Past Forward: Inspriation

[This is the fifth and final post in a series on the OCLC Research Library Partnership meeting, Past Forward.]

I’d like to wrap up by touching on a theme that’s sort of hard to express; the almost overwhelming inspiration I took away from this meeting. Many of our speakers (and participants) put forward a beautiful view of the library. When most people think about libraries, they think about the physical — the impressive collections, the stunning reading room. But for me it’s the people who work in and for libraries, and their vision and dedication that I find inspirational. This was highlighted again and again at this meeting, and the somewhat heretical view I came away with is that it’s really not, in the end, about our collections, but instead about the human relationships we build. Those relationships are what will make us stronger and lead us towards success. Collections are secondary.

All of the speakers at this meeting were exemplars of how to cultivate human relationships. The work they shared with us was nothing short of inspiring, and represented difficult, time-consuming, shoulder-to-the-wheel work. They shared their passion, their successes, and just as importantly their failures and challenges.

I really was inspired by all of our speakers, but wanted to share a few moments from the meeting that stood out from the rest, and which have continued to resonate.

Sean Quimby (Syracuse University) reminded us to makes things fun. We all came to work in libraries (or archives or museums) come to this profession because we love the “stuff.” How can we share this love with others? It’s vital that we make things fun.

Kevin Gotkin (our lone scholar, from the University of Pennsylvania) talked about the excitement of doing research, something he’s experienced in his own work and has seen while mentoring in clever and motivated undergraduates. There is a real excitement in finding clues, and connecting hint in order to solve scholarly mysteries. Making collections available to scholars at all levels ignites their passion for research and learning.

Dave Thompson (Wellcome Institute) outlined a vision for the library defined as by and for the user. Are you living in a systems diagram which excludes the user, or potential user? Get out of that diagram and find the user!

Katherine Reagan (Cornell University) faced many challenges with courage. Can’t find the right person to curate your unusual collection? Break the mold in terms of staffing. Facing challenges with a community that questions why the establishment is documenting their heritage? Establish a credible identity. Do not remove voices of the community — instead, explicitly involve them as key stakeholders. Worried about the collection not getting enough use? Conduct massive outreach on campus. Change who can teach. I would do well to live up to her principles: don’t assume; do the right thing.

Liz Chapman (London School of Economics) on the acquisition of the Women’s Collection, and riding out internal and external turmoil: “Patience is a virtue, but so is persistence with passion.”

Remember that all of the presentations (plus links to the videos) can be found on the event website. We look forward to hearing your ideas and reactions to this meeting, or ideas for future work.