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Impressions from Iowa City

Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories

Before the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao: the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, by Frank O. Gehry Architects (1992). Photo by Jared Ash

Every year, rare book and special collections librarians, curators, conservators, and associates gather to discuss issues related to the field at a conference known as RBMS. RBMS is an acronym for the Rare Books and Manuscript Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), which is a division of the American Library Association (ALA). The 2017 RBMS Conference, hosted in June by the University of Iowa Libraries in Iowa City, offered workshops, presentations, and roundtables on best practices and innovation in special collections security, management, cataloguing, outreach, instruction, social media, diversity, and digital resources.

This year's theme, "The Stories We Tell," focused on narrative, representation, and memory to look at storytelling in special collections. Thomas J. Watson Library has its own special collections, and two Watson staff members attended: Jared Ash, Slavic and special collections librarian, and Annalise Welte, senior library associate, who attended as a scholarship recipient. Learning from panels and discussions with others from the rare-books community, Annalise and Jared brought valuable information and ideas back to Watson Library.

Englert Theatre

RBMS participants in front of Iowa's famous Englert Theatre. (Left to right: Suzanne Im; Danijela Matkovic; Judit Balassa; Melissa Robohn; Rose Oliveira; Rachael Acheson; Angie Soto; Annalise Welte)

Panel discussions, seminars, and workshops took place all across Iowa City and the University of Iowa campus. There were even sessions held in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum. It was amazing to learn about current international trends and best practices for rare materials in such an austere and historic building. One such seminar was "Future of Bibliographic Data," in which the latest projects for cataloguing incunabula (books printed in Europe before 1501) were discussed. These included Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI), organized by the Consortium of European Research Libraries; Incunabula Short Title Catalog (ISTC), created by the British Library; and Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (GW) at the State Libraries of Berlin; as well as Atlas of Early Printing, a project by the University of Iowa Libraries.

The Old Capitol Museum

The Old Capitol Museum, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa. Photo by Jared Ash

Voxman Music Building

Ceiling in the Voxman Music Building, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa. Photo by Annalise Welte

Another panel held in the Senate Chamber featured three master fine-press printers (Peter Rutledge Koch, Russell Maret, and Gaylord Schanilec) discussing the connection between their work and early printed publications that have inspired them. Maret, a New York–based artist whose work draws extensively on letter forms from antiquity, mentioned in his presentation that his general working process when developing a new book includes weekly visits to The Met for inspiration. (Watson Library holds an extensive collection of books by Maret, including his latest publication, Roma Abstract, which he unveiled at the conference).

Panel discussion

Panel discussion and presentation on fine-press printing in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum with Russell Maret at the lectern. Photo by Jared Ash

Roma Abstract

Interior spread from Russell Maret, Roma Abstract: An Alphabet (New York: Russell Maret, 2017). Photo by Jared Ash

Another seminar highlight was "Today's Rare Materials: A 90-Minute Bootcamp on Description and Access." In this session, seven presenters spoke about a wide range of rare materials that can create challenges to traditional cataloguing and description standards. From board games to comics and zines, many different types of materials were addressed.

Annalise Welte

Senior Library Associate Annalise Welte in the rare-book room of the Rita Benton Music Library, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa. Photo by Jared Ash

Breaks between sessions allowed opportunities for site visits to many of the university's exhibition galleries, special collections, and specialized libraries across the campus, including the Art Library, Music Library, Medical Library, and Main Library. The university made quite an impression, and the libraries' staff went out of their way to welcome us, graciously providing behind-the-scenes tours of their rare-book facilities and access to the collections.

Art Library at the University of Iowa

Reading room envy: Art Library at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa. Photo by Jared Ash

Power to the Printers

Participants were able to see the University of Iowa Main Library Gallery exhibition Power to the Printers: The Alternative Press in Iowa City, 1965-1985. This exhibition included materials from the University Archives and the Iowa Women's Archives. Photo by Annalise Welte

The University of Iowa Libraries have exceptional special collections. For the occasion, the libraries organized a display for conference attendees that featured highlights from the Iowa Women's Archives, the International Dada Archive, the Charlotte M. Smith Collection of Miniature Books, and the James L. "Rusty" Hevelin Collection of Pulps, Fanzines, and Science Fiction Books, among others.

Toppan ultra micro books

Toppan ultra-microbooks published by Toppan Printing Co., Ltd., Tokyo, 1980. Three books, each of which are printed in 2 x 2 mm versions (at left), and 20 x 20 mm versions (at right). From the Charlotte M. Smith Collection of Miniature Books, Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa. Photo by Jared Ash

Attending the conference was a nice reminder that as busy as we are with our daily responsibilities for Watson Library, it is always worth taking a little time for professional development to confer with, and learn from, our colleagues.

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