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Rare Books, a Tiger, and Pecan Pie

The following is a guest post by Dr. Meredith Shedd-Driskel, Law Curator of our rare book collection. She recently attended the 52nd Annual Preconference of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries held prior to the American Library Association’s annual conference.  Held in Baton Rouge, the theme of this year’s preconference was “In the Hurricane’s Eye: Challenges of Collecting in the 21st Century.”

Rare Book Display, RBMS Preconference

As the solo curator in the Law Library, attending this preconference was indispensable for keeping abreast of current trends in rare book and special collections management. Issues such as preservation and access are especially important for our collections. The preconference began with a Booksellers’ Showcase and Reception co-sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), which put us all in the mood for the array of lectures, seminars, and discussions which occurred over the following few days.

After a morning welcome and opening plenary session on June 22, I attended a seminar entitled “Digital Intermediation of Physical Stuff: How Technology Influences the Movement of Books from Bookseller to Curator to Cataloger to Professor,” presented by Andrew Gaub, an associate of Bruce McKittrick Rare Books in Narberth, Pa.; Heather Cole, a librarian at Harvard’s Houghton Library, and James P. Ascher, Assistant Professor and Rare Book Cataloger, University of Colorado at Boulder.  Among the topics discussed were the utility and accuracy of booksellers’ descriptions, the digitization and remediation of historic materials, and the role of curators in the evolving and challenging special collections environment.

Statue in front of the Mike the Tiger habitat.

The next day shuttle buses took us to the campus of Louisiana State University. Of immediate interest to me was a visit to briefly admire “Mike the Tiger,” a real live big cat and the LSU mascot, who lives in a large zoo-like enclosure with his own wading pool right outside the football stadium!  After listening to another plenary session concerning special collections and the value of academic libraries, I attended an open discussion addressing the hidden costs of hidden collections, in which participants described problems encountered in their institutions and their efforts to deal with them.  Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress, offered a variety of useful comments and suggestions to the group.

That afternoon I attended a fascinating slide presentation by Michael Desmond, Associate Professor of Architecture, concerning the planning of the historic campus in the early 20th century.  Afterwards I attended a seminar entitled “Next Generation Library Catalogs and Cataloging,” presented by Jackie Dooley, OCLC Research; Aislinn Sotelo, UC San Diego; and Eric Lease Morgan, University of Notre Dame.  Mr. Morgan spoke to the group via Skype, which was my first-ever experience with this new technology!  He stressed that with the advent of full-text content, finding information is much less difficult than it used to be, and explained that “next generation catalogs” are actually indexes, and that the increasingly popular name for them is “discovery systems.”  What such systems provide are tools and interfaces to make the use and understanding of information easier.  He then discussed “text mining,” an automated process for analyzing written works.  As an example of this process, he cited the “Catholic Portal,” created by the Catholic Research Resources Alliance, whose content is harvested from participating member institutions, and which provides item-level indexing of finding aids, direct access to digitized materials, and concordancing services.

The conference concluded with a final networking opportunity in the form of a visit to the Rural Life Museum and Windrush Gardens, a collection of Louisiana vernacular architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries. Over a dinner of spare ribs, cornbread, grits, catfish, and pecan pie, we discussed the issues raised over the previous few days and compared our experiences in our own institutions.

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