Friday, July 5, 2013

30th Year Reflections/50: RBMS

“We must grasp fully who, or more correctly what, our performer is. We must eliminate from the word ‘performer’ any notion that he is one who merely reproduces what someone else or even he himself has composed…. Our singer of tales is a composer of tales. Singer, performer, composer, and poet are one under different aspects but at the same time. Singing, performing, composing are facets of the same act.” — Albert B. Lord, quoted by James P. Ascher in the vade mecum of the 54th Annual RBMS Preconference

Last week I soaked up one of my favorite annual events: the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) Preconference. RBMS, as the name implies, is a section of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). I was a member of the local arrangements committee and thoroughly enjoyed the experience (although it meant some early mornings and long days). If given the chance, I highly recommend participation in a local arrangements committee (or program committee) for a conference such as this. Our committee was led by two of my colleagues, Marguerite (Maggie) Ragnow and Arvid Nelsen. They did a splendid job; it was a joy to work with them and other members of the committee.

Perhaps the most backbreaking thing I did in conjunction with getting ready for the conference was stuffing the conference tote bags (and hauling the boxes out from the back room when more bags were needed at the registration desk). It took us about five hours to fill four hundred tote bags with all the information related to the conference, the book dealer’s catalogs, local information, etc. (Thanks to Rob Rulon-Miller for sponsoring this year’s bags and everything else he did for the conference.) Given my height, bending over the spread of tables to put each piece (or pile of pieces) into the bag took a small toll on my back, but such little pains come with the job. I’ve come to the conclusion that anyone working with archival materials will eventually come down with a bad back, unless they’re especially attentive to the proper way to lift.

But enough about boxes, bags, and backs. Naturally, I have a local bias, but I think we did the Twin Cities proud with this conference. Our welcoming reception at the Mill City Museum was spectacular, the final plenary at Pantages Theatre very fitting to the conference theme, our various tours to “bookish” places delightful and informative, and the concert by the Rose Ensemble memorable. In between all the receptions, tours, concert, and other pleasures was a full schedule of seminars, talks, and discussions. Because I was involved in local arrangements I did not get to sit in on all the programming, but what I did experience was insightful and inspiring. At a seminar on bibliography I experienced the bibliographic equivalent of a straight-line wind in the presentation by Stephen Tabor from the Huntington Library. His research over the past two decades blew me away. Likewise, I enjoyed a bit of heat and light in another seminar on curators and book dealers, as the discussion following presentations centered on the continued use and value of dealers’ printed catalogues. At an “unconference” with colleagues in Midwestern institutions we participated in a wide-ranging discussion on professional development, collaboration, internships, exhibits, and other topics. I think we may have stumbled upon a few ideas worth pursuing, e.g. developing information RBMS unconferences for those unable to attend the “main event” due to diminishing travel funds, or creating a regional discussion list for sharing questions and issues closer to home.

Conferences such as RBMS help us grow and develop professional awareness and skills. They help us network and make new connections. Hats off to James Ascher and other members of the RBMS program planning committee for a very thought-provoking and useful conference. I hope everyone who attended RBMS in Minneapolis enjoyed their stay and had a chance to experience a bit of what we get to enjoy every day.

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