I’m so excited to have the chance to go back to Hack Library School for a minute to talk with Stefanie about my experiences bringing rare books to the prison classroom, advocating for work with underserved communities, and what I’m hoping for the future.
…Is up in our Archives’ digital repository (with huge thanks to my colleagues JoyEllen Freeman and Armando Suarez). If you aren’t able to get to the exhibit and want to see what artifacts we used or access the catalog for research, go to this link.
Added bonus: You can see our ever-growing collection of collection finding aids, catalogs from past exhibits, and more. We’ve been making finding aids and inventories of different intellectual areas within our collection so that researchers and other interested folks have multiple access points to understand what we have under a given topic. Keep an eye out for more information about our culinary history collection (which includes the Pavesic Restaurant History and Reference collection), and our children’s literature.
Just like I did for my recent rare book and beer pairing event, I wanted to share a few quick thoughts about the work I’ve been doing with incarcerated scholars in the hopes that it’s helpful for other rare books/museums folks who want to include prisons in their outreach iniatives. I have a million other thoughts about how amazing and challenging it is, but this post is just for quick outreach take-aways.
Why do this?
By now it’s no secret that my goal in life is to bring rare books (and museum artifacts in general) to people who want to learn from them but have never been given the opportunity (serving underserved populations, if you want to use field lingo). When I think about a population that is underserved in pretty much every possible way, I think of people who are incarcerated. Many current and former prisoners can’t vote, have limited access to educational resources in prison, and have trouble finding work or funding for an education once they are released. This is in addition to the fact that few prisons offer meaningful programming that discourages recidivism, even though such programs (like Common Good, or like this rehabilitation work) are effective and badly wanted by prisoners.
I just finished giving a presentation for NFAIS on building expanding audiences and empowering community members through unlikely collaborations. The audience, as well as Marcie who was the moderator/cat wrangler/problem solver, were all fantastic and I had a great time chatting with them. I wanted to offer a few highlights from the talk for folks who weren’t able to attend but who are thinking about their own outreach programs.
NB: I focused on rare books since that’s the area I work in, BUT these guidelines could be used for outreach with all sorts of artifacts across many cultural heritage institutions.
Why talk about this? Because outreach is critical for increased access and community empowerment
Special collections historically very exclusive
Often limited to those doing research or in academic/special library settings
Historically excludes those without access to education and other resources
Often we do not reach beyond these walls, meaning most potential visitors are not aware of what we have to offer.
Physical access is also an issue (e.g. can someone get to campus? Do they need a certain ID or enrollment/employment status to use your services?)
Even for those who have access, perceived access may be a totally different matter. Special collections often feel intimidating for the uninitiated, and concerns about whether one has access or what expectations are in a special collections environment can overshadow the desire to engage with collections and programs.