Libraries and beer are a match made in heaven. Earlier this year I was blown away by an awesome program at Belleville Area District Library (BADL). The owner of a great local microbrewery, Original Gravity, explained the brewing process, passed around samples of raw ingredients, and explained how he changed careers to follow his passion for great beer.
The beer talk was part of the BADL Homegrown Knowledge series, where residents (or former residents) of this small Michigan town share their interests at the library. The peer-to-peer talks make the activities (from jousting to living in a foreign country) incredibly accessible to a novice audience. In a slowly recovering economy, a program offering exposure to new interests, hobbies, and potential careers holds great value for library patrons.
I recently caught up with Hilary Savage, the librarian who plans the series, to ask about the value Homegrown Knowledge brings to the Belleville community.
What’s your job at Belleville Area District Library?
As one of four full-time librarians for a community of just over 40,000, I do a little bit of everything. I handle collection development for the bulk of the adult collection, including media. I’m in charge of the adult programming. I work at the reference desk and I’m on the OverDrive Support team for our consortium. I also update our library website and try to keep our Facebook page interesting.
I think my adult services philosophy can be boiled down to one idea: the library is a place of enrichment. My job is to facilitate our patrons’ search for enrichment.
Tell me about the Homegrown Knowledge program. How did it get started?
Our Homegrown Knowledge series consists of monthly programs featuring local people talking about what they know. It grew out of a couple of unrelated programs we were arranging in the summer of 2011 and the desire of the Friends of the Library to sponsor a program series. I believe our Director Deb Green came up with the theme which nicely tied everything together and gave us a lot of possibilities for future programs.
We’ve just completed our second full year of the series, and have scheduled speakers for September through the end of the year.
What kinds of skills or knowledge have been presented?
We’ve had a huge range of presentations and presenters. They’ve covered topics from local history to river ecology to travel and living abroad to art to beer brewing.
The most unusual was a presentation given by a competitive jouster on the historical origins of jousting and the modern international sport. He also works for an organization called the WEC Institute that recently reverse-engineered a piece of 16th century technology called Maximilian Exploding Armor for a Canadian TV program. Because he has personal experience of jousting in addition to studying historical accounts of it he was able to add immediacy to a subject that most people think of as something that only happens in history books.
How do you find presenters? What kind of persuasion does it require?
The job of finding presenters was originally up to the Friends, but as time has gone by it’s become more of a shared responsibility. We find a lot of presenters through word-of-mouth, and have encouraged program attendees to suggest people that they may know with a skill, passion, or interesting experience to share.
So far, we haven’t had any difficulty convincing people to present. Once I explain the series everyone has agreed to speak. I imagine this is partly because the series appeals to their sense of community. But I think it’s mostly that we are asking people to share their passions – because who doesn’t want to share their passions with an appreciative audience? All presenters have participated free of charge, and generally stay and talk to audience members until we close for the night.
What do you think is the community value of the HGK program?
The programs can be inspirational. We’ve had several speakers who have turned their (at times unusual) passions into viable careers.
I think that these programs have helped to foster a great sense of community. Belleville was once a small town in a rural corner of Wayne County, and has undergone enormous population growth in the past twenty years. Program attendees have been introduced to the awesome accomplishments of their neighbors, to the work of local artists and businesses, and new groups of people with similar interests. After a presentation on Little Willie John by journalist Susan Whitall, it felt like half the audience took their conversation to a local bar when we closed.