American Philatelic Society

Creating a Winning Lineup

Hobby and APS Will Benefit by Building and Ensuring Accessibility

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IIn the movie, Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, hears a voice telling him, “If you build it, he will come.” From that voice, Ray plows through a part of his cornfield to build a baseball diamond. That act of faith for a down-on-his-luck farmer began a transformation in his life. The phrase has been immortalized, often in its misquoted form as “if you build it, they will come” over the years. For some it implies hope and for others, it takes on a more negative meaning.
     While movie magic can bring back "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and the other ghosts of baseball’s past, the underlying message focuses on actions. In the movie, the act of building the baseball field was not the end, it would have been a far less compelling movie if it was, but rather it was the beginning. Ray must convince others that this seemingly bold act has purpose. Otherwise, he would have built a baseball field in an Iowa cornfield that would ultimately lead to losing his family farm. In the end, Ray is able to save his farm as his efforts finally bring people to watch baseball.
     At one point, baseball was unchallenged as “America’s Pastime.” The players were our heroes and we tried to be them on sandlots in small towns across the country. Today, there are those that argue baseball is a thing of the past and those who say the same thing about stamps. While it is true that stamps are not as common as they used to be, they remain relevant today. In the face of that, we can admit that building it, as we did with the APS almost 130 years ago, is the first step.
     The very thing that has changed the nature of stamp collecting — technology and the Internet are the things we must continue to embrace. The Wall Street Journal recently estimated worldwide stamp collectors at 60 million and roughly a third live in China. While there has been a decline in APS membership over the past 20 years, a topic we will discuss in the next column, we have the ability to reach that larger audience better than ever before. But first, we have to build it, both physically and technologically. This is the accessibility challenge.

Challenge One
Finishing the American Philatelic Center building.
     In 2002, the APRL purchased a former Match Factory in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. After 13 years and $16 million invested, we have begun what should be the final phases of completing the space. In August 2015, the APRL Board of Trustees approved construction of the new library space in Buildings 3 and 4 in the complex of 18 adjacent buildings, thereby increasing our current library capacity by 50 percent. The project will be completed and operating by summer 2016 and we will have a public opening in October during National Stamp Collecting Month.

     At the same time, the current library space, known as the Osborne Morse Building, will no longer be used as library space and will be repurposed. In that available space, we are considering options to include additional education space and space for recent acquisitions and rarities.

Challenge Two
Increasing Access to Philatelic Information for Members and the General Public.
     Today, we have archived The American Philatelist back to 2007 and the Philatelic Literature Review to 2009. We also have digital editions of Japanese Philately stored on APRL servers and other scanning projects are ongoing. By 2018, we aim to have complete digital access to The American Philatelist and the Philatelic Literature Review.
     One of the challenges of making other philatelic material available is getting permission for copyrighted material. As we work through those challenges, we will also make as much material as possible available to our members. One of the goals of the 2010 Into the Future report included a searchable database of all of our digital offerings, a project that has not been completed at this time. We will begin this project again and expect to have it at or near completion by the end of 2016.
     In terms of physical acquisitions, generous donations of literature have sustained much of the library’s collections over the years and will continue into the foreseeable future. One of the challenges with donated material is not being able to plan for intake of the donations, cataloging, and making the material available to the philatelic community.
     At this time, we have collections that are not accessible because we lack the manpower to convert them to usable form. After completion of the library space this year, we will undertake an effort to put the donations into use, both in the library and as digital material available through the web or in searchable format. We plan to eliminate our backlog by 2017.

Challenge Three
Reaching Out to the Collecting World Through Technology and Social Media.
     With the introduction and reliance on social media and other non-traditional forums to provide content and information to the general public, it is now easier than ever before to get the message out to the world at large. The APS has a very active website and more than 6,000 followers on Facebook. Moving forward, we will work to increase our online presence to capture a broader audience to promote not only the APS and APRL but also philately.
     We also will work to build a more consistent contact with media, both philatelic and non-philatelic, to promote the hobby and the organization. Specifically for members, we want to offer online Town Hall-style meetings so that members unable to attend our general membership meetings at the winter and summer shows can share ideas with the APS and others. We want to develop an active outreach program to both philatelic and non-philatelic media sources to keep the discussion about stamps and philately going throughout the year.
     Finally, we will redesign the APS and APRL websites to create a welcoming place for both members and non-members to access the wealth of resources we have available. We want to give members greater choices with regard to the newsletters they receive. Customizing communications to get the information you want is becoming common today and we will work to provide that same service for our members.
     At the end of “Field of Dreams,” James Earl Jones’ character, Terence Mann, delivers a speech about baseball, “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.” What he says about baseball could easily apply to stamps and the hobby. One particular line he delivers rings especially true as each one of us looks at our collection. “It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”
     We can build it, that’s the easy part. The work will come in connecting our members with those millions of other collectors out there to remind them why we do it.
     That will be our challenge.
     Thanks to the members who contact me and I hope you will, too. I am always available at

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