DIYnamic: Librarians in Motion – CLA Be the Change 2014


As a librarian and poet, it’s long been of interest to me to find

new ways of providing and sustaining democratized access to

poetry. So – when I found myself in my final year of my MLIS

enrolled in collection development while simultaneously

volunteering at the Poetry Center & American Poetry Archives

at San Francisco State University, synapses ignited. I

began to consider the inherent vulnerabilities of cultural

agency within poetry as a network of ideas reflecting

currencies of our time and began to wonder who

decides what gets saved to tell the stories we leave behind.

Along with digital preservation threats like data loss and bit

corruption, I considered the ephemerality &

vulnerability of poetry chapbooks produced by small presses.

I also sought means of reinvigorating stale & arcane

poetry collections I had found in many public libraries, and

desired a new method of expanding access to socially &

culturally diverse poetry along with promoting work of local

poets in the community. The confluence of my studies and

passions for poetry and librarianship catalyzed my creation

and development of an open-access digital chapbook archives:

The Poetry Center Chapbook Exchange.

The Poetry Center Chapbook Exchange is a communitycurated

archive created and developed for poets to convene,

correspond, and collaborate via chapbooks: the

currency of the poetry community. Our mission is to engage

our poetry community by sparking dialogues between the

chapbooks in the interest of collaboratively building

a community archive.

As a cooperative model, it has facilitated the compilation of a

diverse and innovative collection of poetry chapbooks for

public access. We began by inviting a select group of

core contributors – and grew our collection in just a few

months to feature chapbooks from over 40 contributors.

The Process

Contributors are invited to share their chapbooks via upload

and as such gain access to the chapbook repository. They are

also invited to recommend another poet to contribute to the

exchange. The model is “take a chapbook, leave a

chapbook.” The chapbook exchange is a contributor-driven

peer-to-peer environment that allows users to exchange

chapbooks as a variation on the pay-to-play theme in that in

this case, poetry is the currency required for participation.

Deploying Chapbooks as Community-Bonding Tools

Chapbooks have a long history of communicating impelling

messages to communities. “From the 16th to early

19th centuries, chapbooks were mass-produced, cheaply made

booklets sold hand-to-hand by traveling salesmen, or chapmen

in Western Europe and North America.” (Craig, 2011) Today’s

chapbooks are regarded as essential to the evolution of

ongoing dialogues around poetics and poetry.

“…[They’re] part of ongoing poetic conversations, as well as a

practice of exchange that is ever present in the maintenance of

community” (Craig, 2011). They are often handmade

and sold cheaply or given as gifts. The message within often

outweighs financial compensation for the author; often, what

fuels their tenacity is a desire to contribute to a powerful

lineage of poets as well as a commitment to correspondence

and collaboration with peers.

The Poetry Center Chapbook Exchange has made

available virtual hubs for collaboration and exchange. The

open-access format is conducive to quick and efficient

chapbook sharing, and can serve as a forum for writers and

other patrons to communicate and share ideas. Our

desire is for the site to act as a nexus; a lively and vital

cooperative space for poets to practice the continuum of

reading and writing in the creative process. Contributing

creative works in this forum also allows users the opportunity

to generate creative responses to extant works in the


As a community-curated project, Poetry Center Chapbook

Exchange participants are actively involved in the process of

archiving their own work. Once they become active members,

they are also able to assign metadata to their books with

pertinent descriptors to make their works more findable. In

doing so, they become agents in the shaping of our shared

history for future readers. Contributors also choose their own

creative commons licensing attributes and permissions, and

can permit or decline use in any number of ways.

The site was built using Omeka: “a free, flexible,

and open source web-publishing platform for the display of

library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and

exhibitions.” (Ray Rosenzweig Center for History and New

Media, 2014). We chose Omeka as our trial platform because of

the Roy Rosenzweig and Center for History and New Media’s

great reputation for preserving and archiving creative works.

Omeka enables participants to control how their

work is presented, and offers tutorials to facilitate the user


This type of peer-to-peer crowdsourcing can be a

means of promoting and increasing circulation for existing

poetry collections while directly engaging with local and

global communities. Libraries can improve poetry collections

by crowdsourcing chapbooks from local poetry communities

and expand awareness of collections using social media to

share chapbooks. A poetry project of this kind will serve all age

groups, and will be particularly vital for reengaging teens on

the move. Teens are mobile content creators. Libraries

recognize that “if librarians want to attract young adults to

their collections and services, they must become integral

members of the online community.” (Hassell and Miller, 2003)

Libraries have the opportunity to reshape their teen image by

creating virtual spaces where teens will feel free to collaborate,

create, consume, and share content with peers on the move. At

the same time, they can promote intergenerational bonding

between unlikely age groups.

As Tyckoson (2003) writes “The nature of publishing is going

to change and libraries are going to play a greater part in the

process.” Libraries can provide both the tools and the expertise

to help users get projects off the ground. Our communities are

rife with content creators, and the urge to share our creative

efforts has galvanized social media as a primary source of

information and communication. Outreach to local museums,

archives, community colleges, and K-12 schools may also be a

way to develop existing collections reflective of the local

community. By incorporating works by local poets and writers,

public libraries can involve users directly by showcasing

selected works to ensure patron’s continual value in the future

of library service.“Community practitioners need to know how

given communities tell stories and how powerful these stories

can be for either demoralizing or strengthening

community.” (Collins et al, 2004)


Like any project, the initial concept for the chapbook exchange

went through several iterations requiring flexibility and

patience. Initially designed for public libraries & later

conceptualized for an archives within an academic institution,

it was necessary to consider how this might change the target

audience and/or create a more insular reader community,

thereby possibly inhibiting access to the “average public

library user.” While the Poetry Center Chapbook Exchange is

publicly accessible via URL:, the

predominant audience is largely comprised of other poets.

How I hope to mitigate this problem & expand access for nonpoets

is to recommend the chapbook exchange as a discovery

tool teachers can employ in the classroom to promote active

learning, collaboration, and creative problem solving through

reading & writing poetry along with navigating new

technologies. Creating student collections in Omeka can also

help learners discover primary resources along with growing

their interests in history and technology. I’m interested in

encouraging & teaching information & media literacies

through diversified tech tools to augment, support, & partner

with local schools to best serve youth in our community.

Connecting learners with the right tools is critical to their

academic success.

In creating, developing, and managing the digital archive that

became the Poetry Center Chapbook Exchange, I was able to

gain project management skills that prepared me for my role as

the new Teen & Adult Services Librarian with Mendocino

County Libraries. Along with creating engaging programming

and services for teens and adults, managing projects effectively

is key to my ability to provide energetic and efficient services to

all our patrons.

Published by


Melissa Eleftherion is a writer, a librarian, and a visual artist. She is the author of field guide to autobiography (The Operating System, 2018), & nine chapbooks, including the forthcoming trauma suture (above/ground press, 2020). Born & raised in Brooklyn, Melissa now lives in Mendocino County where she manages the Ukiah Library, teaches creative writing, & curates the LOBA Reading Series. Recent work is available at

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