Friday, November 14, 2014

“Genius of Freedom “ Opens

On November 11, the Library Company unveiled our newest exhibition, which documents African American political and social activism in the North in the decades after Emancipation.  “The Genius of Freedom: Northern Black Activism and Uplift after the Civil War,” Curator of African American History Krystal Appiah’s first major exhibition since joining the Library Company in 2012, will run through June 26, 2015. Collection materials on display include rare documents from nineteenth-century Colored Conventions, political activism and civil rights organizing across the North, and movements to reclaim history and instill racial pride, “Genius of Freedom” turns the spotlight on the relatively less-studied Northern States in the period of Reconstruction.

The end of the Civil War and the subsequent abolition of Southern slavery were a source of jubilation for African Americans throughout the United States. Black activists and their white allies were instrumental in the passage of federal laws that expanded civil rights for African Americans. African Americans in the North, however, learned that local laws and social customs often still left them on the fringes of citizenship and success. As a result, Northern blacks sought to empower their communities through political protest and uplift initiatives that emphasized equality, self-reliance, and pride.

As the 19th century progressed, the domestic parlor became an increasingly important symbol of middle-class respectability in the US.  African Americans in the North expressed racial pride and celebrated their new citizenship status by decorating their homes with inspirational pictures and texts of black life and accomplishments. Visit the exhibition to view large-scale lithographs of black political and social leaders and editions of the first histories of the contributions made by Americans of African descent written by black people, among the many other documents of the struggles and triumphs of Reconstruction.

At the opening reception,  Dr. Kali N. Gross of the University of Texas, Austin, gave a talk entitled "Race, Sex, and Criminal Economies in Turn-of-the-Century Philadelphia," which looked at the socioeconomic backdrop to expressions of crime, sex, and violence by black women to propose that they may sometimes have been unique opportunities to exercise agency.  A former fellow at the Library Company, Dr. Gross is the author of Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910.

Librarian Jim Green Talks Junto

In September 2013 Geoff DiMasi, principal at the South Philadelphia web design firm P’unk Avenue, organized a two-day meeting that he called the Junto Retreat.  According its website, it was “a place for business leaders to talk about how to make a positive impact.”  Afterwards Geoff said, “While they were interested in personal improvement, there was also this idea of making the city and the places they lived, the community they lived in, a better place."  The common bond for those gathered, he said, was an affinity for "ideas like 'for profit, for good' or 'not-just-for-profit' business models."  It was a big success, and he promised to hold a second Junto Retreat this year.

Geoff and the other organizers were of course modeling their Junto on Franklin’s “Club for Mutual Improvement,” which first met in the fall of 1727, so this year they decided to begin their 2014 meeting with some background on the original Junto.  Years before, Geoff was an MFA student in the Book Arts Program at the University of the Arts, where he took a course at the Library Company on the history of the book taught by Librarian Jim Green.  The class always began with a little talk about the Junto, so Geoff asked Jim to do something like that for his group.

And so it was on a rainy Saturday in September, Jim found himself standing just under the pulpit at historic Christ Church, only a few feet from Franklin’s pew, preaching Franklin’s secular gospel of doing well by doing good to the fifty or so participants of the second Junto Retreat.  The burden of his talk was simply that the Library Company, which was a direct outgrowth of the Junto, was the first American voluntary association, and thus the progenitor of thousands of other ad hoc community and social groups.  In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, “Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.”  Voluntary associations were then and still are a unique feature of American life, and all of them carry the DNA of the Library Company.  

See page 3 at this link for lots of good pictures.

LCP’s Digital Guestbook

Thanks to a simple online form builder called JotForm, visitors are now able to sign in to the Library Company electronically.  For fellows who come in and out several times a day, for a period of weeks, the convenience and time savings is enormous.  And the efficiency of gathering information about who uses the collections and visits the public exhibitions, how, and why has increased exponentially.

The process of reader registration—formerly involving completion of a lengthy form by hand—has also been put online, allowing for more efficiency and better record-keeping.  We somehow think that Ben would have smiled on our embrace of simple, functional technology to make everyone’s life a little easier—and give them all more time to make discoveries in the Reading Room and galleries! 

For those who are just not ready to make the plunge, however, there will always be a bound paper guestbook at the Front Desk.  

Giving Tuesday

After the traditional day of family togetherness and gluttony that is the fourth Thursday in November, and the somewhat newer traditions of commercial mayhem that are the following Friday and Monday, the non-profit community has thoughtfully proposed “Giving Tuesday.”  Giving Tuesday is conceived as a day to express the sentiments of the season through philanthropic gestures—and particularly various instant electronic ways of giving.

Giving Tuesday has been growing steadily since its creation in 2012.  The number of not-for-profits participating in 2013 grew to 10,000 from 2,500 in the first year; online activity was intense, as in the previous year, but the day also got coverage in print and broadcast media last year. #GivingTuesday trended #1 on twitter for the day, and the “unselfie”—in which you take a picture of someone in the act of giving back—was born.   And of course, collectively the not-for-profit sector raised substantially more money.

You will be hearing more and more about Giving Tuesday in the days ahead, and there are many worthy and important causes seeking to encourage your spontaneous outpouring of generosity.  But we would like to make the case for Benjamin Franklin’s library among them.  By carefully conserving the printed history of this nation and others—and making it available to the public free of charge—we are preserving essential cultural treasures. The true meaning of this work hits home to us when we our visitors are awed and moved by the collections—and when their scholarship, artistic creation, or public history work carries their insights out into the larger world. 

So we would like to ask that this Giving Tuesday, you help us continue to provide sustenance for the spirit by supporting the work of rare book and manuscript conservation. Click here today to get an early start on your own celebration of a new tradition of generosity.

On December 2, we will try to raise $2,500 to support the purchase of conservation materials for three months. The delicate rice papers, bookbinding cloth, and acid-free housings that your gift will support are the keys to preserving our previous collection materials for generations of scholars and visitors.  So your gift will directly contribute to the ability of future generations to come face to face with their cultural heritage.

But there are many other ways to express your generosity toward the Library Company.  Help us spread the news about our campaign by forwarding this message, like us on Facebook and forward our Giving Tuesday post, or send a #GivingTuesday tweet with the hashtag #LCPbooksmatter.

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