Loyola Meeting Raises Librarians’
Awareness of Polish History

Marek Sroka delivers the keynote address at the Polish American Librarians Association meeting April 28 at Loyola University Chicago.

Twenty-six librarians and library friends gathered April 28 at Loyola University Chicago for the 8th Annual Meeting of the Polish American Librarians Association. With 2018 marking the 100th anniversary of Poland’s restoration as an independent nation following World War I, speakers Marek Sroka, Neal Pease, and Keely Stauter-Halsted gave informative talks about historical connections between Poland and the United States of America.

Sroka’s keynote address revealed the little-known story of how after World War II the American Library Association, the American Book Center for War Devastated Libraries, and the Rockefeller Foundation launched a massive four-year project aimed at the restoration of Polish and other central European libraries. Sroka’s speech can be seen in full on Youtube; he is an associate professor and librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Talks by Neal Pease and Keely Stauter-Halsted were equally packed with insight into contemporary Polish-American relations with a historical perspective. Pease explained that it was not until the 20th century and Poland’s autonomy that relations between the two countries resumed. “There are no final destinations in history,” he said, commenting on today’s dynamics. Stauter-Halsted’s presentation centered on immigration and the “return fever” that drew expat Poles back to their native land, where many experienced a bitter welcome in a war-torn country full of “refugees and starving people.”

Filmmakers Rafal Muskala and Adrian Prawica screened a trailer for  A Night on Milwaukee Ave., which premieres May 12 at the Copernicus Center in Chicago. Their new documentary film takes a colorful look at the rich nightlife and music scene that was the Jackowo area of Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s. They talked about their research and how they discovered film footage and photographs while interviewing many of the musicians and singers of the time.

Bozena Nowicka McLees, director of the Polish Studies Program at Loyola, and Marianne Ryan, dean of Loyola Libraries, both welcomed attendees. McLees talked about the 10-year history of the Polish Studies Program, which began with a student petition. “This is such a Polish campus,” she said, explaining that the program is working toward becoming interdisciplinary. Ryan added to the “Polishness” of the day by joking that people often assume she is Irish because of her married name, but she is entirely of Polish descent.

“The Polish Studies Program at Loyola University is unique,” said McLees, “in that it already offers 12-15 courses each semester in various academic fields: language, literature, film,  history, and political science.  We have ambitious plans to further engage the Polish American community in financially supporting expansion of our program to include Polish music, fine arts, theater, as well as theology, philosophy, sociology, and Polish American history,” she added.

Leonard Kniffel, outgoing PALA president, passed the torch to Ewa Barczyk, PALA president for 2018-19. Barczyk led a discussion about PALA’s immediate future and she presented the new slate of officers and members of the board of directors, as well as bylaws revision designed to streamline board appointments and membership procedures. Chief among them are revisions that delegate to the current board the recruitment and appointment of new board members as well as the appointment of board officers. Membership requirements were reduced to a one-time fee that remains in force as long as the member wishes, without annual renewal; instead, a fee will be charged for Annual Meeting registration. The revised bylaws were approved by consensus.

Attendees enjoyed a Polish luncheon catered by the Montrose Food Mart & Deli with beautiful views of Lake Michigan welcoming spring, and ended the day with tours of the Dan Rostenkowski Collection in the Cudahy Library and the Women & Leadership Archives in historic Piper Hall.

From left: Leonard Kniffel, Iwona Bozek, Archivist Ashley Howdeshell, Bozena McLees, Marek Sroka, Neal Pease, Ewa Barczyk touring the Woman & Leadership Archives at Loyola.