How to Leverage Your Archival Treasures Into Fundraisers
by Holly Hensley
2016 is a special year for Indiana. It is our bicentennial celebration. Since my library is the only one in Floyd County, my department (local history and genealogy) really wanted to do something to celebrate.
So far, we have had special programming discussing the writing of the state constitution and how world events (such as World War I) affected Indiana. However, we still wanted to have something to commemorate the year. I suggested we create a calendar of some of our historic photographs. That way, we could tie the bicentennial celebration back to the county.
Our historic photo collection contains more than 10,000 photographs. In deciding what photos to feature, I thought a theme would be nice, so I chose business and industry. We are often asked such questions as, “Do you have a photo of the grocery store that was on the corner of Main Street in the early 1900s?” or “Do you have a photo of The People’s College before it became the high school?” I started looking through our photo index and picked out around 20 pictures. Then I went to our collection storage and pulled the actual photos to check their current condition.
Were the photos clear enough to see buildings and people, if they were in the picture? Were the photos in good enough condition to stand up to being scanned at a higher resolution than our usual 600dpi? These were some questions I considered when I began the project.
Once I selected the photos, I asked my co-workers what their opinions were. They all liked the idea and suggested photos of places that have historical significance in the area. Additionally, I picked photos to make a cover for the calendar, so that I could highlight others that did not appear in the calendar. I scanned all of the photos between 800dpi and 1200dpi and used Microsoft Publisher’s Calendar Template to make the design consistent throughout the entire calendar. I wanted the photos to really stand out, and I wanted patrons who purchased a calendar to be able to write in it if they wanted. The finished size was 11" x 17".
The entire project took 4 months to complete. We investigated having the printing outsourced to an office supply company, but ordering glossy photo paper online and printing all the calendars in-house saved us hundreds of dollars. We did have an office supply company bind all of the calendars for us, and it was for a very reasonable price —around $60 for 50 calendars.
The response from patrons about the calendar was overwhelming. They loved it. For each one, we asked for a suggested donation of $5 to be made to the library. The profits would be put toward future printings. We printed 250 calendars at a time and went through four printings. Some patrons donated four times what we suggested for one calendar and asked if this would be a yearly project.
We sold out of calendars in early February and still have some patrons asking if we have more. We made a total profit of almost $1,000 from the calendar sales. We were even able to have our work certified as a Bicentennial Legacy Project by the Indiana Bicentennial Commission and had the state seal printed on the backs of the calendars. We are going to make more calendars, and I am currently selecting photos for 2017. I think old mills (grist, feed, and grain) would be a great focus.
Designing a calendar can be broken down into simple, step-by-step instructions or suggestions to give you a starting point in your design.
- Take a look at your photo collection — If you have hard copies of photos stored in-house, take a look at them and see what stands out for you. Are some in better physical condition than others? This means they’re easier to scan, and they won’t fall apart when they are removed from their sleeves.
- Size matters — Is your collection large enough to make calendars in upcoming years, if sales are good? Also check your photo scanner (if you have one) to see the largest size photo it will scan and what the highest resolution is.
- Themes make life easy — Choose a theme for the calendar, and take photos from that subject area to tie all the photos together, so the calendar makes sense. I chose business and industry because we get a lot of patron requests for these kinds of pictures, and we have a large amount of them as well.
- Choose historically significant photos — Historically significant photos could include government buildings, banks, schools, churches, etc. These types of photos are things that older residents will remember, and it may spark a memory for them. Baby Boomers might say they remember a grandparent talking about going to that particular grocery store or the one-room schoolhouse. You want to pick out the photos that are eye-catching and are recognizable places (such as a post office or a school), and the older the picture the better. You would not want to include things that are only 20 or 30 years old, because they are not really that significant yet.
- Captions — Caption all of your photos in the calendar with as much historical information as you can. I wrote a sentence or two on each picture and included the year each was taken. Everyone likes a little background information.
- Budget your time and money — Set aside a certain amount of time each day, or each week, to work on the calendar. Otherwise, it will overwhelm you, and other tasks will get ignored. Ask your department supervisor or library director to see how much of your budget can be used for the project. Also, if your library has a Friends of the Library organization, you might ask it for additional funds.
- Shop online — When doing price comparisons for paper and other printing supplies, check online office supply sites. It was cheaper for us to buy photo paper online and print the calendars in-house rather than bring them to an office supply store.
- Talk to your IT people — If you decide to print your calendars in-house, ask your IT department if your printer is capable of handling such a large job and if it will accept glossy photo paper. If staffers don’t know, contact the company that sold you the machine and get a list of paper types the printer will accept.
- Edit several times — Before you print your first batch of calendars, go over everything with a fine-tooth comb. That way, you can correct any mistakes before you use that special photo paper. Ask other staffers for help with this (i.e., your library’s marketing department).
- Promotion — Advertise your calendar on your library’s website and on social media. These are the best ways to get the word out. You should put ads in the local newspapers as well. Social media allowed us to sell our calendar to folks in other states who just happened to see it on our Facebook page.
- Print in small batches — It is easier on your printer and you. Plus, you are not tying up the printer all day, if another staff member needs to use it. Additionally, buy extra toner just for the project, so if you use it all up, you won’t have to wait for more to be sent. If you have an IT department, it should handle that for you.
- Sell physical copies in the library — Sell your calendars only in the library. Several local businesses and museums in our area offered to sell them for us. However, we opted out. We wanted to keep track of our daily sales and keep all the money in one place.
- Mail order — As I previously stated, some out-of-state folks asked us on our Facebook page if we would send them a calendar. On the occasions we were asked, we did. However, it was only two. You could offer mail order as an option, but then you would have to consider purchasing the envelopes and postage —as well as decide how much of your time you are willing to devote to it.
- For your first run, let an office supply store bind your calendars — We used a local office supply store to bind the calendars. It did this in batches of 50. However, the process took around 3 or 4 days to be completed. Then we had to pick them up at the store. We are looking into buying a binding machine to do it ourselves next year.
Starting a historic photo calendar can seem as if it’s a daunting task, but it can be a great learning experience for library staffers. A calendar is something everyone wants, especially around the holidays, and it is something practical that everyone can use —so you are guaranteed to make some money. You can show off your library’s historic photos, and people can see things they probably didn’t know existed in your area and learn a little history at the same time.