Forging the Future

This afternoon kicked off the first day of a two day Special Collections Colloquium, hosted at Case Western. Sarah Thomas the Vice President, Harvard Library and Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences began our sessions and shared with us her thoughts about the past and future of our profession. She urged us to be responsible owners of our collections, not only considering what collections to acquire, but how to process and preserve them. Sarah encouraged us to consider the ways in which crowdsourcing can help us, and how contributing to crowdsourcing projects, like Wikipedia can help “the crowd”. She also compelled us to consider how we staff special collections and how we might increase our digitization and open access policies.

Alice Schreyer, the Interim Library Director and Associate University Librarian for Area Studies and Special Collections at the University of Chicago focused her remarks on the necessary collaboration between researchers, librarians and archivists. She encouraged us to consider creative ways of leveraging these roles. For example, the collector can help us identify and put into word the intangible aspects of our work in ways that practitioners can use to when seeking to document impact through data and other evaluations. Alice shared that she believes archivists have a unique skill set when matched with the formal leadership roles required of special collections departments.

Her comments were particularly relevant to me, as I consider my dissertation research topic and explore the seeming scarcity of interested and qualified candidates to assume these formal leadership roles within archives and special collections.

The mid-afternoon panel focused on differing approaches to the book as object and meaning making, or creating meaning with new and different audiences.

Jay Satterfield, Special Collections Librarian at Dartmouth College offered the second keynote of the day with his presentation: “Considering the Present: Special Collections are the Meal not the Dessert”. He shared with us how by deconstructing the curatorial model and moving towards a function based approach to our practice, he and his staff have managed to significantly increase the kinds of outreach and the connection and impact they have on the curriculum. Most interesting was his encouragement to embrace the chaos that can take place when we, as practitioners, set aside our expertise in favor of facilitating student learning and discovery. Students themselves make connections between course themes and session content, however imperfect those connections may be. Jay and his staff, along with faculty and subject specialist partners, focus on the learning process and long-term outcomes of teaching students to think critically using special collections.

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