By Don Allen
The 2nd Air Division Memorial Library is dedicated to being a living memorial to the men and women who served in the 8th Air Force here in Norfolk during WWII. As a part of this, since 2008, the University of East Anglia Faculty of Arts and Humanities, on behalf of the Memorial Trust of the 2nd Air Division USAAF, has offered up to two scholarships to American nationals attending UEA. We work ten hours per week for 40 weeks.
The scholar’s role is to give users and potential users of the Memorial Library an insight into American life and culture and to assist staff in the library in ensuring that the unique American atmosphere of the library is maintained. In other words, to be a little slice of America in Norwich!
For the past two years, Danielle Prostrollo and I have been honoured to hold the position of American Scholars in the Library. Soon, two new UEA students will replace us. In this way the Library is able to maintain the idea of a living memorial. Each new set of Scholars takes their experiences, their ideas and their piece of American culture and helps the library to evolve as much as they can. We are tasked with the daily issues of the library of course, but also so much more.
We are asked to recommend books or topics that might be underrepresented in the Library. For example, when I first got here I noticed that the sports section was a little underwhelming, and I can proudly say that it’s bigger by about half a dozen books, from the NHL to the Negro Leagues. Other book recommendations of mine are dotted throughout the library, and I’ll admit it’s nice to see that in some small way I’ve literally made the library bigger.
We are also tasked with creating and organizing different events throughout the year. For example the “Broken America? Governance in the Age of Division” series of talks was something that I organized. Danielle, being far more creative than I, organized the Celebrating Thanksgiving event in 2017 and this years “Great American Songbook” event. The goal of these events are twofold: first, to get word about the Memorial Library and its mission out there; and second, to continue to nurture the special relationship that Norfolk and America began so long ago in WWII.
But the biggest role that we play as American Scholars is in our day to day roles as “Ambassadors” from the United States. We are little bits of living American culture within the living memorial of the Library. Nearly instantly our accents give us away, and is immediately followed by “whereabouts in America are you from?”. Often this is followed by stories: my aunt married an American GI during the war; I can remember the Yanks as a kid; I used to see the bombers flying out and the like. We get questions regarding American topics, especially politics. During the 2016 Presidential election a woman came in and asked if I could explain how the election system worked. I said sure, you got three days?
While mine and Danielle’s time is quickly coming to an end, there will be two new scholars coming in to replace us. In this way, the Library is able to maintain that little slice of America. Stop on by and see us before we leave, or the two newbies when they come in. Talk with us. Ask us some questions. That’s why we’re here.