Monday, October 5, 2015

Considering Professional Diversity

Last month I was professionally involved with TWO conferences at the same time. For four days in Louisville, the state library association (KLA) and AASLH were both hosting their annual conferences on the same days within a couple of blocks of each other. My employer, the Kentucky Historical Society, was playing host to the AASLH Conference, and I was speaking twice just down the road at the KLA Conference. My professional connection to both conferences meant I was walking a line of involvement that brought me in contact with different, yet similar, energies.

The AASLH Conference consisted of several panel sessions about the management of state and local historical societies as well as the challenges associated with applying contextual historical value to the user experience. Obviously I could relate to many of their topics and challenges. When going through the exhibit hall, attending their evening functions, and following their Twitter feeds, I couldn't help but see an overlap in the genealogy and library fields.

The exhibit hall was full of library, archival, museum, and preservation organizations/vendors. In some regards I felt as though I were at a library or genealogy conference. During the main evening event on Museum Row, the SAR Library was open for free research to conference attendees! (A genealogist's dream) As Women's History was a main theme of this conference, the challenge of researching women naturally drifted toward the records available to researchers. Below is an example of the tweets coming out during the conference:
As you can see, genealogy rose to the surface as a valuable methodology when researching the lives of women in history. Of course, we genealogists could have told them that all along, but it speaks to the value of expanding our horizons at other related conferences. Just think of the networking and conversations that could have followed such a session if genealogists were in attendance.

The KLA Conference was no different. Yes, it is a conference designed for state librarians, but for those of us who serve genealogists, the opportunities were numerous: Maker Spaces, a new trend in libraries had a demo in the Speed Geek area that covered how to build or share a story, one line at a time. One speaker outlined the challenges of serving four main generational groups and the things important to them. As part of this presentation he outlined a way to get them all to talk to each other: Hosting a History Channel Live night to allow each generation to share their local memories and tape the session. He claimed this was a great way to document the memories of a community.

We also have a Genealogy and Local History Round Table as an option for KLA membership. As the chair of this group, I invited a representative from Family Search, Jane Colmenares, to demonstrate the Wiki functions and how easy it is to change the information. With the local information for each county in place, it is necessary for local organizations to make sure their information is correct for researchers seeking out state and local collections. Our speaker had worked with the Wiki for over eight years and had some wonderful insights for us to use as soon as we got home!
So what is my point with all of this? I've heard some grumbles over the years about the national genealogy conferences using the same speakers every year. I still learn from these people, and don't always agree with that complaint, but I can see their point. Since the genealogy field is growing and changing at a rapid rate, and those that attend may need exactly what is presented there, perhaps it is now up to us to take a broader approach in our education and professional development? These are only two conference examples that related in some way to genealogy and historical research. There are so many others: Some focused on story telling/family history, ethnic specific research, women's studies, writing, etc. Lately, I've been looking at the various conferences and have decided I owe it to myself to branch out a bit. When the national genealogy conferences are not in my region and I know I'll be skipping them that year, I need to look at the other conferences nearby. Even if they don't fully fit my profession, I would like to attend as a genealogist, librarian, writer, to have our voice heard when other professionals are talking about issues that we deal with every day.

As the world takes more notice of genealogy as a valuable aspect of research, we need to be the professional voice out there. Not only can we influence in a positive way, but we can network with and learn from other professionals that can enhance our own profession. These new relationships can only serve to bring genealogy out of professional seclusion and into wider respectability. Besides, I feel the lessons of expertise can flow both ways, and will enrich our approaches to research as well as provide a whole new group of potential speakers/writers to learn from. Do yourself a professional favor and be watchful for new learning opportunities in your neck of the woods....I promise you will enjoy the change and just might come away with some new friends and a new sense of research energy!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

History in Lights

What happens when the lights go dark? In Las Vegas, several sets of lights go out every decade. In fact, one grand set of lights that lit up the Riviera just went out this year. Only a couple of months ago, you could still see the neon sign, ghostly dark with shadows and reflections from the lights of the other casinos nearby. Despite the command to pull the switch, bringing darkness, the Neon Museum is waiting nearby to offer a second chapter for those that faced the last curtain call. 

The glitz and glamour of  the Las Vegas strip is always tinged with a sense of déjà vu: As if you’ve seen the extravagance before, perhaps just around the previous corner, or in an old movie from decades ago. The glitter and lights have provided a backdrop of resplendent euphoria. Of course, this effect is intentional, to make you feel prosperous, beautiful, uninhibited, and timeless. But just as pockets empty and beauty fades with age, so too casinos fade in popularity and age tarnishes the shine of the flashing lights.
As a reminder of all that glitters is far from gold, the Neon Museum strives to preserve the essence of Las Vegas, from its early days to the present. With each casino that is shut down, the Museum is at the ready, hoping to secure a piece of the sign for their "boneyard." 

Over the years they have collected many remnants of neon artistry. Not many are in working order, but each comes with stories as big as the current towers of light still shining on the strip, just up the street. That was the first thing that caught my attention during our visit. Standing in the dark, waiting for the tour to start, and seeing the glow on the horizon from the current casinos that have risen up to take the place of the past signs we were about to see. A reflection of humanity and life itself that was too uncomfortable to speak out loud. Most waited in respectful silence, as if we were about to enter a cemetery.
Visitors are encouraged to purchase tickets well in advance as tours sell out quickly. But the tour choice is part of the experience. Tours can be taken during the day or during the night. As a Neon Museum, I figured the neon signs viewed at night would make for the best experience. In hindsight, I now realize either tour would have distinct advantages. While the night tour provides an atmospheric experience of echoes and shadows, the daytime tours would provide an artistic experience of mid-century modern marvels. Many of the signs on display are from the very era of Betty Willis’ famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign that has become a timeless icon of this city: impressive in either the light of day or light of night.

The endeavor that evolved from a Neon Boneyard into a Neon Museum began very small and has grown significantly over a brief number of years. Still, the effort, talent, and resources necessary to bring darkened neon signage back to its glowing glory does not come easy. Each sign is unique in construct, and only shines again after a lengthy labor of love. This slow and costly process means their collection of broken signs vastly outnumbers their collection of brilliantly resurrected signs. 
During the night tour, visitors are guided through a maze of neon art. Sizes, colors, shapes, textures, and messages are as varied as the current array of signs seen on the 21st century strip. But time is always a variable, as evidenced by the patches of rust alongside the brilliant residue of paint and glass. Since Las Vegas is only a little over 100 years old, their earliest signs only go back to the 1930s and 40s. Not only do visitors experience the variance of light and color, but design and construction changes enhance the stories told by the guide. 
Celebrities, gangsters, and early restaurateurs provide the history, but the contours and shapes provide the visual record of 20th century sign making. As only a few of the signs have been restored to fully functional operation, the museum has chosen to light the signs and paths with colorful spotlights that create depth and atmosphere. The darkened shadows with hints of light and color truly echo a time past. Despite the name change from "boneyard" to "museum" there was a sense of cultural death, and many locals still refer to this place as the “boneyard.” Each decade of decadence has put its mark on this city in the form of massive light structures, meant to lure visitors with the promise of riches. But the riches are ethereal, rarely realized, and often out of reach. 
And yet, the lure is still alive. New signs replaced the old, and today’s lights are vastly bigger and brighter. As we walked along in the dark desert air, names of legendary casinos were spoken once again and visually represented by a small remnant of their neon luster: The Golden Nugget, The Silver Slipper, The Stardust, The Sahara, and an older version of Caesars Palace. Note the lack of an apostrophe. The guide reminded everyone that Caesars Palace is named in such a way as to declare that all visitors are wealthy Caesars and this is their Palace.
Each new decade strives to make the impact larger and more breathtaking than the previous, to lure more visitors, with even greater promises. At the Neon Museum, the echoes of past decadence are felt poignantly with each turn of the path. As a result, the beauty in this colorfully lit visage reminds us of the uniqueness of Las Vegas. Everyone comes to Las Vegas for the experience, regardless of what we win or lose here. It is a special place unlike any other, and purely an American mirage built out of the desert. 

P.S. The museum is currently raising funds to restore its newest acquisition, The Desert Rose. They have one week left to reach their ambitious goal! Please consider donating to this groovy cause! 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Kentucky Blue Blood

Sorry genies, I'm not going to be talking about connecting my tree to might want to look away.....I'm talking about sports royalty.

March, with a little bit of April mixed in, is the hardest time of year for me. My anxiety levels go sky high, my friendships are severely tested, and I lose sleep staying up to follow basketball scores. As a 7th generation Kentuckian who also happens to be a two-time University of Kentucky graduate, basketball season is intense, to put it mildly.

As much as I bleed blue proudly, I am usually saddened by the black and blue bruises Cats fans have to endure each year. I am well aware that "Haters gonna hate," and team spirit on all sides makes the field a hostile one, but I am really exhausted trying to be a good sport about all the negativity (except for Duke - Duke is our nemesis and always generates negativity - it's a Kentucky rivalry requirement.)

It's clear, for most, if you are not a Cats fan, you are a Cats hater, plain and simple. It can get pretty nasty out there. I am very grateful our mascot is a Wildcat - those claws of ours come in very handy when fighting back. Uh-oh, did you hear that? My claws just came out....

Why does everyone hate us so much?

Is it because of our talent on the court?
Possibly. Jealousy can be a pretty powerful negative force.

Do they hate us because our players are arrogant and have bad attitudes?
They may think this is the case, but in the field of battle, every team out there has cocky players and many need attitude adjustments....we didn't invent any of these perceived characteristics...again, cough, cough, Duke. Besides, many of our players both past and present have been sweet guys off the court. Sure, some have had bad attitudes off the court, but these are young men who have been thrust into stardom and sports royalty. It would be tough for most to ride through that experience with an unscathed personality.

Do they hate us because the fans are crazy and out of control (do I smell roasting couches?)
Possibly. We are completely nuts about our team. Most of us come out of the womb being conditioned to wear Kentucky blue at every occasion, and many can sing the fight song before they can write a sentence. Seriously though, Kentucky blue is appropriate ANYWHERE: bed, work, school, Church, Wal-Mart, the Derby, prom, weddings, etc. Trust me, the merchandising keeps up with the multi-faceted demand.

But let me point out a few things to the haters:

Like several other states in the U.S., we are sports poor. We have a few college teams that are competitive on the national level, and when they make an appearance, they usually make it count. UK basketball is by far, the largest and most successful team we have in this state (sorry Louisville,) but beyond the college level, who do we have?

I may have been born in Kentucky, but I grew up in Ohio, and still wore my blue proudly. But do you have any idea what it's like living in Ohio? There are so many successful teams, I probably couldn't name them all! I grew up with such sports icons as the Reds, the Bengals (don't snicker, they were pretty awesome when I was little,) OSU, Browns, etc....
But just across the river, is a state that has been made fun of at every opportunity. Folks love our greatest two-minute run to the nearest bourbon barrel in May, but once the party is over, they go back to slapping Kentucky around. At this point, I'm no longer talking about basketball.

I have heard every possible stereotypical insult about Kentucky, and each one actually does hurt. The insults hurt because it's a place I love dearly. It's like insulting my family.
The thing is, those who insult Kentucky do so with great joy.

They insult our Eastern Kentucky residents, with "hillbilly" being a favorite label.
Remember the War on Poverty? Every deplorable living condition that could be located was plastered on TV as an example of broad suffering. Sadly, the image stuck, despite any progress made over the past several decades.

They have insulted our accents, which admittedly can be both annoying and charming. BTW, several times lately, I have been called out for NOT having an accent when answering the library reference desk phone, claiming I "must not be from Kentucky" because I don't have a twang.

They continue to insult our intelligence.

They have insulted our history.

They have insulted our familial relationships, citing inbreeding as a rampant problem. One of my dear friends made a genealogy joke recently about Kentucky, reminding us that we don't use for research, we have our own special database called Seriously?!

They make fun of past feuding families and the deaths that occurred as a result.

In fact, one of the most jaw dropping quotes I read was from a book by one of my former UK professor: This is Home Now: Kentucky's Holocaust Survivors Speak by Arwen Donahue. In one of the interviews, a new Kentucky resident, recently transplanted from Ohio was asked about their preconceived notions of Kentucky before moving there. He said "While we were still living in Ohio, the Riverfront Stadium was the big issue. They started construction. And they said when they got done with that they were going to build the biggest zoo in the world. They were going to put a fence around Kentucky." Alexander Rosenberg p.144

Unfortunately, some of the exaggerated insults have a grain of truth. In many ways, we have been an economically and socially challenged state. When the New York Times ranked the hardest places to live by county in 2014, Clay County Kentucky got top honors out of the Nation's 3,135 counties. And sadly, the majority of our counties were painted some shade of orange - which meant "doing worse" according to their graph.
But after all the jokes subside, and the haters feel better about themselves for making fun of a state that has had some social challenges in the past, I like to revel in the beauty they cannot see for their blind and often cruel hatred.

I grew up visiting my grandparents' farm in Bourbon County. The green rolling hills represented peace, love, and grand adventures. It is true that Kentucky is land and people rich. We have some of the most beautiful and fertile land in the country. Our people are some of the most hardworking and caring you will find anywhere. A unique mixture of southern charm, hospitality, and a dash of Yankee know-how.
It is in our complexity that one can see our beauty most profoundly. Each region has its merits and quirks of personality. Even in our history, we could not quite choose a side....Officially remaining with the Union, but serving two governments during the Civil War. That's right, two governors, two governments. How's that for state rivalry? And they wonder why the Kentucky/Louisville games get a tad heated. It's still brother against brother on the court.

Oh, and don't forget: BOTH Presidents during the Civil War were born in Kentucky. #historymindblown!

It was at the end of the Civil War that the University of Kentucky was born. A land grant institution, originally called Kentucky University, it grew to be one of the most successful Universities in the region. Much of its success founded on the rich and diverse agricultural resources that had drawn settlers in the late 18th century.

So, for all you haters, that is 150 years of hard earned success that also produced an amazing basketball team as its most enduring legacy.'s our birthday this year! I know what we all wanted for our birthday...#9! Despite the tragic loss a couple of days ago, we had a raucous birthday celebration with a great season!

Speaking of future banners. One other special thing I have noticed about Kentucky basketball: its ability to inspire. When I moved back to Kentucky 22 years ago, I noticed something that I had never noticed in Ohio.

For roughly nine months out of the year, neighborhoods are full of impromptu basketball teams. As I drive down my humble suburban street, if the weather is even halfway decent, I have to stop to let the group of boys divide so I can continue to my house. The group is always there, most of the year, only changing slightly as they grow or new boys move into or out of the neighborhood. They are diverse in age, social, and ethnic background, but they all dream of one thing: playing for the Wildcats. They are usually decked out in blue and white, and playing their hardest, the competition fierce, yet friendly - building lifelong friendships founded on a longstanding sports tradition.

For those who live in Kentucky, UK is by far the favorite team. It pulls the far corners of the state together to root for a shared cause. Why does UK have that power? Because Kentucky basketball is a tangible example of success, and provides a basis for dreams in a state that has had a tremendous list of challenges to overcome.

So when we get a little crazy over our team, and put the "mad" in March Madness, please don't begrudge us our jubilation and passion. The decades of success deserve to be celebrated, and our pride for our team is unending. C-A-T-S! CATS CATS CATS!


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