Johanna Drucker: The Future of Special Collections Libraries

Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies co-organizes discussion of professional practices, ethics and more at UCLA’s Clark Library, March 7.

A daylong conference on “Sustaining Visions and Legacies: The Future of Special Collections Libraries,” will take place at UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library on Saturday, March 7, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Johanna Drucker, UCLA professor of Information Studies and the Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies, is co-organizing the event with Anna Chen, head librarian of the Clark Library. 

The conference will examine how special collections libraries will be sustained in the near and long-term future, with issues of how sustainability in a holistic sense, encompasses site specificity, community, collections, and special collections. 

“Sustainability is generally thought of in terms of reducing fossil fuel dependence,” says Professor Drucker. “But the challenges are much greater and touch on every aspect of our work.

“These are fundamental ethical issues [that] include the tension between preservation and use of historic sites and grounds, the need to create viable pipelines for future generations of librarians to provide leadership, the high ethical and ecological costs of digitization, the threats posed by inequities in labor and work within the profession, and the possibilities of considering de-accessioning, once a completely taboo topic. In essence, every aspect of our work needs to be considered within the terms of sustainable activity.”

Topics are framed by the challenges facing collections housed in historical sites and buildings, located in communities beyond university campuses, and the challenges posed in terms of the changing communities in which they reside, serve, and take part. 

“The image of special collections libraries as ‘treasure houses’ has shifted as librarians recognize the need for a broader community of stakeholders,” says Drucker. “Who is to determine what aspects of culture are to be preserved, and on what terms, and how these materials are to be characterized and used? Community partnerships are part of an ongoing process and programmatic activity that engages varied constituencies is a crucial aspect of creating vital institutions.”

“Communities have long been considered crucial to the preservation of unique collections such as those found in museums,” notes Ellen Pearlstein, professor of UCLA Information Studies, who also teaches and coordinates the internship program in the UCLA/Getty Program in the Conservation of Ethnographic and Archaeological Materials. “Without the cultural insights that communities provide, preservation of museum and special collections is subject to an artificial and unsustainable neutrality, ignoring the human values these collections hold.”

Speakers will address the thematic, pragmatic, and problematic issues of site-specificity and sustainability in unique heritage collections. Discussions will focus on how holistic sustainability touches every aspect of library activity, including collections development, resource allocation, ethical issues in balancing priorities and juggling professional practices, the use of digitization, programming and outreach, and the changing needs of scholars. Speakers include experts and practitioners from university libraries, the archival community, and private archives and collections. 

UCLA Information Studies will also be represented by Doug Daniels, Courtney Dean, Russell Johnson, Michael Osman, Megan Riley, and Casey Winkleman

Professor Pearlstein says that the future of sustainability lies in the innovation and expertise of UCLA students.

“The conservation and archival fields rely fundamentally on recommendations for energy-intensive controlled climate, use of non-recycled specialized paper enclosures, and dependence on a host of adhesives and solvents originating from fossil fuels,” she says. “These have all been challenged as unsustainable, and UCLA students represent the generation of professionals and researchers who will develop alternative practices.”

The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library is located at 520 Cimarron St., Los Angeles, CA 90018. Admission to “Sustaining Visions and Legacies: The Future of Special Collections” is free of charge; however, advance booking is requested.

To book attendance for this event, or for more information, visit this link.

Above: Johanna Drucker, UCLA professor of Information Studies and the Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies, is co-organizing a daylong conference on the sustainable future of special collections libraries.

Photo by Jennifer Young