creative:impact - 200 x 200: The Ann Arbor District Library marks Ann Arbor’s Bicentennial
Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.
ABOUT ANDREW MACLAREN:
Andrew MacLaren holds the position of Archives Manager at the Ann Arbor District Library. He has worked for AADL for 16 years after earning his Master of Science and Informatics (MSI) from the University of Michigan's School of Information. In addition to overseeing the work of preserving and digitizing the history of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, he has played a major role in AADL's Summer Game, was a host and producer of the AADL Talks To podcast and served as the founding editor of Pulp. He is currently engaged in the Ann Arbor 200 project, which sees him coordinating the work of archivists, researchers, filmmakers, writers, artists, and musicians to create 200 releases commemorating the bicentennial of Ann Arbor.
Deb Polich: Welcome to 89 one WEMU's creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host. Thanks for tuning in today and every Tuesday to meet Washtenaw County artists, creative people, and the folks that make this community one of the most vibrant in Michigan. You know, I stumbled upon a meme the other day that said, "When did libraries get so loud?" Our guest, Andrew McLaren, probably knows. He's the archivist at the Ann Arbor District Library. And, Andrew, welcome to the show!
Andrew McLaren: Thanks. Thanks for having me, Deb.
Deb Polich: So, you know, libraries are now bustling community centers, not the "shush zones" that I knew when I was a kid. Has the mission of a library and, more particularly, the Ann Arbor District Library changed, or is it just more evolved?
Andrew McLaren: I think it's evolved. I don't know that it's that different. You know, libraries were always, to a certain extent, community hubs, particularly in smaller communities. But as more and more social services have dropped away, as people need more and more of that third place in their lives, libraries have really emerged as that. And libraries have always stepped up to fill whatever gaps they noticed in the community. And that's what a lot of libraries have done and, certainly, what AADL has done.
Deb Polich: Yeah, absolutely. And you guys have a great reputation for that. So, as the archives manager at the library--well, first, before we get there, what led you to a career in archives?
Andrew McLaren: I first worked in libraries. And I liked to work in the library in my undergraduate career, and then I worked in a public library, and that's what I wanted to become. And I went to study archives, and then I decided I don't really like sitting in a in a quiet room and just sitting with books. I'm really more of a people person, so I would like to do more of that and switched back to public libraries and ended up coming to the Ann Arbor District Library and working on their historical materials, digitizing things, and ultimately ended up in archives. But, in archives, it's where I get to talk to people and I get to serve the public. So, it's kind of the best of both worlds for me.
Deb Polich: And, you know, when I think of archives, I have to admit I think more about museums. So, that sound like the kind of academic quiet space that you avoided. Did you develop the archives at the library or were they there and you've just added to them?
Andrew McLaren: No, it's changed significantly. When I first came to the library, we had a local history collection. This was 16 years ago. We had a local history collection in the downtown library, and it was small. It consisted of a few books. And then, we purchased some old newspapers off of eBay. And that was the archives. It was in a cubicle. It wasn't really anything. We didn't call it the archives at the time. In 2009, when the Ann Arbor News announced that they were ceasing daily publication, they would be moving out of their building. We contacted them and said, "What's happening to all your material? We want to make sure this is preserved for the community." And they said, "You were on our list of people to call. We were going to talk to you." And we got together and made it happen after a little while. And so, we rented a space where we could keep all that material and moved it in. And so, since 2010, we've had an archive as a location. And then, as we grew and grew, we needed larger spaces, and we needed to separate it off from the rest of the library system, because our mission has grown, and the size of our collections has grown.
Deb Polich: And is it mostly digital?
Andrew McLaren: There's a huge amount of physical material.
Deb Polich: Okay.
Andrew McLaren: We work on digitizing things all the time, but the physical material that we have from the Ann Arbor News, we have bound volumes going back to the 1920s. We have clippings files. We have over 2.3 million photographic negatives. This is just the Ann Arbor News collection. We have multiple other collections as well that are not that size, but they're about 2.5 million photographic materials in our collection alone. That's just photographic materials.
Deb Polich: That's a lot of counting. And so, thank goodness you were there to collect the Ann Arbor News and now have developed it even more. So, how do you activate the archives to engage the public?
Andrew McLaren: There's a number of different ways. A lot of it is through just the act of digitizing. We are digitizing every day. There is new material that goes online every day. And there's a robust community on the Ann Arbor Townies' Facebook page and people who just check our website. There are people who are always looking at what we're doing. It's a stop that they make every day to see what we've put up and what they're interested in. We also do programming. And this year, for the bicentennial, we're engaged in the Ann Arbor 200 project, which is largely about engaging the community and getting people to realize all the resources that we have and learn about the history that's around them.
Deb Polich: We'll get deeper into that in just a second. 89 one WEMU's creative:impact continues with Andrew McLaren, the archives manager at the Ann Arbor District Library. So, you're right. Ann Arbor is marking its 200th anniversary. How is the library approaching the bicentennial in general?
Andrew McLaren: We have a project that's called Ann Arbor 200. Over the course of 2024, there are 200 releases having to do with Ann Arbor history. And I know all of that sounds very vague. The reason we're using the word "releases" is that some days, that means there is a podcast interview that we've never done with someone before. But the next day, 50 years of the Ann Arbor Observer might go up. And that's considered a release as well. So sometimes, it's one piece of media. Sometimes, it's a whole lot of stuff. And they run the gamut. There are tons of original interviews. There are documentaries that we're making. There are audio documentaries that we're making. There are illustrations. There are prints. There are written pieces. There are short stories. There are poems. There's just all kinds of material, some of which is straight history, some of which is all about teaching people stories about their community that they did not know, and the rest of which is taking history as a jumping-off point to show people the creativity that's in the community and how that history can be engaged with in an interesting way--in a way that can really bring people in and want to learn more about that history.
Deb Polich: And if you could, if you took what was already in the archive versus new materials, what's kind of the percentage of the 200 pieces that you're planning?
Andrew McLaren: So, I can break down a few of the things. There are about 25 documentary films that will be released over the course of the year. There are probably around 75 original interviews that we have done with members of the community. There are somewhere around 20 written pieces--historical pieces--that my staff are writing. And then, a lot of the remainder of it is material that we have commissioned from the community--those illustrators and those poets--to engage with that history and create something new.
Deb Polich: Really quite a mix! You know, I've seen some of the footage from the 1974 sesquicentennial or 150th anniversary of Ann Arbor. Are the stories that you're telling now, 50 years later, different than the stories told then? And if so, how?
Andrew McLaren: That's actually one of the impetuses for this project is that with the benefit of hindsight, of 50 years of hindsight, we were looking at the material from the sesquicentennial and saying, "You know? The way they chose to talk about things, the stories they were interested in and the way they chose to tell those stories tells us a lot about the people in 1974, which was not their intention." But because we go in knowing that, we know that we're creating a document of this time for the people 50 years from now. So, we are purposely choosing stories that are stories people might not know, stories about things that are all around them, but that are more hidden. We're trying not to rehash the same old stories. I'm not particularly interested in where Ann Arbor got its name. That story has been told many, many times. I'm interested in the stories that are brand new stories, and I'm interested in finding other ways to tell those stories to show what this community is today, because I know that that's what the bicentennial efforts will be in the future.
Deb Polich: So, first, what a great series! And second, thanks for doing it. But how do people find it and follow the series? Can they subscribe? Or is there a social media feed?
Andrew McLaren: There are social media feeds. They can go to our Twitter or our Instagram, which are AADL archives. There's also a website: Ann Arbor 200.org. That's the best place to go. Every time we update it, it will show up there. You'll see the newest thing right at the top of the page. And there's new material coming out every week. There are multiple things every week, so there's always something new there to find. Right now, at the top of that page, you'll find "There Went the Neighborhood," which is our 40-minute-long documentary that we've been working on with 7 Cylinder Studio for the last several years about Ann Arbor's historically Black neighborhood and Jones School and gentrification and how that neighborhood ceased to be the historically Black neighborhood. It's a very important story that many people are walking around Ann Arbor with no idea about. So, it's a great place to go.
Deb Polich: So real quickly. We're already six weeks into this bicentennial year. 200 releases. That's about four a week. When 2024 comes to a close, how will you and the library know that Ann Arbor 200 has been a success?
Andrew McLaren: That's a good question. We're already seeing that it's a success, because we're already seeing that some of these things are connecting with the community, that people are hearing stories that they've never heard before. And we're hearing from people who are saying, "You know? You might be interested in this." People who didn't realize that the archives was here and that the archives is interested in these stories--that maybe they considered tiny stories. We are interested. And if we can get more people to bring that history to us and through us to the community, then it's a success.
Deb Polich: That's Andrew MacLaren, the archives manager at the Ann Arbor District Library. He is leading the Ann Arbor 200 project, a series exploring and marking Ann Arbor history since its founding 200 years ago. Find out more about Andrew and the archive project at wemu.org. You've been listening to creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host. Mat Hopson is our producer. Please join us every Tuesday to meet the people who make Washtenaw creative. This is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.
If you'd like to a guest on creative:impact, email Deb Polich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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