|New York State Library|
Story Quilt: Galway Public Library
The Galway Public Library is a small rural library in the town of Galway, southern Saratoga County, New York, with a population of 3589. In addition to the town of Galway, the library serves the neighboring town of Providence and several other small surrounding communities (total service area: just over 5000). The library was established by taxpayer referendum in 1997 and opened its doors in 1998. The library received a provisional charter from the NYS Education Department and membership In the Southern Adirondack Library System in 2000.
The library's mission is to:
- Assemble, preserve and provide printed and other materials to help meet the day-to-day educational, informational, cultural and recreational interests and needs of the community.
- Encourage the use of the library facility and contents.
- Sponsor, promote and support educational, informational and cultural endeavors in the community we serve.
The Galway Public Library is the cultural center for the community, providing art, literary and recreational programs for children and adults (128 programs offered in 2006, attended by 1072). The library was begun by volunteers and entirely staffed by volunteers until the first part-time director was hired in 2001. It continues to be supported by volunteers, but today has a part-time staff of six: director (28 hours/week), assistant director (12.5 hours/week) and four clerks (between 6 -8 hours each per week). The operating budget for 2007 is $83,314. The library has an active "Friends" organization which supports library fundraising programs and events not included in the library's budget.
The project for which Galway Public Library is applying for The Joseph F. Shubert Excellence Award is Story Quilt.
The Story Quilt is a one-of-a-kind literary, social history project of the Galway Public Library to gather stories from the community and turn them into one-page narrative poems that capture the images, people and times of the town of Galway, New York. Each poem represents a "patch" of the Story Quilt. Collaborating on the project are the Galway Preservation Society, the Galway Central School and the Galway Players (a local theatre group). The project received grants in both 2005 and 2006 through the Regrant Program of the NYS Council on the Arts, administered through the Saratoga County Arts Council; however, its success depended upon the dedication and hard work of community volunteers who contributed thousands of hours (over $40,000 in in-kind service) to the project -- interviewing town residents, writing and editing poems, distributing flyers, helping with clerical and administrative tasks, marketing, participating in readings and performances and much more.
Left: Joseph Bruchas, one of the poets/folklorists presenting workshops at the Galway Public Library for the Story Quilt. Click on the image to enlarge it.
Poems for the Story Quilt were written from personal experiences and from interviews with town residents. Older members of the community were interviewed in their homes or during story hours held at the town hall. Poets Joseph Bruchac, Mary Cuffe-Perez and Ken Denberg conducted workshops at the library and in the school to help shape stories into poems. The poems were performed at locations throughout Saratoga County. A book of the poems, Story Quilt: Poems of a Place, featuring 121 poems of the 216 poems submitted and original artwork by the resident community was published in April 2007.
This was a community project in every sense, drawing more and more contributors as it went along, and as word spread.
The Story Quilt has created a groundswell of community pride and involvement. By collaborating with community organizations, the Story Quilt has gained the participation of a wide sector of the population, old and young, native and newcomer. Selected poems were performed at Caffe Lena, Saratoga Springs Public Library, the Galway Public Library, the Galway Central Schools, the Galway Town Hall, and at the 2005 and 2006 Saratoga Arts Festival to audiences totaling over 600.
"Performed" is the operative word, as readers were either actors or practiced readers, breaking out of the usual "poetry reading" mode into performance poetry. The readings generated laughter, tears and enthusiastic applause from those in the audience, many of whom had never even considered attending a poetry reading before.
When the book was published, over 200 people came to the publication party and the comments from the book were overwhelmingly enthusiastic.
Frankly, we did not know that Galway needed the Story Quilt or that the Story Quilt would have such an impact on the community. The need was more intuitive than quantifiable. Galway has a strong agrarian heritage which is reflected in its present day values, beliefs and traditions. This is most evident in the popularity of the preservation society's programs on local history and the value the community places on preserving the rural character of the town.
The idea for the Story Quilt grew out of a regular monthly program of the library's writers' group. A poem was read at one of the meetings about a local farm woman who had recently passed away. This work inspired more poems on local themes from others in the group and sparked a dialogue about the importance of capturing stories from the community before they are lost. While the preservation society had collected oral histories in the past, most of these were not part of the "mainstream" of the town culture.
Mary Cuffe-Perez, a local writer and member of the Galway writers' group, proposed a project to capture these stories and, through poetry, turn them into a vibrant literary collage of the town's unique character and heritage. The poems would be solicited from all segments of the community to reflect the here and now as well as the once was. Workshops would be offered to help people turn their stories into poems. All poems would be performed for the community and selected poems would be published in book form as a cultural and historical resource for the community to enjoy and draw upon for years to come.The writers' group embraced the concept and the library enthusiastically sponsored it; a grant was written and received; partnerships were formed; volunteers solicited. It was a hugely ambitious project for a library as small as the Galway Public Library, but the receptiveness of the community and the enthusiasm and dedication of the volunteers made it clear that the Story Quilt was more than a good idea. It was a radiant possibility.
There were substantial challenges to overcome, most unforeseen in the glare of the "radiance" of the possibility. The major challenges were:
- Engaging a rural community in a poetry project. Many people have strong biases about poetry and a community-wide poetry project could be a hard sell.
- Maintaining artistic integrity while remaining inclusive. Most people do not write poetry; therefore, submissions would need to be edited and some rejected without alienating contributors.
- Balancing artistic expression with historical accuracy.
- Attracting from a small community poets and writers who would be willing to write poems from their own perspectives and also interview others and take on the delicate task of writing a poem from another person's life experience.
- Winning over the older residents of the town, some of whom were reticent about sharing their stories with strangers. Most challenging were senior members of the community who were not library users or library supporters.
- Producing a book and funding its publication.
These challenges were met as follows:
The writers' group, where the idea for the Story Quilt originated, was the primary source for recruiting the volunteers who became the heart and soul of the Story Quilt project. Several members of the writers' group are Galway natives, some with family roots that go back to the first settlers. They are active in many organizations and know just about everyone in the community. These individuals served to identify people in the community to bring into the project. Once the committees (organizational and editorial) were formed, presentations about the Story Quilt were made to all community organizations and formal partnerships were forged with the school and the preservation society.
The grant award from the Saratoga County Arts Council legitimatized the project for many, and the partnership with the preservation society opened many doors that might otherwise have remained closed. The preservation society enthusiastically encouraged participation among the membership and hosted story harvests in which members were invited to come and share their stories with a Story Quilt writer who was charged with crafting the story into a poem. This was a crucial part of the project, and writers were a little overwhelmed with the responsibility they had taken on. However, this turned out to be amazingly successful. Once the writers brought the poems they had created back to the storytellers for approval, they were delighted (and relieved) to find that in all cases, the storytellers were pleased with the result. More significantly, the story tellers often helped correct inaccuracies and made revisions to the poem that incorporated their own "voice." These elders became key resources for the project as they put us in touch with many of their peers who had stories to tell. They also became our best emissaries, encouraging participation by others who were still hesitant to share their stories.
Following the Call for Submissions, workshops by professional poets were held at the school and at the library. By this time, the project had received a great deal of publicity and word-of-mouth. The poets helped participants recognize stories in their own families and neighborhoods and then provided the poetic tools that enabled them to turn the raw material of their stories into vibrant, one-page images and portraits.
The thorny task of evaluating and commenting on the writing of others, particularly that of novice writers, was handled skillfully (in most cases) by the poets conducting the workshops. It was helpful that most workshop participants either knew one another or grew familiar with one another enough to offer constructive feedback and support. Poetry workshops often inspire personal disclosures and bonding among participants. This was certainly true with the Story Quilt workshops, and a bonus benefit of the project. Informal, one-on-one Saturday help sessions were held at the library during both years of the project by the Story Quilt editorial committee. This was an important addition to the more formal workshops as many people did not want to read their poems to a large group and were not willing to have their work critiqued in a group setting.
In the fall of 2005 the first batch of Story Quilt poems were performed at the Galway Central School auditorium by the Galway Players, accompanied by a fiddle player. This performance was a thrilling experience. It was exhilarating to see in the audience so many people who had never attended a poetry event before. The other readings that followed were all enthusiastically received, with audiences at the Galway Public Library readings literally spilling out the doorway.
Left: performance of Story Quilt by the Galway Players in October 2005. Right: cover of program for the performance . Click on either image to see a larger version.
We worked hard with all contributors to hone and prepare their poems for publication in the book. However, it was stated clearly in the submission guidelines and at workshops and presentations that not all the poems contributed would be selected for the book. Each poem submitted was reviewed by an outside poet/editor who made editing suggestions. Contributors had the opportunity to incorporate these edits or to re-work their poems with help from writers at the Saturday help sessions before the final selection of poems was made for the book. Also, prior to publication, a local historian helped identify iconic areas of the town's history that were important to include in the Story Quilt. The historian also reviewed all the poems that referred to historical events, street names, dates and individuals for accuracy.
While not all poems were selected for publication in Story Quilt: Poems of a Place, each poem submitted was performed at one of the readings, and those not selected for the book were donated to the Galway Preservation Society to become a part of the archives of the town's history.
One of the most wonderful surprises about the Story Quilt was the talent that surfaced in one small town. I believe the talent we found in Galway exists in other communities as well. It just needs the right motivation and inspiration to call it out. Story Quilt is that.
The production of a book was a huge challenge. The Story Quilt had received so much positive press that, here again, it attracted another talented individual who happened to have just the expertise and connections we needed -a former editor and book producer at a major New York City publishing house who now lived in the neighboring town of Charlton. It was her expertise that made the book possible. Contributions to fund the publication were solicited from the community, and we were able to raise more than the $6000 needed to publish Story Quilt: Poems of a Place.
By covering the costs of publication, all proceeds from the sale of the book ($15 each) go directly to art and literary programs of the Galway Public Library.
Some of the positive outcomes from the Story Quilt:
- Cultivated a writers' community in Galway and a greater interest in poetry. As a result of the Story Quilt, the first Galway open mic was held at the Cock n Bull restaurant January, 2007. The 125 participants included Galway residents as well as poets from Albany, Troy and Saratoga. The next open mic is scheduled for July, 2007.
- Increased library attendance. The Story Quilt readings and workshops at the library brought new audiences into the library, many of whom had not set foot in the library previously.
- Elevated the status of the library in the community through the readings, performances, personal contacts, publicity and publication of the book.
- Brought people together in a cross-generational sharing of experiences -young and old, natives and newcomers.
- Gathered and celebrated the town's history and unique qualities. .Has become a model for other communities (attached).
- Can be integrated into the Galway Central School's English and local history curriculum. .Creates a pool of money for arts and literary programming at the library.
- Will continue to inspire and motivate others, particularly making that bridge between older residents of Galway with young and new residents, as the older generation tells their stories to be compiled and passed onto the new generation.
- The project and book has become a resource in advocating for preservation of our natural resources, open spaces and cultural heritage.
- Is a fund raising vehicle for the library.
The story of the Story Quilt is far from told. Mary Cuffe Perez presented a workshop for librarians of the Mohawk Valley Library System's conference in April. She described how the Story Quilt can be broken down into components, with each component a program in itself. This is important because many libraries do not have the resources or volunteer communities to take on the entire Story Quilt project. In June 2007, Mary and other members of the Story Quilt committee will give a presentation on the Story Quilt. Mary has also been invited to present a workshop on the Story Quilt at the New York State Library Association's annual meeting this fall.
In addition, negotiations are underway with Poets & Writers, Inc. to fund a series of workshops by professional poets to help other communities develop their own Story Quilt.
The best way to appreciate the tremendous impact of the Story Quilt is to read the poems in the book that was produced from it, and to read the biographies of the writers and storytellers who gave it voice.
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