The Library as Incubator Project team is delighted to welcome Stacy Stacy Lienemann, the Assistant Director of Watonwan County Library in Minnesota, to share this all-ages, community outreach program. The quotes from participants say it all, but don’t miss the beautiful photographs, or Stacy’s description of how the library worked with the Historical Society and a local photographer to make the W is for Watonwan book happen!
Tell us a little bit about W is for Watonwan.
We created W Is for Watonwan, an ABC book for kids using our county as inspiration. All of the photographs were taken in the county by county residents and all of the text was written about the county by county residents to create a true community project. We held story times and a book party and gave out free copies of the books while celebrating the contributors and their work.
What was the inspiration for this project?
The Library and the Watonwan County Historical Society were looking for a project to do together. I loved the book ABC NYC and thought it would be great to create a similar project that was local and would depict a very different type of area.
The Library and the Historical Society met several times to figure out how we wanted to organize this project. Ultimately, we wanted to use local talent to create the book. After we were approved for an Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund grant through the Traverse des Sioux Library System, we recruited professional and amateur photographers and writers from around the county.
Writing in this project has made me see my community through the eyes of a younger person, and in turn, this new perspective gave me a greater appreciation and excitement towards membership in my community.
Because the project needed to be finished by June 30th, 2011 and the project was approved at the beginning of September 2010, we needed to move fast or all of the photographs were going to be of snow! We basically created a timeline, figured out a rough outline of what we wanted to achieve, and then decided the submissions would guide the rest of the project.
How did you promote the process and the book?
To recruit photographers and writers, we depended on staff contacts, a newspaper ad, press releases to local newspapers, posters/handouts, and a mass email. To promote the book events, we used posters and handouts, and we promoted the events in the kids’ summer reading brochures, in the library newsletter and e-newsletter, and on the Library’s website and Facebook page. We also placed ads and sent press releases to local papers, sent emails to subject-interested patrons, and sent a mailing to the Watonwan County Historical Society.
Collaborating with local writers and photographers was an amazing networking opportunity, and helped me learn much about my new community that I may have missed if not for this experience.
Once you had submissions, how did you choose who would contribute to the final book?
After applicants submitted their writing and photography samples, one representative from the Library and the Historical Society went through the applications and selected the contributors.
The final group of writers and artists met to come up with ideas of what subject each letter would stand for. All writers could submit ideas for each letter. The writers were told that their audience was pre-readers (readers just learning the alphabet) so all of their writing needed to be geared to this audience.
The reps for the Library and Historical Society determined the final subjects (ex. A Is for Animals) and paired photographers with subject material.
As a photographer, I have usually thought that the quality of my works is based off of my own creativity, but with this book, it was a group process and helped me see creativity in a different way
Meanwhile the photographers were required to attend a mentoring session with Doug Ohman, a photographer who has published several local books on single themes such as Libraries of Minnesota and Churches of Minnesota. Once they received their assignments, the photographers were given several months to shoot the photographs. The photographers were also to shoot pictures of letters around the county. Some chose to photograph building signs while others were more abstract and found letters in objects and nature (such as a tire for the letter O or a branch for the letter Y).
Doug Ohman… gave us confidence and made us feel like we would be successful with this project and that we might even think seriously about doing a book of our own some day. This project gave me the opportunity to do something that I never would have considered doing on my own or in a group, especially at this time in my life… I grew from this experience.
Once the photographers submitted their photographs and the reps for the Library and Historical Society selected the final photos, the writers were given the photographs to inspire them to write a descriptive sentence, like” Y is for Younger Brothers Capture. It’s our little bit of the Wild West.”
I enjoyed the hunt—looking for special items and sometimes finding them in unusual places…
Library staff designed the final book and 5,000 copies were published. We held interactive story times at all five Watonwan County Libraries to engage our target audience. Contributors helped describe the book’s creation process, and then we opened the floor up for questions. Then the photographers and writers signed books.
The Library and Historical Society also held a book party for contributors to unveil the work and discuss the process of putting the book together. The book was given out for free at all events and is now available for sale at our Libraries and the Historical Society as well as available for check out at the Libraries.
What were the results? Did the library do anything to extend or expand it?
Being a part on this project gave me the opportunity to be involved with many children and parents, not only in the learning of the alphabet but also the communities, the ecology, the importance of agriculture and the fascinating history of our county.
This was a wonderful community project. People loved seeing places they recognized in the book and contributors felt so proud of being a part of this. One woman described herself as a celebrity amongst her friends because she had received so much notoriety being part of this project. Some contributors felt honored to be among the ones chosen because of the caliber of the other contributors. Contributors ranged from teens to seniors and were from all areas of the county.
The public felt the book was a community treasure. Everyone enjoyed their part in it (seeing their business or their kids featured), loved hearing about the process, and thought it was fun to see their kids so engaged in a book.