The Kansas African American Museum turned to four Wichita State industrial engineering students to help organize its 1,500-volume library. As part of their Work Systems class, the students evaluated the museum’s library as a service-learning project and got to work fixing the problem.
The museum houses books on topics ranging from art to politics. To use those books, however, a person had to reference one of two Microsoft Word documents for either title or author searches. According to the Museum Education Director Lona Reeves, the Word documents could cause challenges for those using the library.
“If you want to know if we have a copy of ’Native Son,’ we could find that, no problem,” said Reeves. “but if you wanted to know books about (author) Richard Wright, we didn’t necessarily know what we had.”
The students used the WSU Community Service Board’s VolunteerICT website to connect with an organization looking for ways to work more efficiently.
“We were looking for a place that we thought might have more of an established work process that we could look at, something that was repeatable,” said Haley Kauffman, a junior from Hutchinson.
The students took recently acquired books and evaluated the museum’s process of curating and logging the books. Their time study suggested improvements, and now the students are in the early stages of setting up a Microsoft Access database for the Museum library.
“We feel like the library could become a very vital piece for the community,” Reeves said. “They definitely have made it possible for the library to get way farther down the path toward making that happen.”
The database will allow the staff to add information that will make the collection easier to search. According to Braden Bohl, a senior on the team, the Access database will greatly benefit Museum library users. Classmates Nathan Miller and Salem Aldousari also worked on the project.
Kansas African American Museum
“You can put in categories such as title, author, descriptions,” Bohl said. “Once you have all that data entered, you can have it print out and have it organized. There’s a little bit more intelligence behind it, as opposed to a Word document, which is just exactly what you tell it.”
Museum staff and volunteers no longer need to enter each book twice in the Word document. When asked about a topic, the museum will – when the new database is finished this fall – be able to quickly search for relevant books.
“It’s much more accessible,” Reeves said. “Our mission is to make the African American experience relevant and resonant for every Kansan and if they can call and ask for something and we can go find it, that definitely helps.”
Reeves observed the students applying skills learned in the classroom, and learning new ones which will help them in their careers. The students will spend the summer helping museum staff implement the database.
“We learn all this stuff in school and we get these typical test questions,” Bohl said. “When we come out here we have to figure out what the question is and then figure out how to answer that. It sheds more light on why these things are important and why we are learning them.”