Haddonfield Public Library, local architect team up for new venture

Heirloom Project combines treasured memories with latest technology.

Haddonfield Public Library Director Eric Zino (left), with local architect and Founder of nonprofit The Best Day of My Life So Far, Benita Cooper. The pair are teaming up for a way to preserve artifacts and memories, with a technological boost.

Haddonfield Public Library and the local nonprofit, The Best Day of My Life So Far, have decided to join forces and create the Haddonfield Heirloom Project. This new venture will combine cutting-edge technology and the timeless art of intergenerational storytelling.

History exists in the everyday objects surrounding us: teapots, clocks, tables, pictures. Each individual home is likewise filled with the unique stories of immediate and extended families. 

In order to preserve these memories without decay, the library plans on developing a virtual reality collection of heirlooms from Haddonfield homes — and the owners’ stories — so all residents will be able to interact with these cherished objects for years to come. 

“The library had begun strategizing on introducing Virtual Reality, which we see as a tool that will soon be important to business, the arts and sciences, and one that will give us new insights into peoples and phenomena around us,” noted library Director Eric Zino. 

“Not long after our explorations began, we were contacted by Benita (Cooper) who, on behalf of The Best Day of My Life So Far, was seeking a collaborative partner for innovative projects that would address some community needs.  

Zino and Cooper had crossed paths over the past few years to produce fun and educational workshops for tweens and teens, and Zino himself, was aware of Cooper’s nonprofit and the inspirational work it does. 

“The library suggested that innovation come from a VR element added to what Best Day specializes in, and after some brainstorming with Benita, we collectively came up with the Haddonfield Heirloom Project,” Zino explained. 

This multi-phase partnership has already begun with the collection of stories on the project’s eponymous Facebook page. 

According to an article in Time magazine from May, 2020, there are currently over 35 million Americans living alone with little social contact during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another goal of the collaboration is to  reduce social isolation while bringing generations together by celebrating human stories, using objects to start a conversation. 

“We knew project funding takes time to raise. But we also knew that isolation and mental-health issues were quickly spreading alongside the actual effects of coronavirus,” stated Cooper, who spearheaded Best Day back in 2009. 

“We also knew that news events were bringing racial and social issues to

center stage, exposing deep, historical cracks in our supposed unitedness as a nation and as local communities. We knew we could not wait until we have full funding to begin our local civic engagement work.”

Cooper also recognized the need for a unifying force in troubling times as a way for those battling loneliness or isolation to focus on a particular purpose.  

“Current issues might feel too big or overwhelming. And the only vaccine or cure for It is genuine human connection,” she said. “Real conversation brings real connection. And real connection between people, over time, brings real community.

“The secret is that storytelling, done the right way, is fun, easy and simple, but it is a powerful means to great change.”

Zino weighed in on the possibility of eventually creating a live version of these historical artifacts and stories, given space considerations and future social distancing. 

“Concern for the security and safety of the precious objects are at the root of our pursuit of VR as a means for discovery and learning about each object,” he said. 

“That said, show and tell is so much a part of this project that live versions will be very important. An object owner’s comfort level will dictate the conditions. Regardless, being able to compare and contrast the VR rendering to the real thing would be a very cool way to teach people.”

Visit www.haddonfieldlibrary.org/haddonfield-heirloom-project for a project overview. To make a donation, visit https://bestdayofmylifesofar.wedid.it and designate it to this partnership to make future project phases possible. 

Stay up to date with the project by following along on Facebook, @HaddonfieldLibrary and @BestDayofMyLifeSoFar.