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Minneapolis from across the Mississippi River

Last week, I traveled to Minneapolis for my first Rare Book and Manuscripts Section pre-conference. Many of you may know that RBMS is a section of ACRL, which is a division of ALA. It is a niche group of people within a very large organization, so it makes sense that the preconference is separate from ALA. I found the conference to be intimate and thought provoking and I am glad I had the opportunity to attend.

This year’s RBMS theme “O Rare! Performance in Special Collections” fit perfectly with ourGertrude and Max Hoffmann Papers, allowing Megan and I to present a poster on the topic. We traveled to Minneapolis last Sunday for two an a half action-packed days of conferencing. Anna and I hit up the “Technology Petting Zoo” where a variety of librarians and archivists showed their innovative use of technology in their everyday work. Projects included an automated recall system for Special Collections holdings over *seven* Special Collections libraries at the University of Minnesota! Following the petting zoo, we attended the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America’s Showcase Reception. This was really an amazing reception highlighting the beautiful books that the vendors were selling. Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything.

Monday morning began with a very interesting Plenary Session “Submerged Voices in Underground Performance” in which Dr. Larisa Mann, Professor of Culture & Communication at NYU and Brooklyn College spoke of the Jamaican Dance Music scene, and Katherine Reagan and Ben Ortiz spoke of theCornell University Hip Hop Collection. The session brought up the topics of documenting living cultures, marginalized communities’ claim to the documentation of their own culture, the disconnect between the stakeholders within the living culture and the people documenting them, and the value of both groups. Truly fascinating stuff. In both instances, the “otherness” or “underground” nature of the original scenes (both Jamaican dance music and hip hop) is what makes it unique. Integrating these into mainstream institutions takes away the legitimacy within the community the institution is trying to document. I really could go on and on about the implications these projects have on the communities, but I will just say that this plenary was talked about in many later sessions and had everyone thinking. If you want to hear more about it, I am happy to discuss.

The next session, “Collecting in the Moment,” was very applicable to my work. Gretchen Gueguen of the University of Virginia talked about her work “capturing” all of the tweets, blogs, new articles, and Facebook posts relating to the ousting and reinstatement of UVA’s President Teresa Sullivan. With both a sense of “collecting in the moment” and an extreme sense of “immediacy” the library decided to save the historic record of events. As digital archivist, Gretchen along with the rest of the University Archives, had not decided on a clear policy for web-archiving, especially in terms of social media. Some points that I found particularly interesting:

  • “The Internet is not longer ephemeral”
  • “It is THE publishing platform”
  • “The HOW of the medium was part of the message”

Gretchen described the ad-hoc methods she devised to gather the materials and advised the audience not to do what she did. In addition, the conversation turned to privacy and ownership, duplicates, and censorship. I enjoyed this session and have a lot more to think about in terms of our web-archiving initiative.

I attended an afternoon discussion “Putting Diversity into Action: Showcasing Diverse Collections” where a lively discussion followed that focused mainly adding diverse community collections to your Special Collections. One of the main takeaways was the importance of bridging the cultural gap before approaching diverse groups. Implying to a separate community that their cultural heritage materials are better taken care of by your institution can be a tricky and sometimes disastrous implication. Even if an archivist has the best of intentions, sometimes a breakdown in communication can turn community members off from donating their materials. Similar to the plenary session, the ins and outs of working with a collection that represents a collective, and living, culture is not easy business. This session gave me a lot to think about, and I hope to be able to apply it to my work.

Our lovely poster

On the second day, Megan and I represented Wake Forest with our poster “Hidden Treasures: The Max and Gertrude Hoffmann Papers.” Our poster was well received, sparking discussion about the variety of resources within Max and Gertrude’s collection.

After lunch, I attended a very interesting seminar “Metadata, The Reboot: Making Reusable Metadata and Making Metadata Reusable” with Jenn Riley from UNC Chapel Hill, Aaron Rubenstein from UMass Amherst, and Matthew Battles from Harvard. The presenters put together a very provocative panel stressing the move from structured data towards linked data and the “web” of information. Jenn Riley quoted heavily from David Weinberger’s “Everything Is Miscellaneous” and urged archivists and librarians to “let go” of their metadata in an effort for others to use it in innovative and exciting new ways. “In a relatively open digital information network characterized by linkability, metadata is ripe for change, for a new paradigm of utility, of re-usability.” The idea that people make their own connections, not just the connections we make for them is coming across in many digital humanities projects. The panelists urged us archivists to take part in a psychological shift to expose our metadata to the web and embrace what can be done with “our” metadata when we “let go.” This was a truly interesting session and gave me a lot to think about in terms of structured data.

From the top of the Mill City Museum

The afternoon session allowed me to sit in on Megan and Anna’s session, which was quite a good conversation. We rounded out the evening with a reception at the Mill City Museum. A beautiful and creative use of mill ruins, we had a great time mingling with rare book librarians, archivists, special collections librarians, and even the odd ILL person:)

This is a brief recap of a fun-filled and informative conference. If anyone wants to hear more about the sessions I mentioned, or others that I didn’t, I am happy to have a cup of coffee and discuss. Thanks to all who made it possible to attend, I appreciate the opportunity.