[Conference Report] Reinvention: Thriving in the 21st Century

On November 4-6, the Mechanics’ Institute hosted 51 colleagues from Wales, Australia, Canada, England and the U.S. for the Reinvention Conference. Reinvention was the fourth in a series of international conferences for independent and subscription libraries, mechanics’ institutes, athenaeums, mercantile libraries, schools of arts, and working men’s institutes and the first one held in North America.

Our keynoters and speakers wowed us. Keynote speakers were:

  • Brewster Kahle, Digital Librarian and Founder of the Internet Archive, who spoke about “Bringing Our Libraries Digital”
  • Lee Rainie, Director of Research at the Pew Research Center, who spoke about “The Reinvention Recipe: One Part Desperation. One Part Aggravation. One Part Decimation. One Part Liberation”
  • Nina Simon Executive Director, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, who spoke about “The Art of Relevance”

We shared challenges, solutions and ideas for continuing to thrive, including grant research, rebranding for the future, disaster planning, analog libraries in a digital world, capital campaigns, measuring performance indicators, relevance and much more.

Sometimes we had to strain to understand accents, as we all spoke different flavors of the English language. We learned, with a bit of envy, that the Gladstone Library (in Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales) is a “residential” library, with 26 bedrooms, which include access to the 250,000 items in the library and breakfast.

In another presentation, we learned that a former Mechanics’ Institute in Heptonstall, England, that is now a private residence, is on the market for £340,000 ($420,415), which sounds like a steal compared to the San Francisco Bay Area housing market!

All presentations are available online here: https://www.milibrary.org/reinvention/content/presenters

We at the Mechanics’ Institute learned a lot too about putting on a conference, including lodging, meals, and other logistics. Most of all, we learned that we are of the same tribe and are facing common challenges, being creative in overcoming them and that we can learn so much from one another.

Post submitted by Deb Hunt, Library Director at the Mechanics’ Institute Library in San Francisco

Celebrate NEH Grant with the Mechanics Institute on February 22nd

Question: Where is the oldest continuously operating chess club in the United States?

Question: Which local organization held 31 industrial fairs between 1857 and 1899 promoting industry and agriculture in California?

Question: What is the oldest existing library in California (and perhaps on the West Coast) designed to serve the public?

Question: What organization did John Muir, Domingo Ghirardelli, Gertrude Stein, Levi Strauss, Andrew Hallidie (father of the cable car) and James Lick have in common?

Question: Which San Francisco institution holds over 100 programs/year, has 140,000 print and electronic materials in its library, and trains a myriad of world-ranked chess champions?

Answer: If you guessed the Mechanics’ Institute of San Francisco, you are correct on all counts.

The Mechanics’ Institute (MI) joined USC, the University of California and SF-MOMA in receiving a Preservation Assistance Grant for Smaller Institutions from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Our application was considered carefully during the NEH review process, which includes peer review along with deliberation by the National Council on the Humanities and the Office of the Chairman.

Preservation Assistance Grants help small and mid-sized institutions improve their ability to preserve and care for their significant humanities collections. Our archival collections include:

  • MI Chess Club Records, Photographs, Tournaments, 1883-present
  • MI History: By-Laws, Historic Minutes, Historic Membership Records, Building Records, Photographs, 1857-present
  • MI Industrial Exhibitions, 1857-1899

In addition to our archival holdings the Mechanics’ has several special collections that need preservation:

  • Industrial Expositions and World’s Fairs, 1894-1962
  • Californiana, 1840-present
  • Western Americana, early 1800s-present
  • Chess Books and Journals, late 1700s-present (largest chess collection west of the Mississippi)

This grant is just the beginning of making our archives and special collections safe, accessible and digitally available. 
If you have not visited the Mechanics’ Institute, come in and say hello. While we are a membership library, we are open to all (just $95/year), which includes lightning- speed, secure Internet access, an amazing lending library of both print and electronic materials and databases, over 100 programs a year and chess classes. Come by anytime or come to our weekly Wednesday noontime tour. If you cannot come at noon, our next evening tour is Monday, February 22, at 6 p.m.

Submitted by Deb Hunt of The Mechanic’s Institute

July 22 – Mechanics’ Institute Tour @ Night

Mechanics' Institute Building

The Mechanic’s Institute Building

Tuesday, July 22 at 6:00 pm
57 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94104
Meet on the 3rd floor

The Mechanics’ Institute, one of the oldest libraries in the west, is offering a free evening tour of its historic library and building.

The Mechanics’ Institute of San Francisco was founded in 1854 with four books and a mission to start an organization to serve the education, information and social needs of the city’s mechanics, artisans, and industrialists. Within a few years the Institute was offering classes in such subjects as mechanical drawing, industrial design, electrical science, and applied mathematics, had started a chess club and had acquired a magnificent library that slaked San Francisco’s voracious appetite for technical and pleasurable reading material.

Today the Mechanics’ Institute continues as a membership organization boasting a fantastic general-interest library, active cultural event calendar, and world renowned chess club. It is a favorite of avid readers, writers, downtown employees, students, film lovers, chess players, and the 21st century nomadic worker in search of a place for literary pursuits, thinking, research and study.

The Tour of the Institute will orient you to our building, include an overview of our history and mission, and outline our current services and the benefits of membership. Tours typically take 45 to 60 minutes.

Free Tour. No reservations required.

For more information on this event, as well as the numerous other events being held at the Mechanic’s Institute, check out their website.

This post was submitted by Deb Hunt, Library Director at the Mechanic’s Institute in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter @debhunt6.

JOB: Electronic Services Librarian, Mechanics’ Institute Library

This job is now closed.

The Mechanics’ Institute Library is a full-service, general interest membership Library located in San Francisco’s financial district.

Under the general direction of the Library Director, the Electronic Services Librarian will provide leadership and oversight in the planning, implementation, and maintenance of a broad range of library electronic services, including but not restricted to:

  • Webmaster
  • Library ILS system: Millennium (Innovative Interface, Inc.)
  • Library collections: databases, e-books

and provide professional library services to members:

  • Reference and reader’s advisory
  • Instruction in use of Library electronic resources
  • Collection development of technology-related print materials

Qualifications: Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from an institution accredited by the American Library Associate, and experience with information technology systems, including the Millennium library system, and web development.

The successful candidate will demonstrate:

  • Good organizational skills, ability to work independently, and attention to detail
  • Knowledge of current and emerging technology trends
  • Ability to establish and maintain cooperative relationships with patrons and colleagues
  • Experience in developing instructional materials; teaching individuals or groups

Salary commensurate on experience; full benefits package is included for this position, which is full-time, and may include Saturday or evening hours. Mechanics’ Institute Library is an Equal Employment Opportunity worksite.

Complete applications will include cover letters, current resumes, and the names and contact information of three professional references. Please send to:

Sharon Miller
Mechanics’ Institute Library
57 Post St.
San Francisco, CA 94104

PROFILE: Sharon Miller and the Mechanics’ Institute

Located in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district, the Mechanics’ Institute is a nonprofit membership organization open to the public. Founded just after the Gold Rush to provide technical education and training for mechanics and to promote local and California industry, the Institute today is a vibrant intellectual and cultural center serving the entire Bay Area.

Mechanics’ Institute, by rockcreek.

Housed in an one hundred year-old landmark building on Post Street, the Institute serves its members with a large general-interest circulating and research library, offering book discussion groups, writers’ groups, and Internet research classes; the oldest chess club in the United States with activities for players of all abilities from beginners to grand masters; and an active program of literary and cultural events, including author programs, film series, salons, special events and art exhibitions. Source: Mechanics’ Institute.

BayNet speaks with Sharon Miller who is the Institute’s acting library director and BayNet’s newest Treasurer.

What is one thing your library is very good at? Personalized customer service. We take pride in meeting our members’ information needs.

Is there something else about your library that most people do not know? We are a full-spectrum library, no longer training men in the mechanical arts.

Who are your most frequent types of users? We have no one category, but daily see students, retirees, workers from surrounding retail and businesses, and children who are chess players.

What do you like best about your users? They all like our library!

Sharon Miller

Sharon Miller

As a library director, what are your primary responsibilities? I manage the budget and the personnel, oversee several book groups and writers’ groups, teach classes, give tours, and promote new projects. We are busy with technology upgrades and marketing ideas, and am always looking for ways to make our facilities more useful for our library users, so I enjoy talking with people. I love listening to the ideas presented by our enthusiastic members!

What is it about your job that most people don’t realize that you do? Fix photocopier problems.

What initially attracted you to library work? I wanted to spend my days in a library.  My family were enthusiastic public library users from my infancy.

What do you like most about working in your library? Our book discussion groups are fun, entertaining, and usually a wonderful learning experience for all of us.

What is most challenging about working in your library? Convincing people the Google is not always the best place to find information.

What accomplishment at work are you most proud of? Teaching people who have never used a computer how to do so, and seeing them successfully using email and other computer applications.

What is the most memorable experience you had at work? One of my everyday joys on the job is the physical place where I work: an historical building that is both charming and majestic. It is a delight to walk in every morning.

What is your favorite way to spend time off? My husband and I spend our weekends walking all over the city: doing errands (we have no car), seeing the sights, and enjoying this terrific place.

What do you think will be the biggest change in libraries and information services in the future? Changing the way reference librarians have traditionally interacted with people: rather than waiting for people to come to us, we will be finding ways to “push” information out. Libraries will be less of a “place” — although that will always be one part of who we are — and more of a service.