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Preserving History

by on December 29, 2015

As public librarians, we are responsible for maintaining a collection that meets the needs of our community. This means analyzing our patrons’ focus and assessing how their preferences will evolve. Aside from the latest fiction, updated nonfiction, and reputable reference and database collections, there is an area of the collection that may be overlooked: local history. Whether it is on a village, county, or state level and whether or not it is in the form of secondary or primary material, this is an area of the collection that deserves attention.

On an international level, former librarians in Tokyo, Japan are collecting and preserving historical maps that plot out U.S. air raid damage from World War II. One of the former librarians, Gen Yamazaki has both a professional and personal connection to these maps. As a library professional during the war, he was responsible for guiding patrons to safe locations during air raid strikes. On more than one occasion, he witnessed death, tragedy, and loss of land and personal property due to these air raids.

In an effort to preserve these rare documents, he also hopes that young people will “see the discovery of such maps as a ‘milestone’ toward peace and a ‘lesson’ about the misery of war.” [1] Throughout political and social changes, history is being created within our very communities and within our library collections without even realizing it. Future generations of patrons will form their own conclusions of their community’s history based on these documents.

In my own library, we are currently working toward organizing and preparing documents for digitization so that members of the public can have equitable access to newspapers, maps, photographs, and other documents that give insight into their collective history. As anyone who has performed genealogy or local history research can attest, there are often realms of the past that we did not know about, have forgotten, or simply do not understand. Nevertheless, it is imperative to determine how this type of local-level information can be stored and made accessible.

While my library’s local history collection clearly differs from the local historical map collection that Mr. Yamazaki is preserving, it is important to for professional librarians to understand the significance of community stories and histories, as well as determine where the public library fits into the conversation.

[1] Iwakiri, Nozomi. “Ex-librarians Collect Tokyo Air Raid Maps in Effort to Promote Peace.” The Japan Times. (2015). Web. 22 Nov. 2015. http://bit.ly/1I8l63


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