Hemingway Collection at the Clarke

The Hemingway Collection at the Clarke

The Clarke Library’s newest exhibit, The Hemingway Collection at the Clarke, which opens February 21, is unique. It is, like any exhibit, about material collected and found in the library; in this case material by and about Ernest Hemingway. But the point of the exhibit is less, “look at what we have” and more, “look at how it was developed.” Exhibit curator Mike Federspiel, who has worked with the library from the start of the collection and played a key role in its development, repeatedly asked us to do more than simply display the collection, rather he challenged us to pull back the curtain on the magic of collection development and talk about the professional secrets that underlie that work.

The show catalog’s tongue-in-cheek subtitle “of course it’s here” is every special collection library employee’s response to a researcher who either sees what we do as magic, or more often, sees nothing at all, and just assumes that what they want is available. In the world of happy researchers, these things just happen.

For those of us, who must “make these things happen”, that researcher conceit, that the material is just sitting on a shelf waiting to be used, is just something we accept. Like L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, those of us who work in a special library stand behind the curtain and pull the levers and ropes. Building collections involve a multitude of these ropes and levers, the most important of which, described in detail in the exhibit catalog, is outreach.

The catalog, which accompanies the exhibit, is a case study documenting the almost two decades of outreach that led to the library acquiring the Hemingway in Michigan collection. Outreach has many forms. Exhibitions, is a very public way to make a case about the library’s holdings and their value. But outreach is also traveling exhibits, such as the one the Clarke Library has developed about Hemingway and which regularly travels around the state. Outreach is publications, like the catalog prepared for this show, and several other Hemingway-related publications the library has printed.  Outreach is grant writing, like the opportunity taken in 2007 to participate in publicizing the Nick Adams Stories, written by Hemingway, as part of the Michigan Humanities Council’s first Great Michigan Read. Outreach is partnering, as we have done with the Michigan Hemingway Society for many years or what was accomplished when the library partnered with the International Hemingway Society which brought their every-other-year conference to Petoskey in 2012. Outreach is fundraising, to buy specific items or to build an endowment. At its simplest, outreach is talking to individuals and learning what they have in their house, what interests them, and what their disposition is towards supporting the growth of an area of a special collection library, like growing a collection about Ernest Hemingway.

Outreach, of course, implies there is somebody to talk with. The Hemingway collection came about because there were many interested and committed people to talk with, and who over time made those conversations bear fruit. The key to successful outreach is often one person; in the case of the Hemingway collection, that person was, Mike Federspiel.

Many years ago, Mike showed up at the Clarke with a suggestion – that we build a Hemingway in Michigan collection in Mt. Pleasant. His idea wasn’t unusual.  A lot of people have come into the Clarke with great ideas, but when asked how they would turn that idea into reality their response is often, “well, that’s your job!”

The Clarke Library staff cannot single-handedly implement a great idea. Unlike the wizards and witches of Hogwarts, we cannot wave a wand and make it so.  We can, however, work together with a dedicated individual and a community of interested friends and through our collective effort, bring great ideas to fruition. Mike turned out to be the individual who was willing to work with us; long and hard. He had amassed a sizable personal collection about Hemingway, which he was willing to donate. He was willing to help financially. More important than the collection, or the money, Mike was willing to put his knowledge and influence into the work on the library’s behalf. As president of the Michigan Hemingway Society he knew who to talk with and where things were likely to be found. Mike was willing to go out on a limb for the library, letting people know we were serious about this project, and we were willing to commit the time, and energy, and money to make it happen. With Mike’s relentless effort, the outreach for the Hemingway collection moved forward.

The Hemingway Collection at the Clarke records and celebrates the partnerships that made possible the Clarke Library’s Hemingway in Michigan collection. It describes the outreach that were part and parcel of those partnerships. It exhibits the outcomes of those partnerships – an internationally recognized collection about Ernest Hemingway housed in the Clarke Historical Library.

It is an exhibit about good stuff, a good story, and a lot of good, hard work. Join us in celebrating all three. The show will open February 21 at 7:00 pm and run through the end of August.


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