Libraries, books, and information on the frontier

Rare Frontier

Guest post: “It’s Showtime, Folks!”: The Evolving Nature of Research and Public Engagement With Performing Arts Collections

Today’s guest post is from Athena Jackson, Special Collections Librarian, University of Miami who will be hosting a talk on public engagement at the 54th Annual RBMS Preconference:

The Last Act: Closing Plenary at the 54th RBMS Preconference
“It’s Showtime, Folks!”: The Evolving Nature of Research and Public Engagement With Performing Arts Collections

Marvin Taylor, NYU

Marvin Taylor, NYU

Starring: Marvin Taylor, as himself (channeling his many characters, if we’re lucky!); Kevin Winkler (in analog, highlighting the digital…how au courant!); Athena Jackson (as the Compass Bearer)

It will be an honor to introduce these two illustrious professionals to RBMS society, in situ! Together, this duet will make you sit-up and stretch your ideas for your home collections as they regale you with their experiences in reigniting the natural vitality, energy, and magic that exists in our performing arts collections for researchers and the public. If you have one script, a few programs, a dozen photographs or a hundred of each in your collections, Marvin and Kevin will encourage you to realize the potential energy existing in these quiet materials eager to be heard/seen/felt again!

Marvin has been active in so many roles at the Fales Library, that it is a challenge (and will require too many commas) to list them all. Suffice it say: Marvin knows performance. At Fales, the theater and film collections span the downtown scene, off-off Broadway, and documents the experimental film and video movements, particularly in the NYC milieu. Marvin is totally aware of the “thingness” and magic in our collections. I’m certain, he will sprinkle some of the latter on the audience so that we,

Kevin Winkler, NYPL

Kevin Winkler, NYPL

too, may celebrate the countless instances of magical “thingness” in our collections back home.

In his solo, Kevin Winkler will address the digital-realm opportunities that exist when considering promotion and outreach. Kevin has a professional history that illuminates a soul deeply committed to performance arts collections. He’s held a variety of leadership roles at The New York Public Library (NYPL), and particularly at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (LPA). He will share ways we can effectively and proactively promote and celebrate our materials in the electronic ether. Indeed, take a glance at this upcoming programming to give you a sense of some of the targeted interests NYPL’s collections feed:

Marvin and Kevin will encourage the captive audience (and yes, these men will keep you captive!) to seriously contemplate:
“what do researchers want?”
“what does our the general public not know about these magnificent collections?” and
“what roles — no role is too small, remember! — can we play to make sure our performance

Athena Jackson, UMiami

Athena Jackson, UMiami

arts collections get the attention they deserve in the reading room and online?”

I am thrilled to be the compass bearer as these men break new ground, explore new opportunities, and dazzle us with their tried-and-realized experiences!

Guest post: Weaving History and Wonder in Media Archaeology Through Recreated Historical Spectacle

Shannon Supple is the Head of Reader Services at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library and is today’s guest blogger:

Two of my favorite things, made better when they coalesce, are history and wonder. One of this year’s three RBMS preconference plenaries features Erkki Huhtamo, Professor of Design + Media Arts at UCLA as well as a media archaeologist, author, exhibition curator, and cultural historian. huhtamo_erkkiProfessor Huhtamo excavates forgotten, neglected, and suppressed media-cultural phenomena and follows the perpetual lives and transformations of clichéd elements of media history. But Professor Huhtamo is also a performer and grand master of ceremonies of what he terms “peep media” – that is, media on the silver screen and in magic lantern slides, panoramas, dioramas, and video games.

For a taste of how Professor Huhtamo weaves together wonder and history, watch “Maréorama Resurrected: An Illustrated Lecture,” a one-hour program which Professor Huhtamo performed, along with musician Stephen L.I. Murphy on the pianoforte, in October 2011 as part of “Art & Code 3D: DIY 3D Sensing and Visualization” at the Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University.

The maréorama was an attraction simulating a sea voyage across the Mediterranean created by a team headed by Hugo d’Alesi for the Exposition Universelle (world’s fair) in Paris in 1900. In this video, Professor Huhtamo reconstructs several sequences from the simulated voyage. The experience is further enhanced by Mr. Murphy’s piano accompaniment and Professor Huhtamo’s commentary and analysis.

In a recent article, the UCLA Daily Bruin newspaper featured Professor Huhtamo’s work as well as his impressive collection of historical optical viewing devices. What does a magic lantern look like? What kinds of devices, slides, paper, and other ephemera does it take to excavate these media? How were these spectacles promoted in their day? What can we learn from them?

This is a mere segment of the tapestry of Professor Huhtamo’s work.  Learn more at O Rare!: Performance in Special Collections, the 54th Annual RBMS Preconference in Minneapolis in June.


Whither is performance in special collections?

To me, a conference is a sort of socially constructed text in the sense of textus for tissue and woven. The event itself becomes a space for discourse that responds to the concepts, ideas, and concerns in libraries and we weave together a conference by asking a question and seeing how our colleagues and friends answer that question.

Gleefully, I’m organizing the 54th Annual Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Preconference and our theme is performance. You can see the whole call here,, but essentially I and the planning team asked what the role of performance was in special collections, archives, and libraries of primary source materials. As a fun experiment, I ran a Wordle of the call, which turned out like this.

CallYou’ll notice a few prominent words, well, one prominent word “performance” but around it words like “historical,” “activities,” “trace,” “things,” “screen,” and so forth. When I look at this Wordle the question it seems to be asking is how do we embody performance in libraries and how do we serve our users who wish to access materials?

The response to this was various and large. We had proposals for papers, for talks, for discussion groups, for unconferences, for tours, for workshops, for seminars, and for extra events. Each of these groups related to the initial question by asking how performance works in their institutions. For comparison, I ran a Wordle of the abstracts and titles of the talks. The word frequency ended up somewhat differently.

ResponseIn this chart you can see a different word dominating, “collections” and “collection.” We also see “performance,” “special,” “materials,” “music,” “book,” “archives,” and–surprisingly–”wikipedia.” So, what does this word frequency tell us about where performance occurs in special collections, archives, and libraries? I see the collections and materials. If we imagine the first image as a question “Performance?” the answer is a resounding “Collections!”

This certainly shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who works in special collections, archives, or primary source material libraries. We all care deeply about our materials and the role they play in researcher’s lives. Who doesn’t get delight from finding the right object that answers a researcher’s question? Or building a collection of materials that opens up new questions in scholarship?

Certainly not the crowd presenting at the 2013 RBMS Preconference. Registration is open and consider joining us to learn more about performance, collections, and a whole bunch more.


Digital Intermediation of Physical Stuff

“How does new digital technology affect book work?” is a central question dealt with by book people of all ilk, but the naive rhetoric often puts the digital in opposition to the physical. This is a false duality. The digital environment can serve the same function as an edited edition or carefully crafted bibliography. Rather than looking as computerization as a break, it’s easy to look at it as just another technological innovation for redistributing and intermediation continuing a long tradition: manuscript, print, photography, line photogravures, screened process photolithography, microprint, microfilm, etc.  Added to this list we now have digital copies, keyed, images, databases, and more.

Recently, Andrew Gaub, Heather G. Cole, Michael Inman and I got together and prepared a talk on this subject for the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section Preconference. It was extremely well received, but sadly situated in time and space. However the glory of the internet allows us to share it in a more permanent form.

Without further ado, I present the full talk text and aide-mémoire that was distributed.

Download A Physical Stuff Aide-Mémoire for the Digital

(It is designed to be printed 2-up on 8.5×11 paper and folded, if you want a copy for your bookshelf. A special thanks to my colleagues, Andrew and Heather, who not only dealt with my pestering, but were able to convert their excellent talks into something written.)

Lists, links, and dreams

Lately, I’ve been thinking a great deal about catalogs, description, lists, and narrative. It seems that some in rare books rooms have come to see library cataloging as somehow distinct from constructing a narrative that places objects under the public eye. Of course, many great catalogers aim to do just this, but for those who don’t understand DCRM(B) type cataloging the work necessarily seems threatening and good curators seek to create additional structures, such as web pages, which duplicate the function of the catalog. Thus, we are often in the situation of DCRM(B) type library cataloging being done once, and then library cataloging (not of the DCRM(B) type) being done again. This seems like a waste of everyone’s time to me.

To solve this, I’ve begun experimenting with methods for drawing data directly out of the MARC-based catalog and incorporating it into other documents. Zotero ( provides a facility for doing this. Yet, the existing stylesheets could not produce exactly what I wanted.

So I wrote this new one. It gives you a Chicago style citation and provides a place for an annotation in the export. You can see an example of this working for the Book History and Bibliography research guide that we are putting together-

Of course what is most important about this is not that it works, but that we now have a bridge from people who know expert cataloging and those who want to write narrative lists. My colleague, Matthew Brower, and I were able to teach a room of mixed librarians how to use the method.

So, what I wonder is whether this is a good idea. Should we be opening up expert description for reuse? I think so, but are there potential drawbacks?