Local History Librarian Highlights Social Justice Stories

For so many people, 2020 was a year of reckoning with our nation’s history of racial inequality.

That was true for Johnson County Library’s Local History Librarian Amanda Wahlmeier. She worked with her programming committee to tell impactful local and regional stories of struggle and triumph in the crusade for community progress.

With the 2020 pandemic and the Library’s pivot to online programming, Wahlmeier and the Past is Prologue committee quickly focused on racial and social justice, especially after the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis.

“In May, we were already thinking about social justice, but the George Floyd incident really made us commit to it,” Wahlmeier said. The Past is Prologue monthly programs highlight stories that are often glossed over or misrepresented in history books. They feature outstanding presenters, with help from the Humanities Kansas Speakers Bureau.

Patrons have been enthusiastic about these hour-long online presentations.

“We’re very pleased with the patron response,” Wahlmeier said. “We’ve had great comments and a lot of requests. The public is very interested.”

Future programs will explore the bi-state Dividing Lines tour and little-known stories of Kansas City.

The 2020 pandemic and social upheaval reinforced for Wahlmeier the importance of community members knowing their history and illustrated the Library’s crucial role in imparting that information. Online programming allows people to participate from home, and she’s excited to provide resources for teachers and parents.

Wahlmeier has been Local History Librarian since August 2017 and brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the role. She majored in history and international studies at Baker University before getting a master’s in history from University College Dublin in Ireland. She was curator at the National Orphan Train Museum in Concordia, Kan. for several years before she obtained a library science master’s degree from Emporia State and joined Johnson County Library.  

“Having an opportunity to merge Library and archival work was very attractive,” she said.

In 2020, she had just helped complete the Kansas Day and Genealogy Day activities before in-person events shut down for the pandemic. Besides organizing the Past is Prologue events, she kept busy updating the Library’s local history resources, including digitizing newspapers such as the Shawnee Dispatch and Gardner News that people should soon be able to access from home.

She hopes that, even when in-person events resume, patrons will continue expanding their use of the Library’s rich local history resources and materials.