Reaching Students with the Brooklyn Connections Program

Culture in Transit’s community scanning events were designed to focus on the adult and senior populations of Brooklyn and Queens, largely ignoring the thousands of school aged children living in those boroughs. This is a huge portion of the population that could make meaningful contributions to the project. These children are residents of the communities we’re trying to reach; it made sense to find a way to include them.

At the Brooklyn Public Library I’m fortunate to work with Brooklyn Connections, the education outreach branch of the Brooklyn Collection which aims to serve students and teachers in learning and practicing research skills using examples from local history. The Connections educators approached me with a partnership proposal that would allow me to bring my scanning equipment into classrooms all over Brooklyn and for their students to connect the history they’re learning in the classroom with their own experience in New York.

On the day of my visit each child is asked to bring in one item that reminds them of their life in Brooklyn, along with a consent and metadata form that is to be filled out at home with their parent. Because these children are under the age of 18, their parents must sign the consent form or I can’t accept their donation. I also wanted the metadata form to be filled out at home, assuming I would receive more accurate information about the item if the parent was assisting.

My first visit was to George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School in downtown Brooklyn. While Connections educator Brendan Murphy led a discussion on locating claims within informational text and identifying counterclaims and supporting evidence using examples from Brooklyn CORE’s “Operation Clean Sweep,” I set up my scanner in the back of the classroom. During the lesson the children were excused one at a time to bring me their item, which I scanned as I sat with them to review their paperwork.

Austin Nguyen at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with his father and sister, c2007

Austin Nguyen at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with his father and sister, c2007

I collected some great items, including the above photograph from student Austin Nguyen. This image is special for Austin, as he shared on his metadata form:

“It shows the youth of the Botanical Garden along with the beauty around it. This is one of the photos in which my family and I would cherish, since we lived in Brooklyn for 14 years.”

Austin’s photograph is a great example of the unique perspective that a younger generation can bring to Culture in Transit. In the upcoming months we have several visits scheduled at schools in Brooklyn and Queens; it will be exciting to see how students interpret the project and the items they choose to represent their experience as New Yorkers.

Soaking up some Art and Culture: Institutional scanning at Hostos Community College

I’ve just completed digitization work at our fourth host institution, the Eugenio María de Hostos Community College, part of the City University of New York system (CUNY), located in the Bronx. Formerly known as Community College No. 8 and now more generally known as Hostos Community College, it has a prominent place in the community and has become a cornerstone of South Bronx arts and culture.

Originally a predominantly Puerto Rican and Hispanic neighborhood, the College was demanded by local residents who wanted local access to higher education. Established in 1968, the College first welcomed students in the Fall of 1970. The collection I worked to digitize came from the Center for Arts and Culture, which beginning in 1982, has become an integral part of the College. It’s mission “to be a cultural force in the Bronx and throughout the New York metropolitan area” has seen it present artists of national and international renown from its inception to the current day. Made up of an art gallery, a repertory theater and a main theater, the Center has brought music, art and theater to the forefront of the community not only to entertain but also to educate.

The neatly arranged Arts and Culture Ephemera Collection

The neatly arranged Arts and Culture Ephemera Collection

The College Archivist, William Casari, selected this collection for the project not only because it is visually appealing and excellent material for showcasing the work of the Center and College but also because in 2014, it was arranged and processed through a METRO Innovative Internship program (no longer running), which saw Hostos host an intern to work on the collection, so it was an easy, accessible collection to select for the digitization work.

The collection was straightforward to digitize; I used our Epson V600 scanner, Silverfast Imaging software and Photoshop to capture and edit the images and was able to scan 101 unique items, amounting to 217 images.

The collection encompasses a wide selection of announcement postcards, brochures and programs for art exhibitions, gala concerts, musicals, music performances, theater shows and more. The material is extremely rich aesthetically, with some of the postcards for events being pieces of art in their own right.


Postcard for ‘One Last Sitting’ exhibition. An example of the Center’s promotional material being considered works of art themselves.

Postcard advertising the 'Peripheral Whispers' art exhibition, held at the Center's art gallery in 2002

Postcard advertising the ‘Peripheral Whispers’ art exhibition, held at the Center’s art gallery in 2002

The collection not only reflects the Center’s place in the community as an entertainment venue but also demonstrates the importance the Center places on education through arts and culture. There is a strong African and Latin American theme running through the Center’s programming, reflecting not only the College’s roots but also the diversity and roots of the local community. There is also a strong appreciation and celebration of local artists represented in the collection.

Celebrating and showcasing local neighborhood artists.

Celebrating and showcasing local neighborhood artists.


Formed in 1939 in Cuba, this orchestra gave it’s first performance in New York for 20 years at the Center in 1997.

A postcard that reflects the diversity of programming at the Center.

A postcard that reflects the diversity of programming at the Center.


It is clear when you walk through the halls of the College that the Center for Arts and Culture has a prominent place in the community here, as posters from the collection, past and present adorn the walls, brightening up the interior space. Through Culture in Transit, the collection and reach of the Center will extend far beyond the College and local community and will showcase the important and valuable work the Center undertakes.

We’ll have the collection up on METRO’s Digital Culture shortly for everyone’s viewing pleasure and will always announce its publication on Twitter (@DigitizeNYC) so stay tuned!


Outreach during Archives Week: A successful Open House

This past Thursday, October 15th, saw us hold an outreach event as part of New York Archives Week. An annual celebration, designed to inform the wider public about the wonderful world of archives, we saw the week as a great opportunity to hold an event to talk more about the project and to showcase our mobile digitization kit.

Held at METRO HQ, we invited people along for an Open House – we set our equipment up, had facsimiles of photos for people to digitize, printed off plenty of handouts and had refreshments to hand!

First off, we’d like to thank everyone that came; we had a great afternoon talking with people about the project and it was interesting to understand the reasons why people attended the event and what their interests are in the project.

Primarily, people were most interested in our digitization kit, both in terms of what it comprises of and how it works. We were able to walk people through step by step the scanning and copystand process, which I think is incredibly useful to anyone thinking of investing in similar kit – it’s always good to try before you buy!

I’d say our most popular handout of the afternoon was the list of equipment we have purchased for the kits – which we also read here in case you haven’t yet.

Equipment set up for testing at the Open House.

Equipment set up for testing at the Open House.

Digitization projects of any kind can be a daunting prospect and I think it’s really great to get the opportunity to talk to others in the community about equipment purchases, workflows and strategies. We’ve always been keen that a large part of this project’s outcome will be sharing with people our experiences, successes and challenges across all aspects of the project in the hope that going forward, this model can be replicated anywhere and holding this event and talking to people has affirmed our belief in this even more. We are glad to know that firstly people read the blog(!) but also that they find it useful and so stay tuned for more from us over the coming weeks and months!

Talking to our guests!

Talking to our guests!

New Strategies in Community Event Outreach

In a previous post I looked back on my first scanning event in Brooklyn to try and determine why it had such a low turnout.  One of my takeaways was that I hadn’t done enough to reach out to the library’s regular patrons, a mistake I wouldn’t make while preparing for my second event at the New Lots branch. One of the first things I did was to create a sign-up sheet to leave at the branch’s front desk, asking patrons to leave their name and contact information to receive a reminder three days before the event. I was also able to attend the library’s Friends of New Lots meeting to hand out fliers and explain the project in greater detail.

One of the topics raised at the Friends meeting was that the group had an interest in creating a small local history archive to be housed at the branch. While I wasn’t in a position to create a whole archive I was able to create a small exhibit using items from the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection to be displayed the day of the event. I pulled photos and articles dating back to 1844, showing New Lots as a small independent farming community. I was able to advertise this exhibit in conjunction with the digitization, hoping it would draw in additional donors.

Wilda Smith, photographed in East Flatbush, 1971. Donated by Farrah Lafontant.

Wilda Smith, photographed in East Flatbush, 1971. Donated by Farrah Lafontant.

In the weeks leading up to the event I also kept better track of the senior centers, churches and community organizations I reached out to. A detailed spreadsheet allowed me to make sure I was reaching every part of the neighborhood and a diverse group of potential donors. I also spoke to the Brooklyn Public Library’s Immigrant Services and Services to Older Adults departments to take advantage of their existing community contacts.

Senior pin from Junior High School 218 James P. Sinnott, 1973. Donated by Cheryl M. Lowry.

Senior pin from Junior High School 218 James P. Sinnott, 1973. Donated by Cheryl M. Lowry.

Did these changes increase turnout? Yes! Our community scanning event at New Lots collected a total of 35 items from 7 donors. Although the sign-up sheet didn’t get as many names as I would have liked, 3 of the people who signed up came to the event. I would also credit the Friends group with helping us spread the word; a few even stopped by the event just to say hello! People also really enjoyed the exhibit. It drew quite a few people over to our table, 2 of whom then went home to collect things for us to scan.

Eric Lafontant holding his daughter Farrah Lafontant in Flatbush, 1979. Donated by Farrah Lafontant.

Eric Lafontant holding his daughter Farrah Lafontant in Flatbush, 1979. Donated by Farrah Lafontant.

A sign-up sheet, small exhibit and meeting with the library’s Friends group are small changes that had a big impact. Going forward I’m interested to see if these additions will continue to attract donors at our upcoming events.

Culture in Transit at ALA 2015

This past weekend saw the Culture in Transit mobile digitization specialists (Caroline, Sarah, and Maggie) attend the ALA annual conference in San Francisco. We were invited by Knight Foundation as one of the recipients of the Knight News Challenge grant for 2015/2016 and spent an hour on Saturday at the Knight Foundation booth in one of ALA’s exhibition halls talking about and promoting our project.

We kicked off our time in San Francisco with a story telling workshop on Friday morning that Knight Foundation had organized for all News Challenge grantees. Led by the very talented Lea Thau of Story Central, and formerly the Executive and Creative Director of The Moth, we were taught how to use storytelling tools to make better and more effective presentations to a variety of audiences. We learned how to employ the key principles and themes of storytelling in professional presentations. As an exercise we were asked to take our project presentations from ALA Midwinter and rework them with the storytelling techniques.


Using the storytelling format to present the Culture in Transit project to the group

The workshop, as well as being lots of fun, was so informative and in many ways transformative. This approach to presenting was new to all of us and I can safely say that we will, in the future, use this method when developing presentations for a variety of audiences.

Also on Friday, Knight Foundation hosted an engaging and informative panel session that the team attended entitled ‘Building the New Nostalgia: Making the Case for Why Libraries Matter’. Based on the new book BiblioTech, by John Palfrey (who has also a panel member) the session focused on the argument that libraries are crucial institutions for serving Americans’ 21st century information needs, but that they are also at risk. The panel explored how we can best position libraries to thrive in the digital age by leveraging existing and new assets amid dwindling government support. It was a really informative, productive session that has made me eager to read BiblioTech.

Saturday saw the CIT team gather for a session at the Knight Foundation exhibition booth. Armed with shiny new CIT postcards and a slide presentation we were able to engage with a lot of conference attendees and share information about our project. Coincidentally, we ended up talking to a few folks from New York and New Jersey, which was great. It’s ironic we had to travel to the West Coast in order to meet new local contacts! Now that the project is up and running and we are all beginning our first scanning ventures, it was great to be able to share what we’re doing and our plans with a wider audience. And here’s hoping we get some new Twitter and Blog followers from it!

Maggie, Caroline and Sarah (l-r)  at the Knight Foundation booth on Saturday.

Maggie, Caroline and Sarah (l-r) at the Knight Foundation booth on Saturday.

In our down time, we also had the chance to attend panel sessions and explore the exhibition halls. As first-time ALA attendees, I think we were all impressed by the sheer scale of the conference and the amount of sessions on offer. It really was a great chance to network, engage in new topics and learn new skills. From a project perspective, I found it extremely useful walking around the exhibitor booths, as I came across an equipment company who had an impressive mobile copystand set up for digitizing library and archive material, which has given me new avenues of equipment to explore.

The entrance to the impressive ALA exhibitors hall!

We had a great time at ALA and were extremely excited to meet everyone at Knight Foundation, the other News Challenge grantees, and to have an opportunity to share our project with conference attendees. A big thank you to Knight Foundation for hosting a great weekend of events and for allowing us to be a part of it!

Golden Gate Bridge

Until next time, San Francisco.