After about 25 years in the turbulent political realm, including Chief of Staff to former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Chief Operating Officer at the South Carolina Department of Education, Scott English thought the American Philatelic Society needed his help.
English, now the executive director of the APS and administrator of the American Philatelic Research Library, is among those preparing to celebrate the APRL’s 50th anniversary Friday and Saturday.
“What philately does and what we do here (at the APRL) is preserve the history of us, every individual person, because the mail was the unifier well before email, texting, social media and all those things came along,” English said. “That was how we connected with one another. I find it interesting and I think it’s worth saving.”
The APRL was officially incorporated with Centre County in 1968 and moved to the Match Factory in Bellefonte in 2004. Twelve years later, the library invested about $2.6 million into the world’s largest philatelic library, which has about three miles of shelves.
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“For us, it’s important to recognize two things: The relationship that we’ve had with Centre County for over 70 years now and the value of this,” English said. “We take opportunities like this to remind people and promote ourselves a little bit more about the resources that we make available here.”
English said the organization was financially challenged when he came aboard three years ago, but has since reduced its debt load by about 35 percent, or $2 million.
“Libraries, especially in this day and age, they’re struggling a little bit in terms of maintaining their operational efficiency and viability, but we have not only done that — including building a new library space just two years ago — but we were actually undertaking a significant digitization effort over the next four, five years so that we can improve access to this information and not let geography be a boundary to that,” English said.
While digitization was part of the organization’s plan, English also said the “analog break” that stamp collecting provides has value in a digital world.
“What I believe is that you’ve gotta be able to take a break from that,” English said. “I think people always think of stamp collectors as these old, gray-haired people hunched over an album trying to put stamps in and staring at these stamps, but the mission of the APS is preserving history. Over the last 1,000 years, postal routes have connected the world.”
Members Jean Stout and Bill Schultz are among those who have found value in stamp collecting. Stouts said the APRL is a “gold mine of resources,” while Schultz said the organization made his philatelic life “significantly more pleasurable.”
The celebration, which is free and open to the public, offers library tours, rarely seen items on display, authors’ talks, book signings and speeches from State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, and U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Howard Township.
“We look forward to sharing this special event with our members and the philatelic community, all of whom made this day possible,” APRL librarian Scott Tiffney said in a press release. “With the commitment of their time and the investment of their resources we can proudly look back on the last 50 years and with confidence look forward to the next 50 years and beyond.”