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Creating connections through shared history

15 January 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gus MacDonald
Creating connections through shared history

About the Library

The 2nd Air Division USAAF Memorial Library is a unique organisation in the UK – it is both a war memorial and a public library. One of our challenges is very simply explaining what we are to our British audience because the concept of a memorial library is so quintessentially American.

The 2nd Air Division USAAF Memorial Trust is an international partnership now in its 75th year & the library it supports has been operational since 1963.

USAAF is the United States Army Air Forces, the 2nd Air were a division based predominantly in Norfolk and Suffolk during WWII. On their departure from England in 1945 there were many men missing and over 6,000 confirmed dead. The officers of the Division came together to establish the Memorial Trust to honour these men and to celebrate the special relationship between the US personnel and the people of Norfolk.

The veterans fundraised and entered into a partnership with the local authorities in Norfolk which is still going strong today. The Memorial Trust were instrumental in supporting the local authorities to open, in 1963, the Norwich Central Library in which the first American Room was located.

A devastating fire in 1994 destroyed this Central library and The Memorial Library has since 2001 occupied space inside the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library at the Forum – a millennium project building.

The Memorial Trust collections can be divided into sub-collections.

  • The Library Stock Collection
  • The 2nd Air Division Archive Collection
  • The 2nd Air Division Object Collection

We are currently in the midst of a transformation project, which will see the library closed for 8 weeks in spring 2020 & reopened with a new brand identity & up to date interpretation.

Stakeholders Versus Audience

We occupy a somewhat unusual position in that many of our stakeholders are people who will never physically visit our library. This is of course common for large national institutions but quite different for a local library in a regional city. Our stakeholders also have real tangible life connections to our history. We need to sensitively address the concerns of those individuals and families while also meeting the needs the c.48,000 visitor who come through the library doors annually. As part of our transformation project we have carried out audience engagement work & included local users and non-users as well as remote stakeholders in online surveys and interviews conducted over telephone/skype.

Reaching Across the Pond

We work very closely with the Heritage League of the 2nd Air Division – an organisation for veterans & their families in the USA. We welcome the League to Norwich every 5 years for their annual convention. In June this year, we welcomed 60 delegates for a weeklong trip. The Trust Librarian also attends reunions in the USA bi annually. In the intervening years we update the League on our activity through their Heritage Herald newsletter and we welcome submissions from them to our regular email updates. The opportunities provided by meeting face to face cannot be over emphasised, even if it is only a rare opportunity.

UK/USA local partners

We are unique but we are certainly not the only organisation who work with American collections or collaborate on culture across the Atlantic. We work closely with partners like the American Air Museum in IWM Duxford and the Cambridge American Cemetery & Memorial.

Last year the most successful lecture delivered in library was delivered by Professor Susan Schulten of the University of Denver who was on a British Library speaking tour of the UK. We collaborated with the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the BL and our local partners the American Studies Department of the UEA. Finding other organisations with similar interest in the Americas has further enhanced our reach across the Atlantic and provides greater resilience & robustness in our programming.

Community based organisations are also key – we are developing our partnership currently with the Daughters of the American Revolution who while USA headquartered have two UK based chapters.

The meaning of words

We are known as various shortened versions of our official name – the 2nd Air Division USAAF Memorial Library. In recent audience engagement work at the University of East Anglia students told us that our name suggested some type of corporate sponsorship – they wondered if a division of the US Army had simply paid to have their name associated with our library. Going forward we will be simplifying our name & ensuring that we are a recognisable brand. Our local audience simply don’t understand a memorial building in quite the same way as our overseas audience.

Digital Engagement

Many of the veteran’s families wish to use our archive in particular for research into their own family history. Until May 2015 this necessitated a huge amount of research assistance from the library team. In that month a new digital archive was launched, funded by the legacy donation of a veteran. This has proved to be by far the most successful and far reaching of our online sites. The archive is deposited at our partner organisation the Norfolk Record Office & they manage this element of our digital presence. In the past the opportunities provided by digital to reach remote audiences led to an over proliferation of sites connected to the library. We are currently in the process of reducing this from five to three sites. Our social media presence is across Facebook and Twitter but also provides a challenge to us – how do we balance the information needs of our American audience with our wish to market our stock and events to local people. We are still working on this!

An American Presence

The Memorial Trust has a ring-fenced investment that is to provide for an American presence in the library. For many years this was in the form of a Fulbright Librarian who was appointed by Fulbright in the USA and did not apply directly to or have an interview with the Trust and Library team in Norfolk. It was decided in 2008 that the library wished to have a greater input in selection and so the University of East Anglia American Scholarship was born. Each year we offer payment towards tuition fees for two American nationals registered on a PhD programme at the university and in return, they get involved in the libraries events programme. In recent years, a number of factors have threatened the viability of this scholarship scheme – a reduction in the number of American students being the main challenge. We have been working with the UEA to redesign this opportunity & are now returning at least in part to the model of selecting individuals while they are still in the USA. We will offer a three-year scholarship opportunity for one student & will interview via Skype while the students are in the PhD application process. The development of technology to conduct interviews online is enabling this new process although of course time zones remain the same and so we may need to be flexible in our scheduling!

About the Author:

Orla Kennelly joined the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library as Trust Librarian in October 2018.

Orla holds a BA in History and Politics, an MA in Public Affairs and Political Communication and is currently studying by distance learning for a postgraduate qualification in Information and Library Studies with Aberystwyth University Wales. In 2017, Orla was selected for the Clore Foundation Emerging Leader in the Arts scheme. Orla is a member of CILIP, the Library and Information Association and the UK Museums Association.

She can be reached at:

Published: 16  January 2020

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