Libraries build a bridge to the past.



Image from RCPL’s Flickr stream: This uprooted home was caught by the trees that once provided shade for it. A footbridge in the distance now carries golfers across gentle Rapid Creek.

As communities grow larger, people become more disparate. We forget the events that impact us – we drift without recognizing a sense of our shared and communal history. Those around us are neighbors, sharing the same space in history – kindred spirits – victims, sometimes, to the same forces of nature and time. The recent 40th anniversary of the Black Hill’s Flood 1972 was a stirring example of how memory and history keep us connected. And how a library’s mission is to help keep those memories archived and preserved before they drift too far apart.

People use the library to gather and learn. To find information and stay informed. But the library is also a place to share experiences, relate memories and provide a firm foundation of knowledge and hope for generations to come. As such, a library is difficult to define. There are entire communities that utilize the services for vastly different and diverse needs. The Rapid City Public Library is in a constant state of reinventing itself in order to help bridge that gap between what came before, what is happening now and what is emerging in the future.

The 1972 Black Hills Flood Oral History Project was launched by the RCPL to do this exact thing: To bridge the gap from the past to the present in order to build a better future – To test the idea of whether building a virtual archive focused on shared history and a life-altering local event would benefit a community. It did just that. With 21,000 pageviews over the past year, the resource has become a valuable tool in the shared history of the Black Hills region.

The Flood website consolidates information about this devastating event and the time that followed.  Radio transcriptions, KOTA reporter Robb DeWall’s news reports and notes, timelines, memos and letters from the time of the event provide factual information but the personal connection to the community is provided through the interviews and recorded memories.

It represents a true collective effort on the part of the community. It incorporates written memories and photographs provided by neighbors and those that lived through and were affected by the Flood. It allows the story to be told by those that were there. It enables all of us to become “storytellers.”

Leaving the past aside for a moment, the future is equally important to the library. Providing educational resources such as our e-reader guide, expanding our teen e-books and lending e-readers builds bridges from the community to emerging and evolving technology. Resources that were often available only in physical form are now available online as well as mobily.

E-books can be downloaded while on vacation; audiobooks downloaded while in the car; accounts can be checked while at the dentist’s office. The library is no longer a place in Rapid City – It is your bridge to Rapid City from anywhere in the world.