(During Denver Public Library's unprecedented, indefinite closure due to COVID-19, WHG librarians, archivists, catalogers, and shelvers are faced with a monumental task: maintain library operations without the actual library. We're up to the task and wanted to share our work stories with our WHG customers in an ongoing series of blogs.
The fifth installment comes from Reference Librarian Alex Hernandez, who describes how the closure has changed his experience writing for the Western History and Genealogy website.)
When I found out about the library closure in March, it was clear that it would be important for Western History and Genealogy to maintain some level of research and publishing from home. I often keep a running list of interesting people and events that might serve future blog posts or biographies and this proved its usefulness that day. Because it was determined that we could take select materials home for research, I consulted my list and grabbed some books. I also spent a day scanning articles from clipping files and other related items to supplement these published sources.
One of the best parts of my job is working on Colorful Coloradans biographies. These are written for children fourth grade and up. They are meant to highlight a diverse group of often less-known characters who shaped the rich history of our state. With so many kids stuck at home and teachers struggling to teach remotely, we hope this can be one of our many resources helping to inform students and lifelong learners alike.
Normally, I get the rough outlines of a life or an event from books or online resources, but the real meat comes from going through historical reporting from the newspapers or archival materials. These provide nuance and extra details that are often missed elsewhere. They are the little things that make the story pop. That’s the great thing about maintaining such an extensive collection in breadth and depth; we often come across tiny gems that have been overlooked by previous research—and we can bring those to light.
I spent my birthday this year at home, poring over material related to Josephine Roche for a biography I had been working on. One would be hard-pressed to find a life more fully lived in the service of others. Roche saw the bloody labor struggles in the coal mines, served in settlement houses in New York at the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, fought for those suffering through the Great Depression, and witnessed the devastation of two world wars. Studying her fortitude helped to give me strength.
We are all working to make sure people still can interact with us and our collections. Beyond biographies and blogs, we have just started providing reference services over the phone. We are maintaining our email reference and answering requests that come through our contact form whenever possible. We have even started tapping our great collection of art, maps, and photos to provide online puzzles for kids and adults.
If those of us in Western History and Genealogy have a muse or a central pillar of strength, it is our interactions with colleagues and researchers. The daily opportunity to dig through boxes of history and share what we find is invigorating and empowering. While I don’t think one can fully adjust to these circumstances, I hope we can all find a sense of appreciation for our colleagues, our loved ones, and even the larger society as we journey through history together.