LSJ Editors' Blog: Jade Alburo at the RBMS Conference, Part 1

09 August 2006

Jade Alburo at the RBMS Conference, Part 1

I recently attended the 47th Annual Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) Preconference in Austin, Texas. Here are my notes and thoughts…

Day 1: June 20, 2006

I arrived in Austin in the afternoon and, at 5 p.m., I attended the conference orientation and introduction to RBMS at one of the conference venues, the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin located downtown. As a first-time attendee (and scholarship recipient), I had signed up for a conference buddy. I was paired up with Libby Chenault, rare book librarian at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. While this is a rather intimate conference (this year, with over 350 attendees, is the largest), it helped tremendously to have a veteran RBMS member and preconference attendee at my side. She introduced me to many people before the orientation and at the opening reception that followed (though I was beginning to think that most of the attendees were from North Carolina, since many of the people to whom Libby introduced me had North Carolina connections). I also talked to a few people on my own, mostly other first-time attendees (we could spot each other from our “first-time attendee” ribbons).

At the orientation/introduction itself, conference organizers and section leaders gave some background on RBMS (e.g., it is the largest section within the Association of College and Research Libraries, which is itself the largest division of ALA); the preconference in general (e.g., it called a preconference because it is held the few days prior to ALA’s annual conference); and this year’s preconference specifically (e.g., schedules and activities). Members were encouraged to become more involved in the section by joining committees, RBMS discussion list, and specific discussion groups, as well as attending section meetings at ALA Annual Conferences and Mid-Winter Meetings.

Day 2: June 21, 2006

This was a very long day. It was the first actual day of sessions. In the morning, plenary sessions for everyone to attend were held at the InterContinental. In the afternoon, smaller seminars were held at the other venue, the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) at The University of Texas at Austin. We started early at 8:30 a.m. with welcome and introductory remarks, which focused on this year’s theme: “Libraries, Archives, and Museums in the Twenty-First Century: Intersecting Missions, Converging Futures?”

Plenary I. Setting the Stage: Cultural Roles of Libraries, Archives, and Museums.

Lawrence Pijeaux, President and CEO of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI), talked about some of his organization’s collaborative endeavors. The Teachers’ Domain Civil Rights Special Collection, produced in partnership with WGBH Boston and Washington University in St. Louis, is a digital resource for teachers and students that includes lesson plans and oral histories. This is one way that BCRI is maximizing access to its materials. The Birmingham Cultural Alliance Partnership is an after school enrichment program involving eight cultural institutions. It is designed to enhance student learning, promote parent involvement, and improve test scores and student involvement. BCRI is, thus, not only educating people about the civil rights movement but also playing an active role in improving the communities it serves. Pijeaux recommended that institutions research all potential projects thoroughly, use all available technologies for greater access, engage in win-win collaborations, involve parents and communities to be served, have a diverse board and staff, and be prepared for the long haul (since successful programs take a while to develop).

James Michalko, President and CEO of RLG, spoke about libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs) being memory institutions. As such, they have an impact on other parts of civilization, but they also tend to be slow in changing. According to Michalko, institutions cannot do it alone; in order to be visible and to make people care, they have to create scale. They also cannot do it alone with current cost structures. Michalko urged the audience to have the courage to use different approaches and reminded us that access is the hallmark of what we do, in addition to (not instead of) acquisitions.

Plenary II. Library, Archives, and Museum Collaborations: Audience and Access Issues.

Merrilee Proffitt, Program Officer at RLG, talked about how LAMs used to be undifferentiated; people collected all sorts of materials resulting in a “cabinet of curiosities.” As collections grew larger, they became more specialized, since it is easier to manage similar things. However, users today are leaning towards the undifferentiated, as long as they are available at their fingertips. Günter Waibel, also a Program Officer at RLG, described the difference in audience experiences at LAMs. People have an autonomous experience in libraries, a curated view in museums, and a mediated (under staff supervision) experience in archives. However, in virtual spaces, people’s experiences are not differentiated as in physical spaces.

According to Deborah Wythe, Head of Digital Collections & Services at the Brooklyn Museum, cultural heritage organizations share central core tenets, including embracing technologies for access. Museums, though, rarely talk about access; they refer to visitors rather than users. They provide a guided context—interpretation, not just mediation. There are several online tools that can be used to make the most of collections and make them available to a wider audience, such as image tagging (e.g., Flickr), blogging, My Museum, and e-commerce. Wythe said that organizations can converge for more visibility.

Michelle Doucet is the Director General for Services of Library and Archives Canada (LAC), which was established in 2004 by a parliamentary act and combined the former National Library of Canada and National Archives of Canada. She said that the merger made sense since LAC now has both published and unpublished documentary heritage materials of all mediums. Access is LAC’s key driver; there is a clear focus on the clients and on the breadth and depth of materials. However, there are some issues, including digital divide, physical vs. virtual, mediated vs. unmediated, interpretive vs. non-interpretive, funding, and space management. According to Doucet, when institutions merge, players have to buy into the convergence and their roles in it.

Marcia Reed, Head of Collection Development at the Getty Research Institute, pointed out the distance viewing of materials in museums and close reading in libraries and archives before mentioning that collections in LAMs are becoming more inclusive. She said that collaborations and exhibits presenting LAM materials bring these resources to a new audience.

Seminar C. Developing a Collaborative Model for Researching 19th-Century Books and Presenting Them to a Larger Audience: Issues and Prospects.

Jessica Lacher-Feldman, Public Outreach Coordinator at the University of Alabama, talked about Publishers’ Bindings Online 1815-1930: the Art of Books (PBO), a searchable database featuring over 10,000 images of up to 5,000 book bindings. It looks at the book as art/object/historical artifact, as opposed to a bibliographic identity. PBO, a collaborative project between the University of Alabama and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has such value-added content as tutorials, online project manual, searchable glossary, lesson plans, etc.

Sid Huttner, Head of Special Collections at the University of Iowa, discussed The Lucile Project, which traces the publishing history of Owen Meredith’s 19th-century book, Lucile. Since Lucile was often part of a series, presenting descriptions and images of its various editions could help to date other 19th-century books.

Seminar D. Cataloging Artists’ Books: Challenges and Solutions.

Nina Schneider, Cataloger for the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library, began her presentation by showing examples of artist books, or books that are also pieces of art. She said that the biggest problem is that artists’ books are often classified as a subject rather than a genre, which then puts them in the same category as books about artists. Schneider offered the following short-term solutions: a) fuller descriptions and transcription, b) controlled vocabulary, c) in-house written policy for cataloging artists’ books, d) inclusive indexing, and e) defining the genre. She also suggested that, in the long term, there should be: a) national standards (for description and access), b) a specific thesaurus (for intellectual and physical characteristics), and c) catalogs that include digital images. [See http://www.ninaschneider.com/rbms2006/presentation.doc for full text of presentation.]

Johanna Drucker, Book Artist and Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia, talked about Artists’ Books Online (ABO), an online collection of artists’ books and related materials. For this project, they created controlled vocabulary for many of the fields and used MARC as basis but went way beyond it.

According to Daniel Starr, Manager of Bibliographic Operations at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, catalogers can add an 856 field, linking to artists’ or publishers’ sites. These sites might be able to provide more information about the artist books, including images. Information from these sites can also be used to fill out other fields.

When the afternoon’s sessions ended, there was a reception in the HRC’s lobby. We were treated to delicious cross-cultural aperitifs, chocolates, and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), as well as a zydeco (I think) band, while we mingled. This also gave us an opportunity to view HRC’s exhibits.

Jade is an MLS student at the College of Information Studies, University of Maryland, College Park and a CIRLA Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Originally from the Philippines and currently living in Washington, D.C., she holds an M.A. in Folklore from Memorial University of Newfoundland and a B.A. in English and Religious Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Her interests include: ethnic (especially Filipino/Filipino American) identities and traditions, immigration/diaspora, and multicultural children's/young adult literature.

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