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Ann Arbor 200

AADL Talks To: Karen Jania

When: September 21, 2023

In this episode, Karen Jania, president of the Washtenaw County Historical Society (WCHS), discusses her career in archives and museums. In addition to discussing her work at the WCHS, Karen talks about her long career as head of reference at the Bentley Historical Library, including the many changes in archives work that she witnessed during her tenure, the colleagues who nurtured her through her career, and some of the Bentley's unique collections.

More information in AADL's collection on the Bentley Historical Library and the Washtenaw County Historical Society.


  • [00:00:10] ELIZABETH SMITH: [MUSIC] Hi, this is Elizabeth.
  • [00:00:11] AMY CANTU: This is Amy. In this episode, AADL talks to Karen Jania. Karen worked at the Bentley Historical Library for 27 years and recounts some of her favorite moments from her career. From technological shifts away from the card catalog to online finding aids. Karen witnessed immense changes in library reference services throughout her time there. Now President of the Washtenaw County Historical Society, she also remains active in several other groups in the Ann Arbor area.
  • [00:00:40] ELIZABETH SMITH: Hi, Karen. Thank you for joining us today. What brought you to Ann Arbor initially?
  • [00:00:50] KAREN JANIA: Initially, that's a good question. [LAUGHTER] It wasn't school because I went to Michigan State. Actually, I was living with my soon to be husband in Northville. We needed a new place to live, and Ann Arbor is the cool place. It's the California of Michigan, you know all [LAUGHTER] the wild and crazy stuff happened. I was like, let's go to Ann Arbor, so we did. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:01:14] AMY CANTU: That's a good enough reason. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:01:16] KAREN JANIA: I thought so. It was a cool place to be.
  • [00:01:18] AMY CANTU: Did you eventually end up at SI?
  • [00:01:21] KAREN JANIA: I did. I started actually at the Bentley Library and was there for 3, 4 years, I think. Then Bill Wallace said, you know, if you want to hang around here you're going to have to get your Master's degree. I applied to SI, didn't get in the first time. We won't go into the reasons why, but I didn't. I'm glad actually I didn't get in because I got in I think it was two years later. At that point, they had added all the computer stuff and I would have missed out on all the computer classes and the DIAD. DIAD, was it the driver where we had the computers?
  • [00:01:56] AMY CANTU: Good question. Yeah.
  • [00:01:57] KAREN JANIA: There was the DIAD up there in Harlan Hatcher. Anyways, I got in at a good time. I was there actually for I think four years because I was working full time and then going to [OVERLAPPING] high school part-time. Then finally I realized it's going to take me like the rest of my life to graduate, so why don't I take an educational leave. I took a fall term off of work and then just took 4 or 5 classes that semester.
  • [00:02:21] AMY CANTU: That's great. What were you doing at the Bentley before you got your degree?
  • [00:02:26] KAREN JANIA: When I first started, I was the page. I was the person who'd take your call slip, go in the stacks, grab your book, box, whatever, and just generally help people. Then they gave me more hours because I started part-time, I think, as it was. Then they let me do some projects on the Sam Sturgis collection, which was awesome just going on, oh, I know. I was pitching a bitch about there's so many photos in each envelope. If someone would look at the photos, they have to touch every photo in there when they really wanted one specific. I'm like, why don't we put a single image in each envelope? That way, you just look at the one you need to see. They're like, okay, you can do it. [LAUGHTER] I did that and then later got to do some processing and was full time a while. Then they put me a little bit more strategically in reference. Then that was probably about my 2 or 3 year point or so. Then Bill's, like, come on Karen, so I did. Then actually when I went to SI, when I came back, they actually had created a position in reference for me.
  • [00:03:30] AMY CANTU: Fantastic.
  • [00:03:31] KAREN JANIA: That was pretty cool.
  • [00:03:34] ELIZABETH SMITH: How many years did you end up working in the reference department?
  • [00:03:38] KAREN JANIA: Twenty seven, just shy of 28 years.
  • [00:03:43] AMY CANTU: When you first got there, did you know, this is where I want to be, this is what I want to do, or did it come upon you gradually?
  • [00:03:51] KAREN JANIA: Well, my friend Ann Ringia, then Ann Flowers, took me in one Saturday with her. She was doing work downstairs in the conservation lab. She let me just fool around in the reading room because no one was there. I was just like, oh, they got cool stuff here. Then eventually the job opened. I got in there, and it's like I always hated history as a kid. [LAUGHTER] I can't memorize anything. I could remember the Boston Tea Party because I had visuals, [LAUGHTER] but whatever. But then as I was doing reference requests and pulling things for people, it's like, oh, man, look. We've got these Native American photos, we have these old diaries, we've got these old scrapbooks and City directories, and it's like, oh, my goodness, [LAUGHTER] this is awesome and just fell in love with it. Then this was around the time that roots came out. We started getting genealogists in there which everybody's like, oh, get him away from me. I was a genealogist. I would then help these people because at that point there really wasn't anything online yet. Ancestry really wasn't or anything. I would just show them all these resources we had, especially, for Washtenaw County, if they had relatives there. I would take care of all the genealogists and then later actually gave talks to genealogy organizations and historical societies. But I just fell in love with it. The more I saw, the more I fell in love. That was pretty cool.
  • [00:05:16] AMY CANTU: A match made [OVERLAPPING]
  • [00:05:19] ELIZABETH SMITH: Sorry. How did you first get interested in genealogy?
  • [00:05:23] KAREN JANIA: That's a good question, and I'm not quite sure. I just remember in college, probably, it was my freshman or sophomore year. Anyway, took the bus up to Elma, Michigan, and my grandma was in St. Louis, Michigan. I visited her for the weekend and something prompted me to just ask her, so tell me, who were our relatives and whatever. I still have those papers that I wrote those down on. Through all my moves and craziness, I didn't touch those for almost 10, 15 years before I actually started doing the genealogy. Then I got the bug. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:05:58] AMY CANTU: That happens.
  • [00:05:59] KAREN JANIA: I'm really into like trivia, and not that I'm a good trivia person, but just into random things and whatever. It was just like perfect for me and detective work, so it was really a lot of fun.
  • [00:06:08] AMY CANTU: They must have been happy that they had somebody at the Bentley [LAUGHTER] who would take those questions.
  • [00:06:13] KAREN JANIA: Well, yeah, because we really had a lot that lends themselves to genealogy and got some fun stories out of the job I would do. This took you to this, to that, to this, to the other thing. I remember Nancy Bartlett's sometimes like, you need to write this down, [LAUGHTER] you need to tell the story. But it was a lot of fun.
  • [00:06:34] ELIZABETH SMITH: What was it like working at the Bentley while you were there, and how did things change over time?
  • [00:06:39] KAREN JANIA: Well, like when I first started, computers really weren't. There were like a couple [LAUGHTER] and it's like, but we didn't have one in reference. I think for almost like a year maybe, and it was all the Das nonsense [LAUGHTER]. I would be at the reference desk while Nancy was on her break or whatever. It's like, and I'd shout across the room, Diane, how do I get this thing to turn on? What do I type in? Because there were no icons that you had to do the command driven stuff. It's like that was nonsense. But it was quieter than we didn't have Merlin Terminals at that, I don't believe. I'm pretty sure those came after I'd been there for a bit. It was the card catalog and just a lot of hands on and then things that just seemed to get busier. I think as time went on, and then we got the Merlin Terminals and so then instructing people how to use Merlin, which at the time, I really had my doubts because if you want to know about the Civil War, pull out the Civil War card catalog drawer, and you could just flip through and find all kinds of stuff. You do that on Merlin, there's like a couple thousand hits. [LAUGHTER] You couldn't really do a key. It was crazy. Then I myself learned, what's best in the card catalog and then what's really best in Merlin and really got a handle on that. Some things were better in the card catalog, some but were better on Merlin. Then eventually the card catalogs disappeared. I was going to chain myself up to them. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:08:09] AMY CANTU: [LAUGHTER] Wow, you saw a lot of transition. What were finding aids like at the time?
  • [00:08:17] KAREN JANIA: The finding aids, I'm dating myself here. It's Pre-EAD. I can't remember what they call it now. But anyway, it was just a listing box by box. I used the Sturgis a lot. I used ivory a lot. But you could go page by page and flip through. You could look at a couple of different pages at a time and have your fingers blah. They're extremely helpful. But then once you got EAD and could do it online, you could do keyword searchers, which really helped in the finding aids. Because then if it said a certain thing, it would bring up every time it said that on whatever pages it was on.
  • [00:08:59] AMY CANTU: For our listeners, can you tell us what EAD is?
  • [00:09:03] KAREN JANIA: Encoded archival description. [LAUGHTER] I remembered. Whereas before, it was just strictly a box listing as they'd fill a box, then they'd type in all the folder headings and they just did that. Then once they started doing the EAD, then they retrofitted all the previous finding needs because they were in Word. Then they had to put all the gookie HTML stuff in, reform at it. But they left. Anyways, it was a big transition to get all the finding needs. I'm trying to think how many finding needs there were. There were like about three feet? Each shelf was three feet. There were probably 3,4 shelves easily of finding needs. Then some collections. I think Jim and Millikan had multiple finding aids because there were multiple parts of the collection.
  • [00:09:58] AMY CANTU: Can you tell us a little bit, can you walk us through like a typical day in the life of a reference librarian at the Bentley? Maybe after the computers came and what you did and what you particularly enjoyed doing?
  • [00:10:17] KAREN JANIA: It's funny we had to be there at the same time the library opened. [LAUGHTER] It had to be there a couple of minutes early. Because without fail, there's going to be someone at the door who wanted to come in as soon as you were there or before you got there. But so we go in and once I was doing the reference desk pretty much full time, so I'd come in and if there was someone there, we'd get them registered, show them how to fill out if they weren't already. Typically take their driver's license and clip it to the registration card. Then show them how to fill out finding call slips, which is the little form you filled out to request the items you wanted. Some people like no, I'm all set. Other people like, well I'm interested in da. Come on over here, tell me what you know and let me know what is you're looking for. We do a little brainstorming and it's like you want the such collection? Or you want the such collection. You want this part of it? We do some deep diving. Then I'd eventually show them the finding aid and show them how to fill out the call slip. Then they'd go sit at their table and do their thing. Then they come up and bring call slips to us. We could get one box at a time or we could get several books at a time. We also had maps, but so then they'd come up to the desk, give me the call slip, I'd find the location. We had what we called the location guide up at the desk. You would look up the collection because as it turns out collections come in, in bits and pieces. You might have this collection on shelf whatever and then a few years later we get some more from them. It's on some shelf totally far away. You'd look at the finding aid under the name of the collection and then the box number so you could get the exact location of where that particular box was. Then take it to the back of the room to our page. Then they'd go in the stacks and grab it for someone. Then once they found their things, of course they wanted photocopies. We grab a photocopy form, show them how to do it, because we did all the photocopying because their primary sources, we want everything in the original order that we had them and they couldn't photocopy themselves, we had to do it for them. Show them how to take care of all that and where to put it when they were done. Then in the meantime, there were usually phone calls or emails. We would get quite a few email requests. I would do a quick response that we're in receipt of your request. We'll get back with you as soon as we can. I'd print those out and either give it to someone or I'd work on it myself. Phone calls. We used to do actually a request like live on the phone. This was earlier before that, but there's this one time this woman was interested in, I think was the friends house in Ann Arbor and I couldn't find anything. Then later I guess during the lunch hour, which is why I was on the desk that time. Then later was like, wait a minute, in the vertical file, which are in these filing cabinets in the reading room. You guys know it is, but for those who don't, it's just kind of random folders, just odds and ends things that just we've accumulated from wherever. I found a folder in there with the information she was looking for. But I hadn't taken her phone number, didn't know her name. We kind of talked about and said from now on we need to ask people to put their request in writing and send us an email. That way too, we know exactly what they're asking. Then it reminds them exactly what they were requesting. Because sometimes they do it on the phone. We'd either call them back or send them an email and it's like that's not what I wanted.
  • [00:13:47] AMY CANTU: We've been there.
  • [00:13:49] KAREN JANIA: We thought just if everything's in writing, be it paper and pen or email, then it's very clear what they want and we can answer back. Then we saved all those requests and answers in another set of filing cabinets. Because without falls, someone would come back. They would come back maybe later on a different question or someone would have a similar one. I think we had that same cry couple of years ago. That was so, and so. I had a really good memory for that stuff and we'd go back and we could find what it was, and so we'd use old letters and we hung onto those forever.
  • [00:14:22] AMY CANTU: Did you ever automate those so that you could find them then online? In your system?
  • [00:14:28] KAREN JANIA: I'm going to say no, but that being said, I saved everything in my email. In my own personal email I could go back and look for things. But then as a result of a lot of people asking the same questions, especially UFM history at the beginning. I'd learned about websites at size, they were just coming into being. Then we create a website for reference. I did one page that was UFM related. It was first of the university, it was women, it was sports, whatever. But those things that we get asked time and time again. It saved time for us because then we could just ourselves go to that page and tell them the information. If it was a quick thing. Or we could tell them go to this page, you'll find information on that. Often there would be a hot link maybe taking them to another collection or to a finding aid or something. Then later it blossomed into just things on women, religion, just all stuff. It's no longer there anymore, but it was really based on, and it was on demand stuff. We get the question over and over again, Let's put it online. It's silly for us to keep answering the same thing. Plus, I did auto text entries, which you could do in Word at that time. You could do like type three letters and then it would pull up a little paragraph you'd created. If someone wanted to know about automotive history, there's a couple things we always would say this way. We'd always say them the same. We typed in auto and it would say all the Walter Ruther or blah, blah, blah. Or if you're interested in trains, there'd be a little thing. We'd have these auto text entries too. Sometimes writing a letter was like dear auto text, auto, blah, auto text. It really streamlined the things. Then that way we're all saying the same thing the same way.
  • [00:16:19] ELIZABETH SMITH: Do you remember any reference questions that stand out to you as like strange or interesting?
  • [00:16:27] KAREN JANIA: Oh, God, there were so many. Well, there was one that led, I think it was a reference question, or else I was working with John Rick on his book, Natural Enemies and it was about football, and through my research, found out that not everyone who played football in the early days was on the football team. It was like some big hulky guy walking down the street.
  • [00:16:45] AMY CANTU: Jesus. [LAUGHTER].
  • [00:16:46] KAREN JANIA: Like hey, you want to play this Saturday? [LAUGHTER] You didn't hear that from me though. But there were fun things though, connections from women. We also had the alumni surveys, which was a survey given to all women in 1924, I believe it was, whoever attended or was currently attending university. It was a four-page thing, and it asked them their name, their religion, their ethnicity and that was a new word because I think it was in 1924 when Congress came up with that ethnic definition. It'd say what's your ethnic and they'd say German or Scottish people didn't really know what that meant. But then it'd ask about their memories of attending the university. Did they have family members, then what they went on to do later in life? Some of those would take me on just this rabbit hole. I read that, it's like, oh my God, so we have a necrology file. Then necrology files are these little cards primarily before the 1920s, so from 18, 40, or whatever, and it would be the information they filled out sometimes in their own hand and sometimes it'd be a little picture of them, but you'd get into that. Then sometimes it's like, let me look at the old yearbook, is there something about them in there? So some of these, I guess the fun ones, it would just take you down a rabbit hole and there are lots of rabbit holes to be found. It was fun. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:18:09] AMY CANTU: I found my grandfather's 1924 report card, [OVERLAPPING] and his registration form of his grave..
  • [00:18:16] KAREN JANIA: There aren't a whole lot of report cards in there and they were on vellum back then. I bet.
  • [00:18:20] AMY CANTU: It was crazy. The other thing related to what Elizabeth just asked, you could argue that the head reference librarian would know where all the bodies were buried. Were there any things that you found in the collection or that you think people would be surprised to know? Other than, like you just mentioned, the necrology file. Are there other things you discovered over the years?
  • [00:18:43] KAREN JANIA: Well, there were lots. Some of them too were just like the non-UofM collections we had there. For instance, there were some physicians' books and so when they went to visit people, they'd write down who it was and what the ailment was. There was another professor/doctor at the university, and I can't think of his name now, but he had all this stuff, all the stuff that he observed while taking care of people and things. I found somebody's little receipt to get out of the civil war. They paid someone to take their spot.
  • [00:19:26] AMY CANTU: Just stuff like that.
  • [00:19:28] KAREN JANIA: Fun maps and scrapbooks. One in particular that I used to use for classes all the time was Marguerite Lambert. If you're a genealogist or heaven for a long time, you might know her name. She gathered a lot of genealogical resources and she went through some of the early newspapers and collected names of who got married or who died and then put them in this booklet. Anyway, she also attended the university around I think 1915, so in her scrapbook, there would be a napkin from some special dinner she went to. There might be a little wrapper from a piece of chocolate, a little piece of driftwood, just all kinds of little dance card. Dance cards were very cool. [LAUGHTER] We'd find dance cards and some of those things and they're like, what about two by three and with a little pencil attached often. The girls, and sometimes the guys sign their cards that they'd reserve the dance, and girls would have a contest, like who can get their card filled and who has the coolest guys. [LAUGHTER] Then later we collected a lot of those. Actually in the vertical file, then there was just like a whole folder of just these dance cards, some were little leather covers, some were just little paper.
  • [00:20:44] AMY CANTU: During your time, were there any acquisitions that just everybody was buzzing about that people were really excited about at the Bentley?
  • [00:20:55] KAREN JANIA: There were. [LAUGHTER] The one that comes out most because it was the more recent was John Dingell. Well, we got the James Blanchard papers while I was there too and I got to work on those, I got to help process those. Because there were so many boxes, they were out at the beer building before it had been revamped.
  • [00:21:15] AMY CANTU: Sure.
  • [00:21:16] KAREN JANIA: Matt Schaffer and I were literally in a cage about the size of this room. [LAUGHTER] In a cage, it was a cage. [LAUGHTER] They could lock us in if they wanted, but all the boxes were there, so he and I would go down there, I don't know, maybe mornings or something and we go through the collection and that was really fun because then I really got to focus on the upper peninsula part of his collection.
  • [00:21:34] AMY CANTU: Oh, cool.
  • [00:21:35] KAREN JANIA: Because that's a passion of mine and we'd get all the governors. That was a thing with the state archives, but what we got was their personal papers. We didn't get the actual official gubernatorial things. I think that's right. But anyway, we worked out to deal with that. But yeah, I guess I'm more political papers. Then John Sinclair, his came a little bit before me, but that was another one that was just like, wow, yeah. People just went crazy over that.
  • [00:22:06] AMY CANTU: What was it like working with Fran Bluen and some of the other colleagues that you had at the Bentley?
  • [00:22:12] KAREN JANIA: I can't say enough good stuff about Fran. Man, he's such a wonderful person. I actually got to interview him when I was at SI about how he did his administration and he's laid back but really on top of things. He really knows his stuff and he would tell me about how he would go to the different units and make them aware of who the Bentley was so that they could bring their papers to the Bentley so that we could or the records actually, so that we could keep those for posterity, whatever. Anyways, he was just wonderful in his guidance. He was off out a lot because he was often on campus doing things. Bill Wallach was the associate director right then. He was awesome too. Whenever I had a problem was like "Bill!", [LAUGHTER] and he's always there to help me. I had lots of great mentors there and it was really like a family. It really was like a family. For the most part anyone who was professional there, if they left, it's because they became a director at another place. Like Chris Wederman went to Yale, Frank Bowles went to Mount Pleasant. [LAUGHTER] That's about it, they left. People just stayed there. They love their work and it was basically a big family. We'd have potlucks on occasion. We had teas maybe twice a week, once a week, whatever it was. We'd have a holiday party, like the last day before Christmas that we worked. We'd work half day and then go to someone's house and have a pizza party. Everyone was really willing to share their knowledge and their information, which was great because that's not true everywhere and I've experienced that. But if I had an issue with an acquisition, I could go talk to Tom Powers and he'd look things up, or often he knew it off the top of his head. Brian Williams was another one who came after me, but he was very up on university archives. Greg Kinney was sports so often I would take his place like when he was on vacation. At that point take the sports thing, later Brian did. But everyone just pitched, hinted for everybody and just helped you, and if you had a question or whatever it was really a wonderful place to live. I loved it. I lived there. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:24:20] AMY CANTU: That's okay. But that tells a lot.
  • [00:24:22] KAREN JANIA: But it was. A lot of us worked there forever and ever. Turnover would be grad students.
  • [00:24:29] AMY CANTU: Now, before we leave the topic of the Bentley at all, I just wanted to ask you a little bit about the Ivory photo collection and the Sturgis collection. Can you tell us, because we would love to be able to work with the Bentley and scan some of that stuff, but I know that people love those collections? Can you tell us a little bit about what's in there?
  • [00:24:51] KAREN JANIA: Sure. Sam Sturgis, he was himself a photographer however, his collection is just that he collected photographs. He collected things back to the 1880s when it was pictures of glass cases in the medical department, which was a department back then of whatever [LAUGHTER] was in the classic jars and things. Lots of campus photos, quite a bit of Ann Arbor. But if people are familiar with, they were little white books. They were horizontal books. There's Old Ann Arbor Town or whatever in there. Those and Hazel Proctor, if I'm not mistaken, is the one who put those out. But the photos were from the Sam Sturgis collection. I dare say, any old Ann Arbor photo that you see that's black and white, it's probably from the Sam Sturgis collection. That's really the best overall documentation of the university and the city of Ann Arbor by far and there's some Chelsea and Dexter, but primarily Ann Arbor and the old Ann Arbor and Old University.
  • [00:26:00] AMY CANTU: The Ivory?
  • [00:26:01] KAREN JANIA: The Ivory, and if I'm not mistaken, it was brothers at one point and I think they had attended the university, but don't quote me on that, but I think that's right. But every photo, I think it was on Main street, closer to the stadium, but down that way. They took photographs of houses and buildings. That was a good portion of it. I don't know if it's for insurance purposes or what. If you're looking for a photo of a house that might be a really good place to look. They also took photos of people and events. That would be like say 1930s, around that time period. One of the fun photos I found in there on Lynnwood Street, there's a little stone, cassaly house. I think it's like stone, anyway, so it's an odd little house, and that photo was an ivory. It's like, oh my gosh, [LAUGHTER] there it is. You could find fun photos of let's say, old homes. There were some sports in there, some people. Susan Weinberg actually processed that collection when it came in. I think as a volunteer, I don't think she actually worked at the Bentley.
  • [00:27:07] AMY CANTU: She mentioned that I think.
  • [00:27:10] KAREN JANIA: She went to a lot of description. For the houses, it would have the address. If it was people, she would have the event and who was in it.
  • [00:27:17] AMY CANTU: That's amazing.
  • [00:27:19] KAREN JANIA: The Sturgis would be like, say the older, and then about where that stops is then where ivory takes over.
  • [00:27:24] AMY CANTU: Got you.
  • [00:27:26] KAREN JANIA: But they're both excellent collections, just excellent.
  • [00:27:29] AMY CANTU: Maybe related. Some of these photos might be in this project. You worked on the Downtown Historical Streets exhibit.
  • [00:27:35] KAREN JANIA: I did, with Amy. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:27:35] AMY CANTU: Can you talk a little bit about that?
  • [00:27:41] KAREN JANIA: It was Amy and Louisa Piper.
  • [00:27:45] Jania: Ray Detter.
  • [00:27:46] KAREN JANIA: Ray Detter, yeah those were the big three.
  • [00:27:48] Jania: It will.
  • [00:27:49] AMY CANTU: Grace and Susan.
  • [00:27:50] KAREN JANIA: Yeah. Grace. Yeah.
  • [00:27:51] AMY CANTU: They're Louisa Piper.
  • [00:27:52] KAREN JANIA: Yeah. I have a pretty good memory. Once I've seen a photograph, I know where to find it again. Where a lot of collections aren't that detailed. So except for Sturgis and Ivory, then you can pretty much find them for the most part. But any other collection with photos, it's not item level. When they came in, they would tell me what photos they're looking for, what the subject matter was. I would tell them collections that I knew for sure that would have things, but then also maybe give them ideas of how to search better on Merlin to find things. It was a fun project and I love seeing those all around town. They're just except the ones that are all like.
  • [00:28:32] AMY CANTU: Broken.
  • [00:28:32] KAREN JANIA: Crackled.
  • [00:28:33] AMY CANTU: Somebody ran into them. Yeah.
  • [00:28:36] KAREN JANIA: But yeah, I thought that was a really awesome project and it's just fun, like I say for people just to walk around and say, like, oh my gosh, that was here,100 years ago or whatever, you know.
  • [00:28:46] AMY CANTU: That reminds me too that we worked on the Making of Ann Arbor.
  • [00:28:49] KAREN JANIA: Yes we did. I was going to say that.
  • [00:28:51] AMY CANTU: Bollinger. Was it Bollinger? I forgot. It was a mandate. It was something that they wanted the university and the city to work together on.
  • [00:28:59] KAREN JANIA: We did.
  • [00:28:59] AMY CANTU: We did.
  • [00:29:00] KAREN JANIA: I remember the first meeting in the Whiting room. Jewett was there. Michael Jew Coleman. Coleman Jewett was there. They're just people from the library, people from education and so we basically took the book that the Bentley did for the Sesquicentennial. Then illuminated that. We put hot links in to maybe give definitions of words. We had the library go through and add what they thought should be added because they know what their patrons asking for at the library so it was really collaborative and it was really great work. Then Amy and I had all these plans of doing additions to it, that never.
  • [00:29:39] AMY CANTU: What's happened?
  • [00:29:39] KAREN JANIA: We're going to do, education and, all these cool.
  • [00:29:42] AMY CANTU: Then it cooled off, but things changed eventually.
  • [00:29:45] KAREN JANIA: Yeah. But it's a great website and I send people there a lot. It's great.
  • [00:29:51] AMY CANTU: It's got some nice texts we added a lot of history.
  • [00:29:54] KAREN JANIA: A lot of history, a lot of text. Then as a result, you had that little image bank with it. You could just look at images if you want there on the library's page, I believe. Or it used to be anyways. But yeah, that was a very cool project and it was really great working with the library. Just so many 'cause we've never worked together before. It's like why not?
  • [00:30:13] AMY CANTU: Why not?
  • [00:30:14] AMY CANTU: They were these two major resources in town like we need to work together and so we have it now, even at the Washtenaw County Historical Society, we have a collaborative with the library too. It's just like such a resource. You guys are awesome. You really are.
  • [00:30:26] AMY CANTU: Thank you. Yeah.
  • [00:30:28] Jania: Well, it seems like a good segue talking about your work at the Washtenaw County Historical Society.
  • [00:30:33] AMY CANTU: Yeah. I've been in there since 2008. I started as just a regular board member oh, for a year and then I went into programs. So Ralph Bebe, who had been the program person before, showed me how to do the things or, you know what you do. I was the one who arranged the programs and found a place because at the time we were trying to get out in Manchester or got in Chelsea, so that we're not just focusing on Ann Arbor because it's for the whole county. It was a lot of that and then did that for a few years and I've been president for like five years now. I think it's been really rewarding. Again, working with the library and now we always have a place to have our program [LAUGHTER] Amy in a room, and then getting things digitized. It's been a great relationship.
  • [00:31:27] AMY CANTU: You have the Museum of Main Street, and you were present then through the pandemic and everything. How did that go? Can you talk a little bit?
  • [00:31:34] KAREN JANIA: Actually, yeah. We actually we got way more done than we expected to get done during [LAUGHTER] because we were going to do the voting rights. Whatever amendment that is. I can't remember right now. I haven't had enough coffee yet, Judge, But so we had this exhibit all planned but we couldn't have it because we're closed. It's COVID time Bev Willis, Judy Christman and myself were a little bubble. We would bubble ourselves over to the library. We set up the exhibit, but then we would take photos and then bev made the exhibit online. All that was online and that was very cool. We did a few things then and did them as for the website. We actually did get some things done. It gave us time too to also think about maybe how we might reuse the space at the library. But then programs dropped off as a result of that. Then we were mired in with the Argus collection and that's no longer a part of us now. They've separated so they can really flourish and blossom and go their own way. Our big thing is on our exhibit is up and running, which will be October 29 for the 200th exhibit. Then we're going to start doing programs again, and we actually have a little bicentennial committee. In fact, we just met last night and they've got plans and we've decided instead of having two programs in the fall, two in the spring, we're going to have a program every month. A couple will be large, some will be small, some might just be at the museum on Main Street. It might just be some little thing where someone comes and talk. One of the things we're thinking about was for 4 July, reading the Constitution and will Hathaway who's now on the board, they have Hathaway's hideaway, which is on Ashley, I believe it is, for it's Ashley and that used to be a voting place, that's where people went to vote. That was its purpose. We will have that done there and maybe even a program there as well. We're going to try to do just lots of things commemorating Ann Arbor. Our exhibit is just going to be first 50, I'm letting the cat out of the box. No, it's for the first 50 years of Ann Arbor's history. Everybody knows from like 1874 on. There's lots of stuff about that, but it's those first 50 years, there's not a whole lot of information and a lot of people really don't know much, but we do have things in there, so we're going to set up like a little section on lighting. What did people do for lighting for those first 50 years?
  • [00:34:09] AMY CANTU: Cool.
  • [00:34:10] KAREN JANIA: Candles, kerosene lamp kind of thing. We'll have little sections, just little of those various things, day to day life the first 50 years.
  • [00:34:18] AMY CANTU: That sounds great.
  • [00:34:20] KAREN JANIA: Yeah. Anyway, so now we're really gearing up to, again, now that we can duly do things with the public, we're trying to really gear up and make a difference.
  • [00:34:27] AMY CANTU: Will that start in January, or are you going to wait and unveil it a little further in the year?
  • [00:34:32] KAREN JANIA: Well, the exhibit will come out on we'll open on the 29th and then.
  • [00:34:36] AMY CANTU: Of this year.
  • [00:34:37] KAREN JANIA: Of this year.
  • [00:34:37] KAREN JANIA: Of October. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:34:38] KAREN JANIA: Yeah. Real soon.
  • [00:34:40] ELIZABETH SMITH: That's 2023 and this will air in 2024 for listening.
  • [00:34:44] KAREN JANIA: Yes. Sorry about that. Yeah. You still have time to go. [LAUGHTER] See the exhibit. We will take some things out. We'll shuffle the exhibit up just a little bit during the year so that people could come more than one time and see something maybe a little bit different.
  • [00:34:58] AMY CANTU: Got you.
  • [00:34:59] KAREN JANIA: Then we're also in the process of the back room, it's morphing into like a research area. We're hoping too, with more traffic coming in for the bicentennial and people coming to see this, that we'll get more people interested in actually sitting there looking at some of the holdings we have. We're trying to think about how to really make that work, but when people come, we always have some plat books or city directories out and people go nuts and they'll sit and look, or look at the maps and stuff. We really want to hone that in.
  • [00:35:32] ELIZABETH SMITH: What do you think are the most interesting collections there after working at the Bentley?
  • [00:35:38] KAREN JANIA: Well, we have lots of artifacts which the Bentley really doesn't, There's a couple, but they really don't have artifacts. They just collect papers and photos and things. So, we do have some great photos, but we have, we have some old doll houses. We have old toys, there's some really great textiles, some beautiful dresses like from the 1880s. In fact, oh, maybe it was like the COVID summer when things loosened up a little bit, we had a woman come in and bring her mother's wedding gown. She was married here in town and we got some photos and anyways, it was just some cool stuff. Yeah, it's the artifacts. There's some just really awesome artifacts and old tools. Sure. Anyway, it's just lots of fun stuff. But it's the artifacts. Yeah, lots of great artifacts.
  • [00:36:31] AMY CANTU: What's the best part about working there? You sound very enthusiastic about the exhibits and all.
  • [00:36:37] KAREN JANIA: Again, many of us. I don't want to say most, but many of us on the board have been there longer than me. [LAUGHTER] I've been there since 2008. Actually there's a great group of people, Patty and Bob Creel are on the board and they're both Ann Arborites from the get go. They bring a lot of history and a lot of knowledge of the area to the table. Will has his skills. He's a supervisor for Scio Township, so everyone comes with their own skill set, so it's a great bunch of people to work with and then we also get queries on our website. We now have Ask A Historian. If it's about a specific house, those go to Susan.
  • [00:37:17] AMY CANTU: Susan.
  • [00:37:18] KAREN JANIA: We go to Susan. That is by far her expertise.
  • [00:37:20] AMY CANTU: We send a lot to Susan too.
  • [00:37:22] KAREN JANIA: But if it's something else, then I typically will answer those. At some point, I'll get this together, trying to get then, these auto text entries I was talking about. Trying to get something comparable on the website. I guess it wouldn't be, that'd be more of like a study guide of sorts. Like if you're interested in whatever these are, like the websites or the places to look for if you want to find this city directories and give them the link that you guys have to the city directories so you can see them all on line. But do like little study guides and stuff. It's just a great group of people to work with. Like I said, I hated history when I was a kid, but I love it now. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:38:02] AMY CANTU: Are there other groups or projects that you've worked on in the city that we haven't asked you about yet that you like [OVERLAPPING] ?
  • [00:38:10] KAREN JANIA: Like unrelated?
  • [00:38:11] AMY CANTU: Yeah.
  • [00:38:12] KAREN JANIA: Like Ann Arbor Farm and Garden?
  • [00:38:13] AMY CANTU: Yeah, sure.
  • [00:38:15] KAREN JANIA: Well, I'm on Ann Arbor Farm and Garden.
  • [00:38:16] AMY CANTU: What do you do there?
  • [00:38:19] KAREN JANIA: Not this past year because my daughter had a baby. But I've helped on the garden walk in particular, and I'm also their historian. Surprise. [LAUGHTER] I'm on the board of that and it's a really great, we have great programs I think, spotlight ones like the Palmer House we'd have someone come and talk about that. We've had a connection with the botanical gardens, especially the peony part. The big celebration they had. We gave them a big chunk of change that we got from the garden walk. The main purpose of that is money for scholarships or grants rather. Schools, organizations will come to us and say, we really want to start this garden. We want to teach our children about gardening or something along those lines. Then we'll look at all of the grants we got, decide who we want to grant or fund rather. Then we'll give them X number of dollars and we knew about the peony celebration a good 5, 6 years in advance. Every year we'd grab like 5,000 I think and put that aside for the ponies because I want to say we gave him $20,000 but again, don't quote me on that. That's another aspect. Then AAUW and so all the book sale. [LAUGHTER] Last year I was the head of the book sale and of course, that's the first year that vets couldn't let us do sorting there, so we had to find a new place. That was a nightmare, but it all worked out. But also the chair for the two years previous and we get all worked up, it's like, nope, COVID, sorry. I can't do it. I was like, oh, really? So for three years. But yeah, I did it for one year. I've been very active in particular with the book sale and we had a really good book sale this year, which is at Washington Community College the first weekend after Labor Day. That money goes to scholarships for women and men going to Eastern Washington Community College in UFM.
  • [00:40:13] AMY CANTU: Great.
  • [00:40:15] KAREN JANIA: Also involved in my church. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:40:17] AMY CANTU: You're really busy.
  • [00:40:19] KAREN JANIA: Too busy.
  • [00:40:20] AMY CANTU: You have some grandkids now?
  • [00:40:21] KAREN JANIA: I do. I just had one born June 29.
  • [00:40:24] AMY CANTU: Congratulations.
  • [00:40:25] KAREN JANIA: Big Helen. She was like nine pounds 10 pounds [LAUGHTER] . Then my son has two girls and they're nine and four but yeah so I do my grandma visits.
  • [00:40:37] ELIZABETH SMITH: Can you talk about, if you remember, any favorite projects that stand out throughout your whole career that you worked on?
  • [00:40:44] KAREN JANIA: One that was really fun at the Bentley was working with Greg Kinney and the football program covers. Back in the day, there were these artistic, colorful paintings some years it was a Norman Rockwell look. Another time it was this strange, like architectural, Russian influenced, whatever. But we went through the various decades and we did this exhibit that took you all through the Bentley [LAUGHTER] and then actually then put it online as well and that was just really fun going through all these old football because I am into football but I'm not a rara one of those, but it was just tremendous fun and working with Greg was a lot of fun too. That's one that what comes to mind. But there were several actually. Well, then another one. We did an exhibit in the Whiting room near the end of Fran's tenure, the history of the university. I was going through and finding old photographs and then we get them dry mounted and wouldn't blown up, and to tell a story of the university's history and that was a really great project too.
  • [00:41:54] AMY CANTU: You've had a lot of fun.
  • [00:41:55] KAREN JANIA: I have. I had wonderful grad students that could help me out on my technical skills were a little slight [LAUGHTER] or didn't even know them yet. [LAUGHTER]
  • [00:42:06] AMY CANTU: What are you most proud of over your career?
  • [00:42:14] KAREN JANIA: I guess making a difference in people's appreciation of history there for a while I had some classes I think it was Community High that came in and they would have seventh and eighth graders come in. Remember, I set up the reading room, their project was doing to genealogy of some of the old corner stores that used to be in Ann Arbor that aren't anymore, but most of them you can identify just by how they look. I had maps of Ann Arbor for different time period, so they could look on a map and see what the streets were like. There was one table that had city directories and there were photographs. Probably Sam Sturgis, we had some of those out. Well, maybe ivory, guess because probably the time period would have been ivory. Then one table I just had some old things out, like some civil war letters and there was a book about Motown that someone had used collections at the Bentley to write the book. Just showing them different things but there was this one girl and so, I was with her like oh so here's a Civil War letter, like how old is that? She starts counting on her fingers. I'm like, no, it's over 100 years old and they're like, yeah, I'm like, look, this is over 100 years old and they're like, and you could just see these. Then when I would do classes, I'd work with faculty and they'd bring a class in to do research so I would do a class for them in the witing room. Explain how to use finding aids, how to fill out the call slips, and just how to do critical thinking and we'd do several exercises, and there was this one guy that was trying to find something out about HelloSociety. We had the hello papers there. I don't know if he was trying to find out who was somebody at some point in time or whatever, but I'd worked a lot with him in trying to steer him in the right direction and I'll never forget us sitting at the reference desk one day. He was there studying. All of a sudden he jumps up. [LAUGHTER] He's like, yes well, I guess he found what he was looking for. [LAUGHTER] I guess to see people get engaged in history to really help facilitate that, 'cause like I say, I hated history as a kid. I never had anyone to really engage me so I felt that helping people engage in history and learn from history was a big deal.
  • [00:44:32] AMY CANTU: Oh, that's wonderful.
  • [00:44:33] KAREN JANIA: That was really important to me.
  • [00:44:35] AMY CANTU: Well, thank you. Karen.
  • [00:44:36] ELIZABETH SMITH: Thank you
  • [00:44:36] KAREN JANIA: You're very welcome. [MUSIC]
  • [00:44:45] AMY CANTU: AADL Talks To is a production of the Ann Arbor District Library.
Graphic for audio posts


September 21, 2023

Length: 00:45:55

Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)

Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library


Bentley Historical Library
Washtenaw County Historical Society
University of Michigan - School of Information
Ann Arbor
Local History
AADL Talks To
Karen Jania
Francis Blouin
William Wallach
Greg Kinney
Susan Wineberg
Ray Detter
Louisa Pieper
Grace Shackman
Ann Flowers
Ann Arbor 200