Amy Barritt, Librarian
Talking Book Library & History Collection
Can you share a little bit about your educational background and your tenure at TADL?
I’m a graduate of Kingsley High School, and in 2008 completed a Masters Degree in Information Science at the University of Michigan specializing in archives and record management. Following graduation I served with AmeriCorps working in poverty-stricken schools in Seattle, Washington, helping first generation college-bound students gain confidence and navigate the daunting college application process. In 2010 I returned home and The Friends of the Kingsley Library hired me to organize their historical records and collection. It was a great experience working in the Kingsley Branch Library’s little genealogy room, which is climate controlled to help preserve the historical collection.
After that, in April 2011, I was hired at the TADL Main Library as a part-time Reference Librarian which became full time in 2012. Almost exactly one year ago, I was chosen to be the Readers Advisor for the Talking Book Library. And in January 2019, I’m heading back to my hometown to begin work as the new Manager of the Kingsley Branch Library.
You’ve worked on a lot of significant projects and new initiatives during your time at TADL. What are you the most proud of?
Well, the thing that I’m most satisfied with is our monthly online magazine: Grand Traverse Journal. It’s borne out of the Library as Publisher movement that started years ago, and the Grand Traverse Journal is an important way to offer readers a glimpse at some of the hidden gems of the library: microfilm, historical photographs, obituaries/genealogy, etc. It’s written by community volunteers interested in nature and local history of the region. The most important thing that I want to teach other people is that you don’t have to be a researcher to do research. If you have a natural curiosity and some level of problem solving skills, I can help teach you research skills.
The other project that I’m pleased with is the collaboration between our Reference department staff and our Information Technology staff to create our Digital Online Repository: localhistory.tadl.org
It’s a big deal for a library of our size to offer this online resource, especially with the volume of our collection. Again, we’re fortunate to have a volunteer “force” to help us with the collection development. All of the physical materials must be prioritized as “rare” or “really tell the story” and have a high public value, such as early photos of the Grand Traverse Bay waterfront which are unlike the waterfront that we see today. After selecting the materials, we must scan it in high resolution and then catalog it. Cataloging is key because it requires a human description of the content which will make it searchable in the future by other humans seeking this information.
During your tenure at working with the TADL archives, how does the historical collection grow?
Most often we’re able to add information to the archives because individuals from the community share items from their personal family histories. The primary intent is to preserve the information or data, not necessarily the medium. We’re not a museum attempting to conserve artifacts. So, if a photo negative (plastic film) is breaking down and turning to vinegar, or a newspaper is brittle and degrading, we want to scan the original information to save it digitally. But even in the digital format there are risks. Files can become corrupted, and the information can be lost forever, so it’s not just simply a matter of digitizing and discard the old.
Have your Kingsley roots inspired your passion for local history?
Growing up in Kingsley and the Mayfield area definitely instilled in me an appreciation for stories. My parents were also inquisitive people, so I come by it naturally. There was a diner called PJ’s where the older residents of Kingsley would always meet and sit together at “the liar’s table.” They’d tell tall tales, laced with truths, about the days of old. It was a place to reflect upon the past, inform others about the way things used to be, and to share their lives by connecting with others. Somehow, I just picked up a lot of those stories and it sparked a curiosity in me.
So, even today when kids seem buried in their screens or phones…they’re listening all of the time. You never know what stories they’ll pick up.
How has the experience of working in the Talking Book Library for the last twelve months influenced you?
I had some, limited, interaction with vision impaired persons prior to my work at the TBL and I have a greater appreciation for their needs and worldview now. Many patrons of the TBL feel isolated because often times people are uncomfortable interacting with them, for fear of being perceived as rude or inconsiderate. People need interaction with other people and simply want to be social.
One of the biggest lessons for me is understanding how much accessible technology is available to help people with vision impairment. “Smartphones” are very powerful tools, with apps such as maps that will speak directions to help you navigate safely. Of course listening to audiobooks can be done on these devices. Most of the time, I encounter people that are hesitant to use these devices because they’re not comfortable with the technology. Technology skills can be learned; it may take some time, but learning to use them can also make the world more accessible too.
What excites you the most about being chosen as the new Kingsley Branch Library Manager?
Library service is all about relationships. Serving the people and community that I’ve known since my childhood is a real blessing. The Kingsley Branch Library staff has done an amazing job engaging the community and increasing the usage statistics year after year. I know the facets of the Kingsley community that we already serve well. But there’s an age group gap – those teenagers to young adults – that live in Kingsley but work in Traverse City or Cadillac that I want to connect with. I hope that these young adults think of the library as (another) safe, inclusive, and “shush-free” place to learn and grow.
Amy Barritt will begin transitioning to her new role as Manager of the Kingsley Branch Library in mid-January 2019.