Museum Gathering Focuses on Genealogy,
Nelson Algren’s Polish Chicago

Some 30 members and supporters of the Polish American Librarians Association gathered June 23 at the Polish Museum of America in Chicago for PALA’s 7th Annual Meeting, keynoted by Chicago Tribune reporter and columnist Mary Wisniewski, author of Algren: A Life, a biography of legendary Chicago author Nelson Algren, who set many of his works in the old Polish neighborhoods of the city, the area where the Polish Museum is still located.

By popular demand, PALA brought together a panel of experts to talk about “What Librarians Need to Know about Polish Genealogy.” Matt Rutherford, Curator of Genealogy and Local History at the legendary Newberry Library in Chicago, talked about the vast resources and rare materials available to researchers at the Newberry. Amanda Jensen and Justyna Cwynar explained the services of the Wilmette Family History Center, a branch of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. They both emphasized the importance of helping amateur genealogists avoid the pitfalls of dealing with records that have not been indexed or are in an unfamiliar language or script.

One thread that emerged during the discussions was the difference between Polish culture and Polish American culture. Mary Wisniewski noted that it is often a shock to Americans visiting Poland to find that many of their customs and even expressions are purely American inventions. Consul General Piotr Janicki of the Consulate of the Republic of Poland in Chicago greeted attendees with praise for the work of librarians in helping people navigate the abundance of the Information Age.

PALA President and member of the PMA Board of Directors Leonard Kniffel emceed the event and noted that PALA needs 100 members to apply for affiliate status with the American Library Association and urged attendees to recruit more members. “Currently we have only 47 dues-paying member on a roster that once topped 100,” Kniffel said. “Many of us still believe that we need networking opportunities and resources aimed at serving Polish American in our libraries,” he added, “and we’re going to do our best to draw members back and to recruit new members”

PALA Board Members informally discussed other short-term goals of the organization, including the need for an all-purpose recruitment brochure to supplement the website and the quarterly PALA Mine e-newsletter.