The delight, utility of reading bulletin boards

Earlier in the pandemic, I spotted a handwritten note tacked to the “Community Board” in the entranceway of my local market. The writer of the note was looking for a friend, someone to talk with on the phone during these tough times. The next day or so, I noticed the note was gone. I hope someone befriended that person.

As we (hopefully) emerge from these pandemic days, one of my goals is to live life more offline. I’ve spent way too much time reading social media posts. A more enjoyable way to keep up on the latest is a tool that’s been in place for generations: The bulletin board. And as I browsed the boards at the Bethlehem Public Library, the Delmar Marketplace and the Perfect Blend Café and Bakery in my neighborhood, I could see our community coming back to life after a long hibernation.

I learned about the chicken barbecue coming up, where I could rent a Dumpster, and that the cheerleaders were going to the finals and were fundraising (they wisely included a QR code so you could donate right there). The Albany Diocese was seeking stories about folks buried in their cemeteries, the town grange was hosting a garage sale, and two cats escaped a fire and were now lost. There was a quilting meet-up every second Friday through June, someone was selling a vintage 1966 pink drum set, there was a blood drive next week, and “Les Misérables” was being performed at the high school.

Entrepreneurs seemed to be killing it: the tree service and the firewood selling businesses had very few phone numbers left on those tear-off phone number tabs people fringed on the bottom of fliers. (Maybe they should partner up.)

A baseball card-sized flier pictured a colorful hot air balloon and offered rides. There were a lot of services for self-improvement. I could perfect my tennis game, learn Spanish or call a mobile massage therapist. There were the other kinds of therapists, mental and physical, and an event for Mental Health Awareness Day. And if I wanted to sell my house, there were many, many Realtor business cards.

I could get my leaves raked, my hair cut and my house painted. I could take art lessons. There were a number of people looking to take care of older folks as home health aids. Someone needed a roommate.

At the library, two hand-colored fliers for Tiny Superheroes, an organization that gives superhero capes to kids struggling with illness, wasn’t asking for donation, but giving away tear-offs with these words written on them: courage, kindness, gratitude , wonder, joy and hope. (They were half gone and I took wonder.)

There were educational events: Selected Shorts at the Writers Institute, a book signing, and nature and climate programs for all ages. Oh, and it’s National Poetry Month.

“I think a bulletin board brings us back to the old times,” said John Hooper, one of the owners of the Delmar Marketplace, where my daughter works. “You know how many people look at that bulletin board?” Dozens of business cards were pinned to the board. “I’m glad we have this. No cost and it’s good information,” Hooper said.

The bulletin boards were refreshingly free of political statements, random opinions and amateur medical advice. And they haven’t changed much since the early part of the 20th century.

That’s when, in 1925, George Brooks of Topeka, Kan., got us started with the modern bulletin boards by patenting the corkboards. And it’s still considered an effective communication and marketing tool. Occasionally, you get a treasure like the good vibes from the Tiny Superheroes.

A few years ago, researchers in Sweden sent school children around to snap photos of items on analog bulletin boards and analyzed the data. “The Public Library of Science 2018 study found “the bulletin board continues to fulfill an important function within the close and local surroundings of its placement contributing to maintenance of Swedish culture and social life.”

The study documented local messages on the boards mostly from sports clubs, churches or local cultural groups. “Such groups use the boards to spread invitations to local activities with the goal of gathering people in social activities and therefore also shaping Swedish cultural life.” Educational life was also reflected as a “curriculum of the local community.”

Bulletin boards are ubiquitous, something you start noticing when you look for them, slow down and read their offerings. They offer the kind of comfort and sense of place that social media can’t, and they do so in a non-invasive, non-data collecting way. Online bulletin boards sprung from these simple corkboards, but the analog version with its hodgepodge of handwritten notes, serendipity and colorful business cards can’t be replicated in the digital world.

And bulletin boards don’t have trolls.

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