Reflections from RBMS 2015

Special Collections librarians are constantly learning–both from the collections we curate and from each other.  We share our research, knowledge, and best practices through journals and the meetings of professional societies.

The Bancroft Library is the University of California Berkeley's rare book and manuscript repository
The Bancroft Library is the University of California Berkeley’s rare book and manuscript repository

In late June, I traveled to Oakland and Berkeley, California to attend the conference of one such professional society, the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, better known as RBMS.  The topic of the RBMS 2015 Conference was “Preserve the Humanities! Special Collections as Liberal Arts Laboratory.”  Session topics ranged from incorporating digital humanities, engaged collection development, community archives, and, of course, instruction with Special Collections materials.  You can find a full schedule of the RBMS 2015 Conference program here.

For myself, RBMS 2015 was inspirational.  Ethics, the politics of collection development, innovative practices, instruction, and outreach were all up for discussion during the conference.

Sather Gate, The University of California Berkeley
Sather Gate, The University of California Berkeley

Having spent the spring semester immersed in rare book instruction, most (though not all) of the sessions I chose to attend at RBMS 2015 related to instruction and public services.  I took over eighteen pages of notes over the course of 10 sessions (including three plenaries).  My favorite sessions focused on breaking down the barriers that keep students and researchers from visiting Special Collections, and raised the question of how to best provide access to Special Collections materials.  With this in mind, three especially notable sessions were:

Seminar H: Meeting Researchers Where They Are: A User-Driven Manifesto

The presenters of this seminar wrote a “manifesto,” advocating that user needs should drive all aspects of a Special Collections library–from technical services to public services, and then presented on their efforts to do so at their institutions.

Seminar K: Mess is Lore: Navigating the Unwieldy World of Social Media

Panel presenters centered their discussion around the idea of social media as a conversation with users.  Special Collections libraries can use social media to highlight their holdings, but at its best, social media is a conversation.

Papers Panel 10: Special Collections and Credit Courses: Opportunities and Challenges

In designing a for credit class on the history of the book, presenter Anne Bahde approached her class visits to Special Collections as a science teacher would approach a “lab session”–an opportunity for hands on learning.  Scheduling four Special Collections for her semester long class, she further broke down each visit thematically, allowing the students’ knowledge to build with each visit.

This is just a brief sample of some points that stuck with me, a week after I’ve returned to Florida.

For those interested in attending a future RBMS conference: RBMS 2016 is in Coral Gables, Florida.

I look forward to attending again next year!

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