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An Interdisciplinary Approach to Audience Engagement: Confronting Violence Visits the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library

Circulating Now welcomes guest blogger Jennifer Butler Keeton from Florence-Lauderdale Public Library in Florence, AL.  Drawn from a presentation given as part of a bimonthly webcast series hosted by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine called “NNLM Resource Picks,” this post is fourth in a series of four exploring how libraries around the country build programming around NLM traveling exhibitions.

A large colonial style building with landscaped grounds.When planning programming for a public library in a small town, it can be challenging to find an audience for events that feature more niche topics. However, the most important topics often aren’t the most obviously popular ones, and libraries can think outside of the box to help their patrons connect to a topic and encourage vital discussion in their communities. This was the case for the National Library of Medicine exhibition Confronting Violence: Improving Women’s Lives, which explores how nurses in the 1970s and 1980s fought to change how the medical profession addressed domestic violence. That’s a really specific topic, and not everyone is going to see it and necessarily think “I want to go to the library for that!” When Florence-Lauderdale Public Library hosted this exhibit in 2016, we used an interdisciplinary approach to appeal to more people. Through partnerships with our local university and victim service agencies, we created programming that approached the topic from various perspectives and that looked at the issues both nationally and locally.

One of FLPL’s frequent program partners is the Center for Women’s Studies at the University of North Alabama (luckily only a few blocks from the public library), which was a perfect fit for Confronting Violence. We worked together to brainstorm programming ideas, and the coordinators at the Women’s Center reached out to various departments at the university to identify scholars to lead discussions. Library staff members used their connections—which they had formed through board service and volunteering—to secure participation from victim service agencies. By bringing in various perspectives early in the planning process, we were able to develop a broad programming series that explored the exhibit’s topic in interesting ways.

Confronting Violence Events at Florence-Lauderdale Public Library

First, our kick-off event served as an introduction to the exhibit’s topic. We always find it helpful to start a series with a discussion that provides context and overview, especially if it’s a topic that’s going to be new to a lot of people. We reached out to Dr. Patricia Speck, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing (which is a couple hours from Florence), to lead our kick-off event. She was a nurse in the 1970s and 1980s, and her research fields include health policy and domestic violence, so she was able to talk generally about the exhibit topic and share stories about her experiences as a nurse.

The second event in the series approached the topic from a pop culture angle to connect with a different audience. Dr. Brenna Wardell, a literature and film scholar at UNA, explored images of women and domestic violence in 1970s television. This program allowed us to lighten the mood on a serious topic, since the presentation included clips from shows such as Wonder Woman and Maude. The presentation still focused on the exhibit’s topic but did so in a way that appealed to people who might not be interested in a historical nursing lecture.

Wonder Woman is all business in Dr. Brenna Wardell's presentation

Our third event was perhaps the most outside-the-box and brought an unusual mix of perspectives. This program explored the pathways that lead many women who have been victims of domestic violence to end up in prison. Two scholars from UNA approached the topic from two different disciplines: one through sociology by providing statistics and trends, and the other through literature by exploring memoirs written by incarcerated women. This interdisciplinary program encouraged great discussion and connections, and the event was well attended because it appealed to colleagues and students of both fields.

Another way we try to make exhibits and topics more accessible is by applying the concepts locally. Our final event was a panel discussion with the directors of our local domestic violence shelter, rape crisis agency, and family justice center, and it was moderated by the director of our program partner, the Center for Women’s Studies at UNA. The panelists talked about the missions of their agencies and how they work together to serve victims of violence. This was a truly fantastic event that gave our audience insight into the process that victims of violence go through to get services in our community.

Each of these events attracted 25-40 audience members, which we were very pleased with for such a specific, serious topic. Plus, many of the attendees were not library regulars, and these new audience members were likely the result of our partnerships and the broad perspective of the series. But most importantly, each of these events led to meaningful discussions about women’s health and safety, discussions that are vital to our and every community.

In late 2016, the University of Washington, based in Seattle, Washington, which serves as the Pacific Northwest Region (PNR) National Network library, hosted a brief questionnaire, using Survey Monkey, asking librarians what they would want to learn about hosting a National Library of Medicine traveling banner exhibition. Over 250 representatives from libraries across the country responded with questions, ideas, and preferences. Their replies shaped this webinar.

Learn more about why NLM is hosting this important exhibition, and read about the traveling banner exhibition in The Washington Post.

Jennifer Butler KeetonJennifer Butler Keeton is the Programming/Publicity Coordinator at Florence-Lauderdale Public Library.

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