A recent request for information on publishing an image from our blog prompted us to consider how our blog interacts with other ways of sharing our resources.
If a teacher in Mexico or Ireland saw a picture in a recent post and wished to use it for teaching, or perhaps to share in a publication for colleagues, can she or he do this?
The usual answer is, yes, and this should be clear from the Creative Commons license in the blog’s left side-bar.
Our preferred way of acknowledging that the image is from our collection is as follows:
Reproduced from the original held by the Department of Special Collections of the Hesburgh Libraries of the University of Notre Dame.
However, it would be good to let your readers know where they can find the image online, and so you might also want to reference the blogpost.
Five years ago, when we first began to share information about our collections and our work through this blog, we hoped that people would use it freely, and so we decided to use a Creative Commons license. We opted for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
This allows readers to copy and redistribute content from our blog as long as there is attribution, or as long as appropriate credit is given. On occasions when a blogpost has restrictions, this is stated at the bottom of the post.
The Creative Commons website provides all the information on this license, which includes the condition of attribution, that is, making sure readers are informed in an appropriate manner where the material has come from.
Let’s imagine that I thought the Juneteenth blogpost by Rachel Bohlmann would be a great contribution to my local newsletter. According to the license, I would be free to take the whole post and publish it, or adapt it for my purposes. The Creative Commons license requires that I give appropriate credit. In any case, it’s just good manners to acknowledge the source of the text, and this is also helpful for my readers.
So I incorporate text from Rachel’s blogpost into my newsletter article, omitting some parts, and I help my readers with more information, at the same time satisfying the requirements of the CC license, with the following statement:
The most attractive items on our blogpost, however, and the most valuable, are the images from the Special Collections. Here, there is some ambiguity between the Creative Commons License of the blog and our normal procedure for providing images on request. The best way to sort through this ambiguity is to look at the different ways of obtaining images and their different uses.
Readers are welcome to request images from our collections, which we are happy to provide if possible. If they wish to include those images in a publication, this is usually straightforward as long as the item is in the public domain, that is, old enough so that copyright restrictions do not apply. Otherwise, readers may need to obtain permission from the owner of those rights. Discovering who owns those rights is not always straightforward, and may be a significant research project.
When we supply an image, which we can provide in a higher-resolution format than that on our blog, we also provide an agreement, signed by us and by the requestor. This agreement includes the required statement to be included in the publication, as follows:
Reproduced from the original held by the Department of Special Collections of the Hesburgh Libraries of the University of Notre Dame.
Let’s imagine you are writing about the famous Edgeworth family of Ireland and you happened upon our blogpost describing the family’s album of drawings. You might take an image from our blogpost and cite the blog appropriately, thus satisfying the conditions of the CC license.
But you might also contact us, discuss the publication with the curator, and discover that another image from the book is even more appropriate for the intended publication, or that the image in the blog is a cropped version of a larger image that is available. We could then provide you with high-resolution images as well as the Agreement for Publication of Reproductions from Materials held by the Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.
Over the summer Rare Books & Special Collections and University Archives began combining patron services by launching our joint reading room. All researchers wishing to use materials from either collection should now come to Rare Books & Special Collections (Hesburgh Library 102) located on the ground floor of the Hesburgh Library near the West entrance. For researchers who have used University Archives in the past (located on the 6th floor of Hesburgh Library), please come to the Special Collections front desk to inquire about and to consult University Archives’ materials.
If you are looking for materials from either collection, there are numerous ways to search Special Collections and Archives holdings:
NDCatalog contains all cataloged books, pamphlets, periodicals, broadsides, prints, posters, published materials, single manuscript volumes, and small archival collections held by RBSC.
To find large archival collections for both Special Collections and University Archives, you can search NDArchiveSpace. While most of these collections are also discoverable in the catalog, NDArchivesSpace goes much deeper, allowing researchers to discover many more names, dates, and content types than are included in the catalog record.
In addition, both Rare Books & Special Collections and University Archives hold other materials that are not currently discoverable in the library catalog, NDArchivesSpace, or on their respective websites. Because of this, researchers may also want to contact staff directly about their research projects to see if there are other materials that may be of use.
Digitizing our books is one way to share our collections with a wider readership. An area where we have begun this digitization is our early print collection in Irish studies. The collection includes books on Ireland and Irish affairs, often from an English perspective, and also books by Irish authors on science, theology and other subjects. The core of the collection was acquired in 2007, and as many of the books are rare and particularly difficult to find in America, we are enthusiastic about sharing the digital images.
In addition to having copies stored in our own CurateND, the digital collection is made available on the Internet Archive and we have plans to share also on Hathi Trust. While Hathi Trust is limited to member libraries, the Internet Archive is freely available to all, and allows readers a number of ways to view the books, including ‘turning pages’ by clicking on a page.
This book is an example of the kind of primary document that makes a great impression on a student who can visit and see the physical book — printed shortly after the trial and execution, the book provides a tangible link to the events of the time.
Special Collections has had the pleasure to work with students and their service animals on multiple occasions during the past year.
Our first visit occurred last fall. A faculty member inquired about her class’s upcoming visit to Special Collections. She had a student with a service dog and inquired if this would be an issue and what needed to be done. We told her that there was absolutely no problem and that we were excited to work with the student and her service dog. We did inform her, though, that this was the department’s first experience so we were not sure what to expect and would do whatever we needed to ensure the student and service dog had no issues navigating the room.
A student in the Honors College and her service dog, St. Patrick (aka Paddy), visited with her class. Paddy assists the student with general mobility, as the student described in an article for Notre Dame’s student magazine, Scholastic. With Paddy at her side, they navigated the tables, making their way through all of the materials with ease. Paddy was even excited to make a return trip to pose in front of her namesake.
We then had another student and her service dog come with two different classes, one last spring and another last week. Again, the visits went smoothly. Maddie and Snowbird (right) navigated the tables with the class.
Madeline Link is a junior at Notre Dame, double majoring in History and Theology and minoring in Philosophy, Religion, and Literature. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions about how she and Snowbird were paired and what it is like to work together. Here is what she has to say:
Snowbird and I have worked together for a little over six years. The pairing process was quite comprehensive. For the first week of our month-long program, the trainers learned everything they could about us, asking us questions about our habits, walking speeds, and even posing as dogs so that we could practice holding the harness and appropriately instructing the dog. After that, they selected 2 to 3 dogs that seem to match our personalities, and on the first Friday of the program, my six classmates and I had to guess which dog we would be matched with. All seven of us guessed correctly.
I have visited Special Collections with two of my classes here at Notre Dame. It’s been an incredible and enriching opportunity! Snowbird typically lies beneath the table in my classes, and I exam in the books and maps pertaining to the subject we are studying. A wonderful aspect of visiting Special Collections at Notre Dame is that I have the opportunity to touch some of the manuscripts and examine them up close.
For me, Snowbird is my eyes. Though he unfortunately cannot read the manuscripts to me, he enables me to travel confidently and independently. Guiding the blind is far from the only thing that service dogs can do. They make day-to-day life possible for people with a wide range of physical and emotional challenges, and their presence allows many students like myself to thrive at this great university.
Thank you Maddie and Snowbird for sharing your experiences with us. It’s been a pleasure having both of you visit Special Collections.
Behind the timing of this post is a question that arose this summer. I participated in a class on teaching with rare materials at California Rare Book School at the University of California, Los Angeles. A curator from another institution asked whether anyone had experience working with service animals in Special Collections. To my surprise, no one else in the room of fifteen participants representing departments located in both the US and Canada had experience with service animals accompanying students during classes in Special Collections. Given their interest, all of us in Special Collections at Notre Dame would like share our experiences with the community.
This year’s American Conference for Irish Studies, or ACIS 2018, was held in the beautiful campus of University College Cork (UCC), in the south of Ireland. The biggest annual conference on Irish studies, it includes many disciplines, and over one hundred panels were convened during the five days in addition to plenary lectures, book launches and, importantly, regular breaks where colleagues could meet and discuss common interests.
An ‘ad hoc group’ of librarians and archivists has been active in ACIS for some years now, carving out a niche within the conference to come together and learn from one another. Presentations at the five library and archives events were stimulating, informative and well attended, and participants have returned to their libraries inspired and invigorated.
We learned about specific collections and books, and about exciting and innovative projects. We share a mission to collect and preserve our collections, and we also strive to make our collections visible and accessible. In fact, the Hesburgh Libraries’ mission, to connect people to knowledge across time and space, implies the collection and preservation of that knowledge and emphasizes the connecting element, which was a recurrent theme in this conference.
As the conference was in Ireland, American librarians and scholars had an opportunity to learn about exciting projects at the National Library of Ireland, Queen’s University Belfast, Dúchas and the National Folklore Collection, and the Irish Traditional Music Archive. We also learned from one another of interesting collections, both historic and newly-developed, and of interesting ways to make specific collections available digitally. An unexpected pleasure was a special visit offered by the Boole Library at UCC.
Some of the highlights are mentioned here, with links for further exploration.
Sharing and Making Collections and Data Accessible
RASCAL is a database of descriptions of collections relevant for the study of Ireland, held at libraries, archives and museums. Louisa Costello of Queens University Belfast described this project and the latest developments which include both a new-look website and an improved data entry form that will make it easier for librarians to submit information on collections. Currently, only one of Notre Dame’s Irish collections, the O’Neill Collection, has been entered in the RASCAL database, and so news of the new data submission form was very encouraging, and we expect that the database will be much improved in coming months by data entered by librarians at U.S. institutions.
Immediate examples of RASCAL’s utility could be seen throughout the conference. Ciara Ryan, pursuing her Ph.D. at UCC, has been working with a fascinating manuscript collection of an Irish-speaker and storyteller who worked as a miner in Montana. She demonstrated some of this collection from the Butte-Silver Bow Archives at the Digital Projects Showcase. The RASCAL database could provide a way for researchers to learn of this unexpected collection in a Montana archives.
Other collections were described during the conference and as RASCAL was explained, we were all considering how these could be included in the RASCAL database for increased visibility. These include the various collections at the Ward Irish Music Archives in Milwaukee, the collections at ITMA, the Dion Boucicault Collection which is being digitized at the University of South Florida and the P. S. O’Hegarty Collection at the University of Kansas. Researchers might consider searching the Irish Traditional Music Archive to find sources on Irish music and related culture, but it is unlikely that a scholar would stumble on the rich collection of P.S. O’Hegarty in Kansas without some guidance.
Discussion of Collections
The conference provided a forum for many descriptions of collections and even of single items. These were attended both by librarians, who are generally interested in all collections, and by scholars who wished to learn more about specific collections. Presentations on collections discussed issues of organization and digitization in ways that made the discussion accessible and relevant to scholars, librarians and archivists alike.
In all, three speakers addressed the National Folklore Collection at University College Dublin, and Fiontar, the digital humanities and Irish language group at Dublin City University that has developed websites on placenames, terminology and biography, and also the digitized folklore collection, Dúchas, or duchas.ie.
The National Folklore Collection, is recognized by UNESCO for its “outstanding universal value to culture”. Fiontar initially digitized the Schools Folklore Collection, and more recently the Photographic Collection has been added.
The Schools Folklore Collection was carried out in 1937-39 by the Irish Folklore Commission, the Department of Education and the Irish National Teachers’ Organization. Children in primary schools all over the 26 counties of the Irish Free State were asked to collect folklore, often interviewing their parents, grandparents or neighbors.
A remarkable collection was amassed in this way, hundreds of thousands of pages, from more than fifty thousand school pupils. This has now been digitized on Duchas.ie, and the riches of the collection are already apparent. The collection can now be searched by place, name and topic, and the revision of the classification system to enable better searching in the digital collection made for a fascinating talk by Jonny Dillon.
To enable full-text searching, for which the handwritten pages need to be transcribed, Dúchas.ie initiated a Meitheal, the Irish equivalent of the American barn raising or gathering of neighbors to share in the work. Volunteers of the Meitheal have transcribed many of the pages, and at this point, 24% of the 95,511 Irish language pages are transcribed, and 31% of the 348,812 English language pages are completed.
The page shown here is exemplary of one of the very understandable demands made of this collection: “Can I see the pages contributed by my family members?” This page on folk cures, including the use of fried frogs for toothache, is by Richard Forrestal of Convent View, Tullamore. Richard, my father’s cousin, is now in his nineties and living in Long Island, New York. Thanks to the initial data entry of names, places and titles, such pages can easily be found in the database. And some of this data entry was carried out by student interns from Notre Dame.
In contrast to the large collections of the National Folklore Collection, an engaging presentation by Crónán Ó Doibhlin of UCC’s Boole Library described one book, Leabhar Mór na hÉireann, The Great Book of Ireland, a spectacular artistic creation composed of art and manuscript poems and music by Ireland’s leading artists, poets and composers. Another single-book discussion was the round table discussion devoted to the production of The Atlas of the Irish Revolution, in which the tools of digital humanities were used to great effect.
In addition to traditional panel presentations, this conference offered a Digital Projects Showcase in which presenters demonstrated their projects as attendees moved around the showcase area. This new “showcase” format, organized by Kathleen Williams of Boston College, worked very well and we hope to replicate and develop it at future conferences. It allowed those interested mainly in music, for example, to stop at the tables of Beth Sweeney who demonstrated Boston College’s digitized collection of musician Séamus Connolly, and Jeff Ksiazek, archivist at the Ward Irish Music Archives.
The Boston Pilot has been used by Boston College to extract data from many of its advertisements asking for information on Irish immigrants. These advertisements, common in the nineteenth century, frequently provided information on the sought-for person’s native county and the date and place of their arrival in America. Kathleen Williams of Boston College discussed the migration of the data from the original newspaper ads to eight printed volumes (Ruth-Ann Mellish Harris and Donald M. Jacobs, The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in the Boston Pilot. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1989), to an online database, and finally, to a dataset in Dataverse. Segments of the Pilot and Boston Pilot have been digitized by Boston College. An article titled “The Boston Pilot in the 1840’s” is available online from Boston College Libraries.
Using digital technology to improve access to documents that are already available online, ‘born digital’ was described by Emilie Pine in an account of a database created to make a lengthy and dense report accessible and meaningful for readers and researchers. Industrial Memories offers a way to search and analyze the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (2009), known as the Ryan Report. The Ryan Report is a hefty five-volume document detailing the investigation into abuse of children in institutions in the Irish Republic from 1936 on. The Industrial Memories Project makes it possible to search the report and the project has also used digital tools to interrogate the report to find hidden patterns in the text. These are demonstrated on the Industrial Memories website.
A digitization project that is in process, described to us by Deirdre Wildy of Queens University Belfast, is the important Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. This is exciting news for all in Irish studies, and it appears that the “women’s anthology”, or volumes 4 and 5 will be available from JSTOR before too long.
New Formats – New Collections
Joanna Finegan described the National Library of Ireland’s selective web archiving, and her data on the speed at which political web content disappears following an election made people sit up and realize the importance of the NLI’s project. Our collections here at Notre Dame include many political pamphlets printed around the time of the 1798 Rising; we have a good collection of Northern Ireland pamphlets and ephemera that helps students understand the political messages and propaganda of the time. But for recent referenda and elections, archived web pages will be invaluable for future historians.
From the National Library also, Elizabeth Kirwan described the development of the Irish Queer Archive, the most comprehensive collection of material in Ireland relating to homosexuality, LGBT literature and general Queer studies.
The presentation of Grace Toland, Director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, also addressed the original formats of materials, and ways to both preserve and make accessible, recorded music performances. ITMA is exemplary of the new model of archive where sharing the archival resources is a major priority, and ITMA is also working to develop new and better ways to use digital methods to represent its collection.
The ACIS Conference
There was much information gathered at the conference that we would love to share more broadly. For anyone interested in learning more, a list of the libraries and archives panels mentioned above is appended below, followed by a list of links to the various collections and projects mentioned.
Libraries, Archives and Digital Projects at ACIS 2018
The Environments of Libraries and Archives in Irish Studies 1: Issues in DigitiSation
Monday 18 June, 4 p.m. Chair: Aedín Clements
Joanna Finnegan, The National Library of Ireland’s Web Archive: Resources for the Study of Ireland Online
Anna Bale and Conchúr Mag Eacháin, The Dúchas Project and the Digitization of the National Folklore Collection
Grace Toland, The Irish Traditional Music Archive
Matthew Knight and Elizabeth Ricketts, Shifting Environments in the Archives: Creating an Online Dion Boucicault Collection at the University of South Florida
Libraries and Archives
Tuesday 19 June, 2 p.m. Chair: Christian Dupont
Conor Carville, Poetry, Crisis and the Arts Institution in Northern Ireland 1971-1972
Emilie Pine, Swipe Right: Gender, Commemoration, the Decade of Centenaries, and the Politics of Digital Spaces
Elspeth Healey, Collecting Ireland: Politics, Literature, and Bibliography in the Library of P. S. O’Hegarty
The Environments of Libraries and Archives in Irish Studies 2: Special Collections and Archives in the New Environment
Tuesday 19 June, 4 p.m.
Chair: Aedín Clements
Crónán Ó Doibhlin, The Great Book of Ireland – Leabhar Mór na hÉireann
Christian Dupont, The Environments of Libraries and Archives in Irish Studies
Deirdre Wildy and Louisa Costello, Special Collections at Queens University Belfast
Jonny Dillon, Preserving Tradition into the Future: The National Folklore Collection in a Transitional Phase
Twentieth-Century Irish Literary Archives
Wednesday 20 June, 9 a.m.
Chair: Paige Reynolds
Round Table participants: Ken Bergin, Elizabeth Kirwan, Aedín Clements, Adam Hanna, Florence Impens, and Ruud van den Beuken
John Waters (New York University), Spatializing Subscription Lists and Topographical Poems
Jeff Ksiazek (WIMA), The Ward Irish Music Archives
Ciara Ryan (UCC), The Family Papers of Seán “Irish” O’Sullivan, Butte-Silver Bow (BSB) Archives, Butte, Montana
Kathleen Williams (Boston College), Information Wanted: A Database of Advertisements for Irish Immigrants in the Boston Pilot Newspaper: A New Version of the Data, Available on the Boston College Dataverse Site
Elizabeth Sweeney (Boston College), The Séamus Connolly Collection of Irish Music
All of us in Rare Books and Special Collections send our best wishes to all the 2018 graduates of the University of Notre Dame.
We would also like to congratulate:
Laura Neis (ND ’18), who received an honorable mention in the Senior and Honors Thesis category of the Undergraduate Library Research Awards (ULRA) for her senior thesis, “Rare Women and True Martyrs: Female Martyrdom under Queen Elizabeth I.” Laura conducted background research for her thesis using resources from the Rare Books collection.
Mia Alyse Mologousis (ND ’18), who won the Joseph Italo Bosco Award for Excellence in Italian Studies. Mia’s research materials included the La Difesa Della Razza periodical in Special Collections Italian literature holdings.
April arrived with budding young minds from Notre Dame’s ECDC and from Chicago’s Pritzker College Prep, eager to examine objects from our holdings.
At the beginning of the month, a group of about twenty-five kindergarteners, parent chaperones, and teachers from the Early Childhood Development Center—more commonly known on campus simply as ECDC—brought lots of smiles and excitement to the department on an otherwise cold, dreary April day. This marked ECDC’s nineteenth annual visit to Hesburgh Libraries. Their first stop was Rare Books and Special Collections where they got to learn about a range of materials. The star of the show was the department’s infamous bling book. This 17th- or 18th-century gradual is almost as big as the kids themselves, and the brightly colored, shiny stones decorating the cover were a big hit. The kids learned about how early books were put together. They felt the thick wooden boards and remnants of the leather covering.
A potential environmentalist, examining Garbage by the Canadian book artist Lise Melhorn-Boe explained that garbage goes to landfills and that when they fill up, we won’t have anywhere to put our garbage. This kindergartener’s comment was right on target. Melhorn-Boe’s book—a mini garbage can housing mesh bags filled with a week’s worth of garbage—does make you stop and think about the amount of trash each of us produces.
After their stop here, the ECDC children headed to the Center for Digital Scholarship, Circulation, and the great view of the greater Michiana area from the fourteenth floor (though the cloud cover acted like a veil on this particular day). Rumor has it that after spending a day in the library, the children created a library in the dramatic play area at ECDC and have been making pop up books and tiny books in their classroom!
Less than a week later, a group of forty freshmen and sophomores visited. They were from Chicago’sPritzker College Prep, a public charter high school in the Noble Network of Charter Schools. Accompanied by three of their teachers, the group learned about books, manuscripts, and prints that spanned from the fifteenth century to present, covered Europe and the Americas, and included history, science, culture, art, and more.
The first item the students examined was one of the most important pieces in the history of western printing, Hartmann Schedel’s Liber cronicarum, more commonly known in English as the Nuremberg Chronicle. Students had the chance not only to learn why this book was so important and why we call it the Nuremberg Chronicle but also to experience history. Some of them felt the vellum cover and the handmade paper from 1493. When asked if they had ever seen or touched a book from the fifteenth century, they looked down and shook their heads no. The excitement and curiosity on many of their faces after literally touching history, hopefully, will be something that will continue to inspire them as they continue their studies.
Following this, they turned to the first edition of the text that transformed astronomy, Copernicus’ De revolutionibus (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), printed in 1543. Then they examined a facsimile of the Códice Florentino (Florentine Codex). They were particularly excited to see the facsimile of the 16th-century Mesoamerican manuscript (which currently is held by the Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy). Before their visit, the students had studied a section of this ethnographic piece by the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún.
Among some of the other materials that the Pritzker students learned about were a manuscript of trial proceedings from the Spanish Inquisition, the first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (currently celebrating its bicentennial), and a Bible illustrated by the Spanish surrealist artist, Salvador Dalì. Two students were particularly intrigued by a portfolio of linocut prints by the Mexican artist Sergio Sánchez Santamaría. They remarked that the images were extremely pretty and were also intrigued when they saw the original linocut used to produce the print sitting next to the print.
Whether just starting school or already in the midst, students can discover a rich and exciting world of materials that too often are not part of their general studies. The texts and images provide valuable content, but being able to engage with the physical objects offers an experience like no other. Being able to feel how well made paper was in the fifteenth century or coming into physical contact with a book that has survived over five hundred years and that has a distinguished lineage or seeing the very piece of linoleum that had been carved to make the finished print excites the mind as the facial expressions and questions and comments of all of these students demonstrated.
ECDC and Pritzker are a couple of examples of groups beyond Notre Dame’s undergraduate and graduate classes that have visited Rare Books and Special Collections. We appreciate instructors taking time to bring their classes and enjoy working with all of these students and instructors. We encourage others groups, whether Pre-K, elementary, middle, or high school and even groups from other organizations to visit Rare Books and Special Collections. If you are interested in visiting, please contact us. We are happy to talk about what your students are studying and what their interests are to identify materials from our collections that would be the most relevant to enhance their learning and stimulate their imaginations.
Rare Books and Special Collections would like to extend its appreciation to all of the people involved in making the visits of ECDC and Pritzker College Prep happen. To the teachers and teacher aides, to the administrators, the parents, and, most importantly, to the students themselves—excited and curious about the old and new, the traditional looking and not so traditional looking, the familiar and the foreign—THANK YOU.
Teaching a class at Notre Dame? We invite you to bring your students to Special Collections: freshmen, undergraduates of all levels, grad students, or fellow faculty for that matter.
Teaching a class elsewhere in the Michiana area? We invite you to bring your students—of any age level—to Special Collections, too.
Special Collections offers a wide range of instruction from show-and-tell sessions that introduce students to materials from 2400 BC to present to specialized instruction tailored to course syllabi and assignments. Our staff is more than happy to work with instructors to tailor sessions to meet their needs.
We hold strong collections pertaining to: Dante, Italian literature, American Catholicism, Antebellum and Civil War America, American Sports, History of Science, Irish Literature and History, and Latin American and Early Modern Hispanic Literature and History. We also have a growing collection of medieval manuscripts as well as a substantial collection of medieval manuscript facsimiles. Our political and cultural materials of the Soviet Union and the Russian Diaspora to Europe and the United States is another area of recent development for the department.
Special Collections also runs our own workshop series. We currently offer Archival Research Skills and Introduction to Special Collections: From Clay Tablet to Graphic Novel. Coming in 2017-18 are two new workshops: History of the Printed Book in the West and The Book as Object. All of these workshops provide hands-on experience working with materials to reinforce the concepts covered.
Examples of classes we have taught sessions for recently:
Iowa City, the only UNESCO City of Literature in North America, hosted the 58th annual Rare Books and Manuscript Section (RBMS) Conference June 20-23, 2017. This city’s vibrant literary and book arts community provided an ideal setting for the venue, “The Stories We Tell.”
RBMS’s 2017 conference focused on the role of storytelling in the mission and daily work of special collections. Over four days of papers, seminars, participatory sessions, and workshops, attendees discussed how telling a compelling narrative forms the heart of cultural heritage work. Narratives are the foundations for writing traditional scholarly monographs, but they also inform the encoding of digital humanities landscapes, building collections, designing courses and exhibitions, and many other endeavors special collections specialists undertake.
Plenary speaker, Micaela Biel (professional storyteller and Ph.D. candidate in Educational Theater at New York University) launched into a gripping story—too long to recount here—that engrained in the audience’s minds the four absolute musts of a compelling story:
stakes: what the conditions were to make it matter;
change: transition from one world to another;
theme: tell a story and let the audience gather the theme;
show, don’t tell.
In a nutshell, “Stories are finding the thread of meaning through a collection of memories.” For special collections professionals, Biel stresses the importance not to tell people what collections mean but to let the collections tell a story. We should open a space for people themselves to make meaning of the collections.
Commitment to Diversity
“. . . we are gathered on the land of the indigenous people of Iowa City,” reverberated through Englert Theatre as Petrina Jackson (Head of Special Collections and Archives, Iowa State University) welcomed attendees at the first plenary session, opening the first full day of “Stories We Tell.” Jackson’s recognition of an often overlooked people foreshadowed one of the major themes that emerged during the remaining sessions, RBMS’s commitment to diversity.
A key component of its vision and mission is RBMS’s commitment to a diverse profession and to collections representing all voices. RBMS recognizes that it needs to bring greater diversity to its membership and has made a concerted effort to attract, mentor, and support “people of any race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and physical ability” as stated in RBMS’s Statement on Diversity. The effect of RBMS’s on-going efforts were demonstrated in the remarks by speakers of the various sessions, by the conference attendees themselves, over 300 scholarships awarded for first-time attendees, pairing new members with more experienced RBMS members to acquaint them with the conference and other members, and programming addressing diversity both directly and indirectly.
A call for change—Panel speakers from George Washington University, the University of California, Riverside, and Columbia University challenged the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) statement in 2009 that special collections “define the uniqueness and character of individual research libraries.” They argued that this perspective separates special collections from the rest of the library and that this causes others in the library to view special collections, in fact, as “separate or ‘other’ to the larger library system.” This idea that special collections is a library’s “crown jewel” and that its “unique treasures” are what will distinguish the library from other libraries is misguided.
It is of fundamental importance as libraries face budget cuts, shortage of staff, and increasing needs and demands of users that special collections establish itself within the library as part of the whole and work together with all library faculty, staff, and administrators. Our message to our users and to our colleagues at our own institutions should be that we are part of the library and not the privileged gatekeepers of the library’s crown jewels.
Rare Books and Manuscript Section, more commonly referred to by its acronym, RBMS, is a section of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). Tracing its roots to 1948 and a mission to increase understanding about the value of rare books in scholarly research and improving the care, use, and recognition of rare books in libraries, RBMS has expanded its scope to include the broad range of special collections from rare printed books to manuscripts, archives, ephemera, graphics, and music. RBMS has assumed a leading role in the local, national, and international communities to represent and promote the interests of librarians, curators, and other specialists who concern themselves with the use, preservation, security, and administration of special collections.
RBMS is currently comprised of over 1750 members who represent librarians, curators, students, rare book sellers, conservators, and others interested in special collections. Members share the values of the library profession and are committed to the principles of fairness, freedom, professional excellence, and respect for individual rights. Because of the additional responsibilities special collections librarians have that arise from being entrusted with caring for cultural property, preserving original artifacts, and supporting scholarship based on primary research materials, special collections professionals adhere to the Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians and are expected to demonstrate “the highest standard of behavior . . . [because] propriety is essential to the maintenance of public trust in the institution and in its staff.”
As she read through seven or eight albums, Jenifer realized that they not only gave her, as she states in an email interview with Special Collections, “a really good look into the lives of young women in the 19th century—especially how their friendships played out”—but that they also provided unexpected access to the young women writers themselves. Her close reading of the texts told her “a lot about young women’s friendships,” but more interestingly, it revealed an interesting preoccupation these women had with “ideas of eternity and things that are everlasting.”
Given the dearth of scholarship on friendship albums, Jenifer’s project is a welcome addition. Her research, in particular, expands upon a topic that two historians, Anya Jabour and Catherine Kelly, according to Jenifer, only briefly mention, namely the enduring nature of friendship. During her analysis of the albums, Jenifer examined the messages friends left to the album’s owner as well as the physical artifacts themselves.
One particularly fruitful investigation centered around the album of Harriet Curry. Jenifer noticed that a note, “drowned in Lake Erie,” after an entry by Abby Jane Williams differed in color from the ink used in the entry. This began Jenifer’s search to verify if Williams did drown in Lake Erie and to identify who wrote that note. Jenifer recounts:
After some online searching using the search terms “Abby Jane Williams” and “Lake Erie,” I found a book titled Lloyd’s Steamboat Directory, and Disasters on the Western Waters (published 1856) that detailed the account the burning of the steamer Erie in 1841. Among the listed dead was a Mrs. Giles Williams. I was later able to corroborate that this was the same Williams who had left an entry in Harriet Curry’s friendship album by locating her record on ancestry.com and findagrave.com, which confirmed that Abby Jane’s husband was indeed named Giles. Giles apparently survived the boat’s burning.
Still to be resolved was who wrote the note. After further analysis of the album’s contents, Jenifer concluded that “drowned in Lake Erie” was written by Harriet Curry herself. This was in line with similar notes in the diary “denot[ing] when one of her friends had gotten married, moved away, or died.” Jenifer further explains, “This, to me, showed that even after years had passed, Harriet still cared about her friends. Her friendship lasted forever, just like many of her friends wrote in her friendship album.”
The Curry example was but one among numerous pieces of evidence that Jenifer located in the albums she consulted to argue that these albums contained an “exhortation to . . . trust in everlasting eternal things,” rather than “temporal things that would eventually pass away.” She identified that there were certain everlasting qualities valued by these women; these were “God, prayer, and friendship itself.” Her research brought her to the conclusion that these young women writers:
valued the everlasting over the ephemeral. Transitory things such as youth, beauty, and suffering were dismissed in favor of enduring communion with God and friends. Friendship, of course, was the ultimate enduring joy to these women, and the survival of their friendship albums through to the present day proves the unending nature of their affections.
Jenifer Blouin earned her BA in History from Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana in 2015 and expects to earn her MA in Public History from Western Michigan University in December 2017. Her research focuses on the historical significance of cemeteries as sites of memory and cultural resources. More generally, Jenifer is interested in gender and women’s history.
Special Collections thanks Jenifer for her time and for sharing the results of her research that brought the friendship albums in our collections to light. We also appreciate the review she wrote of our department for the American Historical Association’s Archives Wiki.