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Evy Nordley Candidate Profile #2: Friends of the Blue Earth Community Library

In late 2017, a photography enthusiast in Blue Earth unexpectedly “gifted” the local library 42 boxes of historic negatives and proofs. Although the Blue Earth Community Library lacked the funds and staffing bandwidth to do anything meaningful with this treasure trove, leadership desperately hoped to do something with the unique windfall. The Friends answered that call, and far exceeded the Library’s expectations for what could or should be done with these artifacts.

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Beginning in January 2018, four intrepid volunteers began the arduous process of sifting through the 30,000 proofs and negatives contained in those boxes. Most were housed in aging envelopes, nearly all of which had faint or otherwise indecipherable handwriting. After a few weeks, the team could boast a (more or less) complete inventory and accurate classification scheme.

The Friends were committed not just to finding a home for these photographs, but the best home for each. Fortunately, the lead volunteers were well positioned to accomplish this. As long-time Blue Earth residents, they were able to identify people, locations and events beyond the barebones information available from photo captions. They often knew personally, or else knew how to reach, the appropriate next of kin.

Furthermore, two of the project managers also co-lead a popular local genealogy group (which goes under the tongue-in-cheek name Dead Relatives Society). This enabled The Friends to tap into a still larger brain trust to make sense of the 42 boxes – which represented the combined holdings of not one or two, but eight different defunct photo studios.

bleuearth.JPGThis front-end work, which was daunting enough on the face of it, was made more difficult still by a self-imposed February deadline. The Friends chose this timetable so that they could promote the rehousing project during their ever-popular Friends Valentine Tea. As part of that event, guests were invited to go into a back room and hunt for photos featuring relatives and old friends.

Similarly, later in the year, The Friends promoted the photo project (eventually dubbed “The Negative Effect” with deliberate irony) at their yearly Wine Walk in downtown Blue Earth – plus at their twice-a-year used book sale. A glowing feature in the Faribault County Register created nice buzz, as well.

Although the materials were not assigned specific price points, the organizers strongly encouraged free will donations. In this way, the organization has raised $1,800 to date.

The Friends used those proceeds to purchase a sturdy metal cabinet to safely store the remnants of the photo collection. Money left over went towards handcrafted book display cabinets for the children’s section, plus a special grid system to hang promotional items in the library.

As it stands today, these diligent efforts have winnowed the 30,000 artifact collection down to just 10,500 proofs and negatives in need of a good home!