LSJ Editors' Blog: Jade Alburo at the RBMS Conference, Part 2

11 September 2006

Jade Alburo at the RBMS Conference, Part 2

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

(Editor's note: If you have not yet done so, please visit Part 1 of Jade Alburo's RBMS Conference notes. )

Day 3: June 22, 2006

Like Day 2, plenaries were held in the morning at the hotel and seminars at the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) in the afternoon. After lunch, some people had the chance to tour HRC before the afternoon seminars. I took that time to get some rest.

Plenary III. Legal Issues Surrounding Cultural Heritage Collections.
Guido Carducci, Chief of the International Standards Section, Cultural Heritage Division, UNESCO, talked about protecting cultural heritage, including books and manuscripts, from illicit trafficking and export. To prevent illicit trafficking, he said that:
a) countries should strengthen legislation and grant legal specificity/status to cultural property (e.g., Can it be exported? For how long? Can it be sold?); and
b) concerned parties should maintain security inventories (photos, accurate descriptions, etc.).
For restitution of cultural heritage materials, owners can:
a) act on moral grounds/code of ethics (but this is iffy, unless legalized, since people have different morals/ethics);
b) claim illicit export (but it can only be recovered if both countries of import and export have an agreement with each other);
c) claim (non-transferative) theft (For some countries, goods can’t be transferred if no treaties apply or if claimants don’t have title; in other countries, though, possessor gains title if purchased in good faith.); and
d) invoke uniform law treaties, including 1954, 1970, 1995 UN protocols/conventions, through diplomatic channels (but restitution only applies if both countries are signatories).
According to Carducci, restitution can be made easier:
a) by raising cultural awareness about these issues;
b) if governments consider and ratify relevant international treaties (US only ratified 1970 convention); and
c) if countries create their own national legislation.

Joseph Sax, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Regulation at the University of California, Berkeley, discussed the property aspect of cultural property. He said that American law offers no alternative approach to ownership. He cited the T-Rex Sue example, where the courts ruled that the fossil is part of the land and, thus, belongs to the owner of the land. However, it is entirely possibly for private property laws to evolve to protect public interests for scientific discovery and research. He talked about a French example involving a cave with ancient drawings. France also has private ownership laws but, in this case, it evolved to patrimonial law, which allows the involuntary classification of private property as public heritage and gives the government up to five years for scientific study.

Plenary IV. Curatorial Crossover: Building Library, Archives, and Museum Collections.
Gerald Beasley, Director of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University, addressed the notion of crossover, as expressed in the title of this plenary. Are we trying to crossover into a bigger market (like singers)? He said that the issue may not be so much about converging as it is about re-branding, and that crossover talks should not go too far without looking closely at the objects in our care. For example, books generally fail as museum objects because we collect books for their intellectual and emotional properties. A scanned book, just like a displayed book, provides a kind of access, a surrogate access to the visual aspects, but it does not provide access to provenance, weight, color under different lights, smell, etc. It does not provide empathetic access; with rare books especially, there is emotional value in opening and sifting through what the author himself opened and sifted through.

Andrew Robison, Mellon Senior Curator at the National Gallery of Art, discussed the relationship between a museum’s collection of prints and its libraries. Print collections often have large collections of books, mostly reference books, with which to access prints. Many prints are also only issued in bound volumes. However, prints that appear in rare books are assigned to rare book rooms, not print rooms. When a museum owns a print or object, as well as a rare book that contains really fine illustrations of that print or object, these materials are usually put in different places, rather than side by side. If collections cannot be seen side by side, then there should be an efficient loan process. What difference does it make where materials are placed? According to Robison, it provides confusing voices from the same institution to the same donors and vendors.

Bruce Whiteman, Head Librarian of the Clark Library at the University of California at Los Angeles, briefly talked about the similarities between LAMs, in that all three acquire cultural artifacts for preservation, study, etc., and all three contain collections of materials that “belong” to the other two institutions. He mentioned the exhibitability of materials, i.e, providing context (but keeping in mind that the audience is not willing to read too much text).

Seminar H. The Leab Awards: 20 Years of Special Collections Exhibitions.
The Leab Awards recognize excellence in exhibition catalogs, brochures, and electronic exhibitions of library and archival materials.

Marcia Reed, Head of Collection Development at the Getty Research Institute, questioned whether it made a difference whether an item is in a library or museum. She mentioned the old view of hierarchy, in which museums are for art, libraries for books & print materials, archives for manuscripts and non-print materials, and ethnographic and natural history collections for those specific topics. She also differentiated between the activities in museums (distance viewing) and libraries/archives (closed reading of complete books/materials) and pointed out that museums do not invite research into their collections.

William La Moy, Curator of Rare Books & Printed Materials at Syracuse University, talked about specific things to consider when creating catalogs and brochures, including paper selection (coated vs. uncoated-- text less legible when paper is too shiny; whiteness or brightness of stock), fidelity of 4-color balanced with legibility, publication size and shape (bigger publication limits distribution), binding (sewing better than binding), and typefaces (sans serif fonts are more tiring to read; choose open-type fonts).

Sarah Goodwin Thiel, Digital Imaging Librarian at the University of Kansas, talked about electronic exhibitions, which are representations of physically existing exhibitions or “virtual” exhibitions existing only in electronic format. These exhibitions, which are judged on intellectual content and design, should include: a table of contents on each page of the exhibition, consistent navigation on every page, at least one enlarged version of each image (when selected), bibliographic information for each item, and return buttons on each page. Libraries can design electronic exhibitions more easily if they use a template or table.

Following the afternoon sessions, we had a reception at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. This again gave me another opportunity to meet more of the attendees. Afterwards, I had a great dinner with a couple of the attendees.

Day 4: June 23, 2006

Plenary V. Educational Needs and Trends for Library, Archives, and Museum Professionals.
Bryant F. Tolles, Jr., Director of the Museum Studies Program and Professor at the University of Delaware, asked how professionals can acquire both library and museum training? While there are classes and practicums, he said that these are probably not enough.

Brenda S. Banks, (outgoing) Deputy Director, Georgia Archives, stated that there is a link between appropriate education for entering archivists and increasing diversity. She said that there needs to be alternative avenues for training besides graduate studies, and we have to think of ways to make the profession more accessible for minorities and the general population.

Margaret Hedstrom, Professor at the School of Information, University of Michigan, talked about the key drivers of convergence:
a) demand: shifting user populations and increasing diversity requires LAMs to think of ways to serve different users differently
b) value: special collections are especially valuable
c) economics: aggregation trumps fragmentation/specialization; collaboration trumps competition
d) intellectual property and ethical issues
e) underlying enabling technologies
f) combining dispersed materials/collections
She also cited the following common issues for LAMs:
a) large anticipated retirements
b) increased demand for services
c) need for new skills/perspectives
d) privatization of intellectual property
e) challenging ethical, legal, political issues
She asked if we could afford to maintain distinctions between LAMS, as well as other information professionals.

After the panelists spoke, there was some discussion about the need for a broader program that encompassed cultural properties and cultural heritage management. Someone mentioned that there already is one—the Long Island rare book and special collections program.

Plenary VI. Conference Wrap-Up and Reflections.
Robert Martin, Professor at the School of Library & Information Studies at Texas Women’s University and former Director of IMLS, gave the closing speech. He pointed out that there are real differences between libraries, archives, and museums, such as governance and funding, how collections are used (viewing vs. using/reading), and the education/preparation of professionals. He said that there should be a collaborative synergy between LAMs, or a recognition that they share intersecting nodes of interest. They should join efforts and, together, create and demonstrate their value. According to Martin, LAMs collect shared knowledge, and distinctions are outmoded, nullified by digital technology. LAMs should provide a seamless infrastructure for learning. Those who work at LAMs should create a different professional identity and culture and re-envision themselves as public servants who manage cultural heritage agencies; they should reshape practices and learn from each other.

The conference ended at around noon. After lunch, I joined the last tour of the Harry Ransom Center. It really is an impressive building and organization. Unfortunately, I had to cut my tour just a tad short, as I began to feel the effects of food poisoning (must be something I ate. lol).


Final Thoughts
The 47th Annual Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) Preconference was an unforgettable experience for me. For one, it proved to be an unlucky time; I sprained my ankle the weekend prior and had to limp along in my foot brace during the conference. This limited my ability to sightsee around Austin and spend time with other attendees outside the sessions. And, just when my ankle was feeling a little better and as soon as the conference ended, I had food poisoning. Besides these unfortunate circumstances, the Preconference itself proved to be quite memorable. This was the fourth conference I had attended within the space of three months, and I would have to say that this was the best one by far.

There were several reasons why I enjoyed it. First, as a library student, I wanted to learn more about RBMS; though I was a member of the section before, I did not really know much about rare books, manuscripts, or special collections. I knew that attending the conference would give me the opportunity to meet practicing librarians and archives, and I definitely met more attendees at this conference than at any other I have ever attended. Part of the reason that I met so many people is that, as a first-time attendee, I had signed up for a conference buddy, and my buddy was great in introducing me to many people and asking me how I was doing. I would definitely recommend that first-time or non-veteran conference attendees ask about conference buddy or mentor programs. Even if you don't end up seeing your buddy much, you'll at least get insight from someone who has attended these conferences several times and can tell you how to get the most out of it. Also, it's always good to meet someone whom you can ask questions not just about the conference, but also about their career paths and experiences.

The size of the conference was also conducive for meeting others. Compared to other conferences I have attended, this was rather intimate. I actually got to see the other attendees repeatedly, and it seemed easier and more comfortable to make their acquaintances. The fact that the schedule built in plenty of time for mingling (i.e., morning and afternoon breaks and receptions) ensured that we got to interact with each other in relaxed atmospheres. I've been to the big conferences--ALA, SLA, PLA--and it's hard to meet people when there are several thousand attendees, especially when you're a bit shy like me. So, when thinking of going to conferences, I would suggest choosing smaller ones, or at least plan on attending the gatherings of smaller sections/divisions/caucuses.

Another reason that I liked the conference was its theme. I particularly wanted to attend this year’s conference because, as a folklorist, I am interested in all aspects of culture, and I was curious to hear the discussions on the intersections between libraries, archives, and museums (LAMs). As a Chesapeake Information and Research Library Alliance (CIRLA) Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries, the inclusive topic was also quite appropriate for me. When you know your interests, it is good to attend those conferences. However when you are still exploring your options, attending a more inclusive conference like ALA gives you an overview of the various types of libraries, jobs, programs, etc.

The plenaries and sessions at this RBMS Preconference gave me much to consider. For instance, while I had always taken it for granted that LAMs are cultural organizations, I had not really thought about their roles as memory institutions or as catalysts for civic improvement. I certainly had not thought about the differences in the ways LAMs provide access to their materials. In addition to audience and access issues, I learned about cataloging, collection, legal, and educational issues. I found the presentations and discussions very helpful and thought-provoking. I especially think that the calls for collaboration and ideas for providing greater access would be most useful for me once I start my professional career.

In addition to the people and the theme, I was very impressed by the organization of the conference. I thought it was appropriate to have the magnificent Harry Ransom Center as one of the sites, with its fabulous exhibition space and extensive archives. The program and speakers were great, though it would have been even better if there were representatives from museums or at least more people who work in museum libraries. The scheduling was terrific, especially the punctuality and the times set aside for mingling. The logistics worked out perfectly, including the buses. I thought everything worked out seamlessly and, if RBMS Preconferences are always like this, I look forward to my next one.

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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