An Interview with Kenton County Public Library, CCDI’s Libraries, Archives, Museums Grant Recipient

The Kenton County Public Library (KCPL) team began their Libraries, Archives, Museums project this past April. Ann Schoenenberger, team lead, is a Digital Librarian at Kenton County Public Library, which is located in Covington, Kentucky. Jameela Salaah, a Program Manager for the Center for Great Neighborhoods, and phrie, an Artist-in-Residence, are also collaborating on the project.

A photo of the Kenton County Public Library team.

From left to right: Ann Schoenenberger, phrie, Jameela Salaah stand in from of the Lincoln Grant Scholar House in Covington, Kentucky. [Photo courtesy of Michael Wilson]

The public library is receiving $52,080 in support of their project, “Crafting Stories, Making History: The African American Experience in Covington, KY.” Their project aims to preserve and highlight the lives and experiences of residents from the historically Black Eastside neighborhood. The team will host a range of activities, ranging from monthly community events to inter-generational listening sessions and a public library series. Additionally, mini-grants will support Eastside residents in their own community research projects.

Olivia Dorsey, a Program Specialist for the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative, interviewed Ann to learn more about the team’s project plans.

Congratulations again on receiving CCDI’s inaugural Libraries, Archives, Museums grant! Tell us about your project. What will you and your team be working on?

Ann: The project is called “Crafting Stories, Making History: the African American experience in Covington, KY” and it centers the African American community in the Eastside neighborhood of Covington. Artists-in-Residence and community members will engage in a community history project that officially lasts until April 2023, where we will have an exhibit of the stories, writing and other creations from the community. You could say the Library of Congress Digital Collections are the guide and muse for the work. We will spend time learning about research and exploring the vast collections at loc.gov. As we explore the collections, we see all the ways stories and history are preserved and also what may be missing. For the community we are focusing on, the missing piece is the people themselves and what they want to preserve. We took our direction directly from Dr. Hayden when she described the grant. We want to make sure that future historians get the full story of our country’s history. Every Covington resident has something to contribute.

Could you tell us a bit about how this project connects with the wider goals and values of the Kenton County Public Library (KCPL)? What is the significance of connecting the residents of the Eastside neighborhood in Covington, Kentucky with the Library’s materials?

A scan of a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky (1949).

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky. Sanborn Map Company, – Jul 1949 Vol. 1, 1949. Map. //www.loc.gov/item/sanborn03152_005/.

Ann: Our library has committed to preserving the area’s history and making sure that every resident has equal and fair access, service and representation. Projects like this help to carve out space and voice for communities that have a unique, cultural perspective. Another way to say it is that we are zooming in on part of the collective story, part of the map and looking at it in a new way. With the “Crafting Stories, Making History” project, we have the opportunity to highlight the rich history of African Americans in Covington and there are so many stories to spotlight. We seek methods to give people, neighborhoods, and the community ownership, resources, and a way to express their culture in public space. Grants like this are an incredible way to empower this vital work.

Another benefit of the grant allows us to connect the community with library work. I am hoping to find community members that are interested and see their affinities to public research and preservation that we can support and bring into library work.

In your project proposal, you highlighted several Library collections your team will work with, including the Kentucky Collection in the Archive of Folk Culture and Quilts and Quiltmaking in America. Could you share more about what the process of identifying collections looked like for you? How did you decide which collections you would use?

Ann: I started like everyone does with a keyword search in the top-right search box for “Everything” on the Library of Congress website.  If you try it (I do encourage everyone to explore this way with their own keywords), there are not many results for “Covington, KY” and “African American.” I expanded my search to geography and also approached the research from historical, cultural, artistic themes and personal narratives. As I searched, I looked for the subject headings that may be useful and the types of materials held in the collections and the discovery aids created by LOC staff. By expanding to “Kentucky”, I found that the Northern Kentucky Brotherhood Singers were featured at the Library of Congress and included in the Kentucky Collection in the Archive of Folk Culture.  I learned from phrie that for many African Americans, the Great Migration happened within Kentucky not necessarily to Kentucky.  Therefore, as we work with residents, we can explore the collection using the other African American cities/communities in Kentucky, time periods, and formats to find materials related to African Americans and hopefully families in Covington.

Our first partner, Learning Through Art, Inc., has a program called StoryQuilts that is so relevant to the themes of the grant. As part of the program, each person creates an individual story square which is then turned into a community quilt out of all the stories and given to the group. Beyond the beautiful metaphor, quilting is an important part of American culture and we wanted to highlight its particular importance and expression in the Black community. Learning Through Art then takes it to another level by showing what stories and coming together can do, that even with painful and traumatic histories we can listen, make repairs, and heal.

One of the things that excites me about your project is the level of community engagement that is central to your work. Could you speak to the roles that community members will have in preserving and highlighting their neighborhood’s past and present experiences through this project?

Ann: The roles for community members are the tellers and keepers of their own history. The grant creates three Artists-in-Residence using a very broad interpretation of artists as cultural producers and considering all the ways stories are expressed beyond traditional primary sources. These are residents who use their art and practice to give communities a voice or be one of the voices of the community, if they are Eastside residents. We also are giving smaller grants to any resident who wants to preserve a family or neighborhood story. One resident created a story tent to take to local events to record community stories. When residents share their story, they receive the recording on the spot on a flash drive.

Finally, we wanted to acknowledge the elders and community leaders who have been collecting and preserving all along. We are providing three fellowships to those individuals or organizations as a way to honor, thank, and support them.

A photo of the groundbreaking on Lincoln-Grant School in Covington, Kentucky.

Ground breaking on Lincoln-Grant School in Covington, Kentucky (1931). [Photo courtesy of Kenton County Public Library]

As part of this project, KCPL will be engaged in several activities, including monthly community events, Artist-in-Residence programs, programming in elementary schools, and more. How did your team decide what program activities you would focus on for this project?

Ann: All the activities are a reflection of our partnership. If you read our bios, you’ll see we are using the Library of Congress as our inspiration in the work that we do. In other words, this is our work. I think that although we are coming together from different perspectives, we have the same commitment to youth and community. The work that Jameela and phrie do is so valuable and needed. Working with them has been very instructive for how KCPL can grow and better meet the needs of the public in 2022 and beyond. And with that focus, the activities are selected if they: 1) are generated by the community, 2) involve a process of making space for the community, or 3) provide resources such as accessible instruction, supplies and funds directly to community members.

As you know, the Round 2 of the CCDI Libraries, Archives, and Museums opportunities are now open. What advice do you have for those who are interested in applying?

Ann: To public librarians, I would say build and strengthen your relationships with partner organizations and look for ways to bring resources directly to the communities that are the focus of the grant. Use the application process and grant project as a way to look critically at your organization and services and grow with your community. Applying for the grant can be a catalyst for new programs even if you are not funded and that makes it worth it to work through the application.

Round 2 Libraries, Archives, Museums Grants Are Open!

CCDI recently announced Round 2 grants for Higher Education institutions and Libraries, Archives, Museums on June 7, 2022. The Library intends to award up to three Libraries, Archives, Museums grants and up to three Higher Education grants. We will award up to $50,000 for each grant and will support projects of up to 12 months in length.

Support materials for applicants can be found on the application pages for Libraries, Archives, Museums and for Higher Education Institutions, and will be updated as more resources become available.

Applications are due by 12pm (noon) Eastern Standard Time on September 30, 2022.

If you have a question about the Higher Education grant or the Libraries, Archives, Museums grant, please send an email to [email protected] with the grant Notice number in the subject line.

Subscribe to the Of the People blog for more updates on KCPL and the other CCDI grantees’ work.

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