(1997). Caring for Your Photos. Retrieved
Borough of Quakertown. (2001). History.
James A. Michener—Obituary. Retrieved
Glaser, M. (2003). Caring for Your Documents & Art on Paper. Retrieved
Library of Congress.
(1998a). Collection Care and Conservation: Care and Handling Instructions.
Library of Congress (1998b).
Preserving Words on Paper. Retrieved
Preservation Resources. (2002). About (what is
Preservation Resources). Retrieved