Since research is crucial to the work of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition, the research committee maintains and regularly updates a collection of materials for anyone who may be interested in Appalachia or urban Appalachian issues. One of the great jewels of this constantly growing collection of resources is the Frank Foster Memorial Library. Frank Foster was a pioneer in the activism and advocacy that laid the foundation for the Urban Appalachian Council and later, the UACC. Maintaining and expanding the collection of resources of the Frank Foster Memorial Library is a cornerstone of UACC’s work.
I talked to Mike Maloney to get a sense of what the library was about and how it came to be. The simple answer, as Mike explained, is that “the Frank Foster Memorial Library was founded in my office in the Railway Clerks Building in 1972. It started with a small collection and over the years we added things by gradually purchasing books, collecting archives, and other materials.” The library later served as the main meeting room in the Urban Appalachian Council’s Lower Price Hill office. It is now housed in the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition’s office at Community Matters in Lower Price Hill.
Mike told me that after the demise of UAC, they gave a lot of things to Berea College, but some of it remained, particularly things that related to Cincinnati and urban Appalachians in the area. The collection has grown over the years and now UACC is faced with the task of getting things up to the 21st Century and putting materials in an electronic catalogue. The work now involves making the many important works on the history and culture of Appalachia available for researchers. Assembling it into a usable research source is a complex task. Toward this end, UACC’s intern Shannon Gillie has been charged with curating the library and getting the many resources into an electronic catalogue.
Shannon Gillie is a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati’s Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning Department. She is specializing in planning with an emphasis on public health. Shannon has worked with Northern Kentucky coalitions on substance abuse to develop grassroots strategies for outreach. She now brings her expertise to UACC and the Frank Foster Memorial Library.
The first thing I thought to ask Shannon was what kinds of things has she found in the library. Shannon told me that “it is a collection of almost anything—folklore, poetry, journals on Appalachian life in the 1970s—there is even a collection of fiction by Jesse Stuart.” Some may know Jesse Stuart as the great Appalachian writer known for his short stories, poetry, and novels as well as autobiographical non-fiction. For those who do not know about Jesse Stuart, they will soon have access to his works. The disparate nature of the collection in Frank Foster Memorial Library is part of the challenge for Shannon Gillie’s work. Mike Maloney added that the library even contains scrapbooks. Simply sorting through the collection is quite a task.
The collection includes resources that will be crucial to a wide range of study. Community studies of Cincinnati neighborhoods, for example, is important to advocacy and activism that includes urban Appalachians as well as every other demographic that has come to define Cincinnati over the years. There are resources on black Appalachia, both rural and urban. The library also contains an enormous collection of photographs that can be digitized and put on an electronic format.
The other challenge, or perhaps it is simply a fun idea, is to get the word out to people about what is in this library. Shannon is offering a series of social media “stories” on the things she finds. The way Shannon described this idea to me was that “the library reveals rich stories that cut through the stereotypes. What we have in the library are real stories of urban Appalachians.” Making use of social media to get the word out is another priority for UACC.
After compiling an electronic catalogue, the next step is to layer another computer program onto this project that will make the Frank Foster Memorial Library a searchable electronic resource that will connect to other collections. While there are no plans to make the library an open physical destination, researchers, and anyone with an interest in the broad and multi-disciplinary study of Appalachia, will eventually be able to search the collection and make an appointment to view materials.
The history and cultural impact of Appalachians in greater Cincinnati is long and intricate. Every aspect of the area has been touched and re-shaped by the presence of Appalachians, and preserving this cultural heritage is essential to the culture and history of the city, not just urban Appalachians. This why the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition maintains a commitment to research and has prioritized the process of cataloging the Frank Foster Memorial Library. The library is a cultural treasure to urban Appalachia, and with the electronic catalogue it will become woven into cultural treasures across the country.
Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.