The first day of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section preconference was actually Tuesday, but since most of that day involved getting myself to the conference site (including sitting in stopped-dead LA traffic for about 20 minutes while an accident was cleared) and attending a reception, there was not much to report. Aside from that fact that RBMS is, as always, a complete love fest.
The conference opened yesterday with a welcome by Gary Strong (UCLA) and a keynote by Alice Prochaska (Yale University). Gary was quite eloquent in urging special collections librarians and archivists — “this is our time.” This phrase has been used quite a bit since then, and there’s a real feeling that we (special collections) are at a turning point in terms of gaining recognition and centrality.
The opening session was followed by a plenary on copyright. Maureen Whalen from the Getty spoke about issues in permissions and licensing. Although there was nothing new for me, it was a great talk, and rather more encouraging in tone than some of the talks given on these subjects. Peter Hirtle followed and gave not the usual “Peter Hirtle talk” — instead, he talked about Google Books has sharped our thinking on copyright and licensing. One of his points was, if you look closely, library practices around making materials freely available are just as open to criticism as Google’s practices. Encouraging the creation of proprietary collections is expensive. We are frequently paying for services we don’t want or need (elaborate indexing, when free text searching is what’s most used and useful). Think instead about making materials available in a way that they are open to the most downstream use. This last bit is something we talk about in Programs quite a bit — it’s not just about discovery, it’s also about enabling use. I was pleased that both Peter and Maureen referenced Good Terms. It’s great that our work is getting out there and getting noticed.
The afternoon was given over to seminars. Just quickly, I attended a fabulous presentation by Lisa Berglund (professor of English at Buffalo State College) on teaching rare books to undergraduates. Her students are frequently working, not particularly ambitious (“I’m not interested in learning, I’m interested in getting an education”), and the collections at Buffalo State are not exactly a treasure trove of resources. She’s making it happen, nonetheless. The other seminar presentation of note was from Mattie Taormina from Stanford Special Collections. Mattie has implemented a “beta” digital camera in the reading room policy. I was particularly gratified to see this presentation because there has been a huge amount of talk about whether or not to allow digital cameras in the reading room, but little action. Mattie confirmed my suspicions: her study found that discussions about digital camera use by patrons has been going on for 8 years. Enough! Erika Dowell (Indiana University) introduced this session by saying she’d been inspired by the Digitization Matters symposium we held last year. Again, we’re making a difference and that’s great.
This is in haste, I’m off to the Getty Center for day two.