KPL wins state history award

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Posted: Monday, October 24, 2011 12:00 am

Staff Reporter

The Kalamazoo Public Library has won a state history award for the All About Kalamazoo section of its history website and the staff said they could not be more proud.

“Many communities, especially those the size of Kalamazoo, do not have as much information on one website covering the history of the region.  This website includes nearly 600 interconnected web pages and covers more than 20 categories,” said Sharon Carlson, director of Archives and Regional History Collections at Western Michigan University.

Individuals are able to find out information about Kalamazoo’s past and use the information for their own knowledge, research and education. The different categories contain a vast amount of information in each category.

“The pages include information about people and places from Kalamazoo’s past and they are researched and written by members of the Kalamazoo Public Library staff.  Some of the categories include biographies, cemeteries, rural schools, houses/buildings, businesses, and educational and cultural institutions.  The pages provide basic and sometimes very detailed information about these topics,” said Carlson.

Those who are using the website for research purposes are able to dig deeper within the website for additional sources.

“They also include citations, allowing researchers to delve further into the topics or verify the information.  Many of the pages include illustrations or historical photos,” said Carlson.

“For those of you not familiar with Kalamazoo’s rich history, I recommend the pages for the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital (the first asylum in Michigan), Gibson Guitars (which began in Kalamazoo), or Homer Stryker (founder of Stryker Corporation),” said Carlson.

Keith Howard, web coordinator of the Kalamazoo’s Public Library’s history website, finds great importance in the people of Kalamazoo knowing their history.

“As the saying goes, ‘We don’t know where were going until we know where we’ve been.’ Learning from past experiences and knowing about a place’s past is valuable on many different levels,” said Howard.

Howard explains that people living in Kalamazoo do not realize how rich Kalamazoo’s past is and the website allows them to dig deeper.

“Kalamazoo has been a leader in a lot of things that people don’t realize. The Gibson guitar shop was founded here. In 1858 the first high school in Kalamazoo was opened and in 1859, a year later, a court case established tax payer money to support public education,” said Howard.

Carlson finds it important that we know the history of Kalamazoo for several reasons.

“The history of Kalamazoo mirrors that of many Midwestern cities that had diverse economies.  Kalamazoo was known for its products in the 19th and 20th centuries, including stoves, paper, guitars and Checker cabs,” said Carlson.

Kalamazoo also had other areas of importance, including health care.  The first asylum in Michigan was located in Kalamazoo.  The Upjohn Company was a pioneer in creating various pharmaceuticals and the Stryker Company came to national prominence with the invention of the circular bed, said Carlson.

Sports even play a huge role in the rich history of Kalamazoo.

“In the sports arena, the first and second College World Series were played in Kalamazoo on Hyames Field (WMU) and Peter the Great, a famous race horse, was born in Kalamazoo on the Streeter Farm, which is now the Oaklands (across the street from the Bernhard Center),” said Carlson.

When understanding the history we have greater depth of understanding about today’s conditions, Kalamazoo is a good case study.  We are still known for education because of the Kalamazoo Promise and institutions such as Western Michigan University, said Carlson.

“KPL works very closely with Western, and specifically Western’s archives, and the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, and with the city government,” said Howard.

“Next year the library celebrates its 140th anniversary,” said Howard.

For additional information about the library please visit

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