Sunday in Milwaukee with PALA: Annual Meeting Summary

Two of the best and most prolific chroniclers of the Polish American experience, John Gurda and Dominic Pacyga, delivered morning and afternoon keynotes April 17 at the sixth Annual Meeting of the Polish American Librarians Association. PALA Vice President and President Elect Ewa Barczyk, director of the Golda Meir Library at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, emceed the event, along with PALA President  Leonard Kniffel. The American Geographical Society Library, housed within the Meir Library, provided a unique setting, surrounding the 30 attendees with a colorful collection of globes and exhibits of rare documents and historic photographs of Milwaukee Polonia.

Attendees participated in a panel discussion with PALA Treasurer and founding member Elizabeth Marszalik; Iwona Bozek, Head Librarian at the Polish Museum of America Library, and Susan Mikos of the Polanki Library at the Polish Center of Wisconsin. Ewa Barczyk moderated, as panelists talked about their successes and challenges in serving Poles and Americans of Polish descent in every type of library. Barczyk also pointed out the role of her library in supporting the university faculty and students with special emphasis on collecting documentation related to Wisconsin’s long history of Polish immigration.

More than two hundred thousand Milwaukeeans trace their family roots to Poland, Gurda told the group, dropping perhaps the biggest surprise of the day by noting that in its heyday Milwaukee’s Polonia was larger than Chicago’s.

In his entertaining and illuminating presentation, Pacyga emphasized the importance of archiving photographs and documents not only from major institutions but from small Polish businesses and ordinary attics. He surprised the group as well by talking about the historical importance of polka music to Polonia in the last century, as a unifying community force. Life was hard, he said, and people needed to have fun!

“UWM Libraries was very proud to host the Polish American Librarians Association. It was a wonderful opportunity to highlight the extensive collections of rare Polish maps, photographs of remote regions of eastern Poland  from the 1930’s by American geologist Louise Boyd, the 30,000 glass plate negatives by Roman Kwasniewski depicting the vibrant Milwaukee Polonia from 1910 through World War II,” said Barczyk. “The participants were so enthusiastic about the American Geographical Society Library’s rare holdings, including maps going back to 1452,” she added. “It was a full day of dynamic speakers, sharing of ideas, and learning from each other.”

“We had a varied group this year and we tried to place more emphasis on what we all can learn from one another,” said PALA President Leonard Kniffel. “We had attendees from three states–Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan–and a number of people who were not librarians or Polish.” Among the guests were Dorota and Zbigniew Kruczalak proprietors of the legendary D&Z Polish House of Books bookstore in Chicago; Donna Urbikas, promoting her new memoir, My Sister’s Mother, about World War II and the deporation of Poles to Siberian slave labor camps; and Neal Pease, author and Polish scholar who keynoted last year’s Annual Meeting.

This was PALA’s sixth Annual Meeting and its first since adopting a new set of organizational goals in 2015 that focus the association’s energy and resources on networking and career development through four primary activity areas:

  • Planning and conducting the Annual Meeting and participating in other national, state, and international conferences, and in other networking forums.
  • Improving communication and resource sharing with members through the PALA Mine quarterly newsletter, the PALA website, and survey and evaluation forms.
  • Recruiting and retaining members through the efficient and effective use and maintenance of the email mailing list.
  • Partnering with and supporting the efforts of libraries, library associations, and other related organizations.

“At this year’s meeting, we decided to focus on networking and discussion, so we relegated PALA business to the back burner, opting instead for a written Annual Report, prepared by PALA Secretary Joanna Klos,” said Kniffel. “The Annual Report is available online and it reflects our emphasis on networking, not only among Polish American librarians but with many other organizations related to our educational, cultural, and historical mission. During the next year,” he said, “Librarians from the Polish Museum, along with Ewa Barczyk and I, will be working with the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) to urge Polish American librarians to participate in and promote the historic 2017 World Library and Information Congress to be held in Wroclaw, Poland.”

Barczyk noted that the Polish luncheon buffet, courtesy of the Consulate of the Republic of Poland in Chicago, was university catering’s first attempt at Polish cooking. Attendees gave high marks to the chefs for their gołąki (stuffed cabbages), saurkraut, cucumbers in sour cream, and salad.

Newly appointed Polish Consul Robert Rusiecki was unable to attend the meeting but sent the following letter, which was read during the opening:

Consulate General of the Republic of Poland
Chicago, April 15, 2016

Mr. Leonard Kniffel, President
Polish American Librarians Association


Dear Mr. Kniffel,

I want to thank you for your invitation to attend the 6th Annual Meeting of the Polish American Librarians Association. I regret that I will be unable to attend due to an increased number of commitments my staff and I have confirmed for that day.

However, I want to emphasize how much I appreciate the work your organization has been doing to promote Polish American librarianship and readership on the whole. I wish to thank you for the years of PALA’s dedicated service to Polish American library services and individuals dedicated to retaining their Polish identity through the work with libraries across the region.

I feel assured that Chicago and the other major academic centers of the Midwest continually have a strong representation among the Polish community and remain active in developing networks of communication to help each other promote Polish language and culture in America.

The valuable and very much needed work of the Polish American Librarians Association stands as an example of how Polish Americans from different walks of life can be united in their common goal of cultivating their Polish ancestry and promoting education, readership advancement and understanding of the different cultures that make up American society.

I congratulate you on your organization’s success and I wish you much satisfaction from your work in the years to come.

Robert Rusiecki