Magazine article American Libraries

Walking History: Library-Led Sightseeing Tours Bring Local Stories to Life

Magazine article American Libraries

Walking History: Library-Led Sightseeing Tours Bring Local Stories to Life

Article excerpt

We surprise people right off the bat, standing in front of this wonderful, family-friendly ice cream shop and saying that it used to be a brothel," says Scott Brouwer, archivist at La Crosse (Wis.) Public Library (LCPL). The reveal is part of the Dark La Crosse Trolley Tour, done in partnership between LCPL and the La Crosse County Convention and Visitors Bureau. It began as a walking tour--a trolley was introduced in 2013 as a solution for accessibility issues--and now takes area residents and tourists on rides through the city's seedier past.

"Besides the entertainment value, we also wanted to impart some history--it's not fake news; it's reliable news," says Anita Doering, archives manager at LCPL.

LCPL--which also offers the by-demand Footsteps of La Crosse historic walking tour--is not the only library to recognize that sightseeing ventures are the perfect vehicle to get employees outside the building and sharing their expertise. "Theoretically we are the authority on history in this community, so who better to get a tour or information from?" says Gwendolyn Mayer, archivist at the Hudson (Ohio) Library and Historical Society (HLHS).

HLHS initially offered history tours to schools and scout groups, but because the community is "history-nuts," says Mayer, the library now offers nine public walking tours covering topics that range from early transportation infrastructure in Hudson to the role the community played in the Underground Railroad. Each program is presented at least twice per season.

"History passes by people, and it's not out of callousness; it's just history," says Elaine Kuhn, local history and genealogy services coordinator at Kenton County (Ky.) Public Library (KCPL). Kuhn shares her fascination with the people and buildings of Covington, Kentucky, with those who join her walking tour not so that they may be remembered but so they might be known.

More than a walk in the park

For most libraries offering tours, the scale is determined by how far a group can travel. The just-right length can range from one to two hours and one to two miles, for an average group size of 25 people. Most programs take place during warmer months. For example, KCPL runs tours from early June to late September, while HLHS offers them late April to early November.

Similarly, scope is determined by what libraries wish to accomplish. Exercise itself can be an aim of the walking tour, such as the "Let's Book" program at Ligonier Valley (Pa.) Library. Director Janet Hudson created a 10-week program that runs April to July and combines reading and exercise. She takes her group on walks through town and nature reserves, and often enlists the help of both park guides and librarians who can lead book discussions. One excursion had the group talking about Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods while navigating the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve.

"The goal was to encourage people to read and walk every day for optimal mental and physical health," says Hudson. In the first year, 55 participants read for almost 120,500 minutes and walked more than 68,100 minutes.

Some libraries provide resources for self-guided tours--the economical cousin of the docent-led tour. …

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