In an effort to spread the word about libraries, cycling and some otherwise unwritten thoughts in a fun and conversational mode, I have been invited to be on Fairfax Public Access Radio on 05 Feb 2013 at 8:00 PM EST. I will be interviewed by Dennis Price – photographer, general contractor and radio personality – a man of myriad interests.
This marks my second “appearance” on the radio in two years. My first was mostly on the topic of digital projects in a library (bicycles were mentioned though) – that was live on 12 April 2012.
Please take the time to listen. Approximate time from your day: 1 measly hour.
On Wednesday 16 January 2013, I sat down to talk with one of the numerous helpful Virginia Room staff members, Tad Suiter, about special collections, the role of local history in the public library’s mission statement and library promotion.
The role of collections shifts in libraries and when one thinks about local history within libraries, the realization is that patrons who enter the contemporary Arlington Public Library will be checking out books and movies that are generally popular within the current culture, using the community boards and using computers with their free internet access to do everything from applying for jobs to playing web-based internet games. This role may not be as much about books as it has been. One of the resources that will not be used as often is the rare books and special collections found in Arlington County Library’s Virginia Room – a separate room on the first floor designed to act as a traditional reading room (such as the famous reading room in the Library of Congress’ Jefferson building), a linkage to the rare books vault and archival materials housed and managed to be used ONLY in the reading room. Most of these materials are rare and unique to Arlington and thus would not survive normal circulation cycles.
I asked about the Mission Statement of special collections within the Library and two points were made. <I write, “within the library,” because only a fraction of patrons who walk into the Central Arlington Library also walk into the Virginia Room. The Virginia Room houses the Special Collection – not designed to be circulated for numerous meaningful reasons.> The first point relates the Virginia Room’s collection mission to the APL’s Mission Statement as a whole. The APL’s Mission Statement is “The Arlington Public Library provides access to information, creates connections among people and promotes reading and culture–for every Arlingtonian and other patrons.” The Virginia Room certainly is situated to conform to that mission as the collections are Virginia specific with a niche focus on local history and Arlington history. Another aspect of the mission statement, however, makes mention of “other patrons.” One assumes this is deliberately ambiguous because the APL could never foresee the wide use potential of their special collections for work by scholars or writers from around the nation and world. In particular, Tad Suiter mentioned the excitement expressed by a visitor from Japan who noted unique items in the collection that are about Arlington but may be part of some specific interest within the domain of information collection. Sure, many patrons focus on genealogy or request items about the street they or loved ones lived on in generations past, but these special collections, though local in title, are also used by non-Arlingtonians.
The second point relates to this issue of APL’s mission statement, but subtly redirects the use of the collections – this is the point that local collections are useful to “reach out” beyond the local. In the first place, the Virginia Room houses some of the institutional archives for APL. At first thought, it would seem that local archives are designed for use for APL studies – they are. But a county’s public library archives could just as well be studied in order to explore ideas within a grander scope to reflect trends within county libraries statewide or nationwide. In addition, even though the United States has plenty of diverse lives and diverse life-organizations occurring within its borders, the fact that Arlington is a suburb of Washington, D.C. (a relatively large urban district), means that some aspects of library use and local culture may relate to America generally since DC is where so many important decisions are made and Arlingtonians, many of them, work within these halls of decision. Arlington’s special collections are not just for use by Arligntonians even though the collections are housed within the Virginia Room and the mission statement declares fist the public library is for Arlington patrons. That same statement also declares it is available for other patrons. The above paragraph expresses the potential for extra-local use of special collections.
Truth be told, a theme running through the conversation with Tad Suiter revealed the challenges of promoting special collections. Special Libraries of America certainly believes in promotion of efforts by its members. But even the SLA does not have an “official” definition of what is a special library or special collection. APL has a semi-regular feature on its webpage through which it promotes historical elements found within collections found in the Virginia Room. Tad Suiter suggests he believes patrons would find it very interesting not just to see a piece of history written from artifacts in the collection (a perfectly fine effort for promotion), but also to realize the efforts of digging through the collections and the processing of those items for events, writing, research or other projects. Promotion of libraries runs through much current literature on library use, encouraging wide use and trends in social media. One can even see it pop up regularly in job postings across many fields within librarianship. I suppose this small essay is an act of promotion.
I want to thank Tad Suiter for his time and helpful ideas. The whole staff at the Arlington Public Library is very helpful, but I want to specifically thank the staff of the Virginia Room at this moment. I recommend checking out their special collections, ask questions and maybe send a comment or two here or at Twitter.
Thank you for reading.
I start working tomorrow at a Public Library (details and writing will come in the future); I am making a transition from technical services to patron services. This will involve fewer interactions with varied software (just used in a different way) and increased interactions with people.
I am curious what people really think about their respective public library jobs? This question is not meant to cover ALL the experiences nor thoughts people have, nor every task that is part of daily needs at each person’s respective branch.
One dire facet of contemporary life in public libraries has been the way budget cuts and the economy in the late 2000s has affected services, hours of operation and libraries’ ability to acquire new materials across formats. My job in part has come about, I believe, because of the library system’s ability to expand hours and thus increase the number of staff possible – an event for which I am rather grateful. So, I am interested in answers to my query that reflect the changing state of your respective public libraries and what you think about your jobs relative to the affects of the economic struggles of late. These changes I know alter who is in charge, what can be offered and other factors. And sometimes these changes can be positive.
Anyway, please do say what you think. You can reply here or @ Twitter.
I finished reading Michael Twyman’s THE BRITISH LIBRARY GUIDE TO PRINTING: HISTORY AND TECHNIQUES, my first book-length read in this area. My intention with this post is to bring attention to this item and the series because M. Twyman’s writing is ridiculously easy to read and I assume the others are just as easy. I plan to invest time in the rest of these books over the next several months. Some comment will be made here as the history of printing is part of the history of libraries, book arts and rare books and this writer is committed to mention of rare books, special collections (of which rare books and book arts are sub-fields) and libraries. The University of Toronto Press has published several more books in this series. A few of them are: THE BRITISH LIBRARY GUIDE TO BOOKBINDING: HISTORY AND TECHNIQUES by P.J.M. Marks, THE BRITISH LIBRARY GUIDE TO MANUSCRIPT ILLUMINATION: HISTORY AND TECHNIQUES by Christopher De Hamel and THE BRITISH LIBRARY GUIDE TO WRITING AND SCRIPTS: HISTORY AND TECHNIQUES by Michelle P. Brown.
Looking forward to learning more in this area and blog readers should expect mention of these works in the future.
On Thursday, 12 April 2012, I was on the radio (Our Digital Future) at University of California – Irvine talking about librarianship and digital aspects in the field. Very fun. I got to talk about library school and bicycle riding (and the differences in the cycling scene between the DC Metro area and Chicago (where I used to live). But I also was given the opportunity to discuss projects underway at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Some of these projects are standard preservation and patron service projects. Great stuff indeed. But the Folger is also linking data to finding aids from their Luna Insight database, in which they keep their digital objects. Folger has a huge collection of digitized objects – full books, manuscripts, letters and all kinds of other rare materials. And they have the right team of professionals as they have staff who have been on committees deciding standards for a full range of rare materials. Folger is a highly professionalized place. And right now, they have an exhibit titled: Shakespeare’s Sisters: Voices of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700 in the great Hall.
The best resources are here to stay and somehow manage to make their presence known again and again.
I have a tendency to believe linguistic diversity is also a sign of knowledge diversity and am very frustrated with attempts to globalize knowledge into one vast pot. I point to the impact of global mass communication content and technologies, the lack of allowing the “other” to truly be and the impact of the World’s most widely used library classification system, Library of Congress Subject Headings. I am not taking a stance against The Library of Congress. I live in America and make use of their diverse resources regularly. Also, their main building is a work of architectural art. No, I question standardization of “knowledge” at the expense of diversity and questions. It seems to me that if we classify all the world’s knowledge under one system (which is not the mission statement of the Library of Congress), then we have declared globally what everything in the world is “about.” This action is accomplished by all kinds of groups around the world who write indexes to be LC compatible. But if those local knowledge resources and populations have to use another “aboutness” structure other than their own, have they not committed a kind of murder of their own knowledge system? Believe me, this is a bit scary. I am not sure that we can separate “knowledge” from “questions.” I note this point because it seems to me to state up-front what something is about has already annihilated many potential questions – and thus knowledge types. How can this tendency sit well with ongoing questioning? Somehow, I feel this happens because we are afraid of uncertainty. This is not an overshadowing fear in this context, but a fear nonetheless. Surely it is different for different people. But why should we be afraid of conflicting and disagreeable classifications in information organization?