The Newberry Library was one of the focal stopping points for the 2012 Bosch Archival Seminar. Our group spent an entire day there, meeting with the directors of various programs, archivists, curators, and librarians and conducting some of our own research at the end of the day. Below is a summary of the individuals we met with as well as some of the “inside” information and tips they offered for conducting successful research at the Newberry and for winning one of the library’s coveted research fellowships.
- Daniel Greene, Vice President for Research and Academic Programs
- Dr. Greene offered us a comprehensive introduction to the Newberry, which has two primary goals (1) to enable scholarship and (2) to generate scholarship. He also talked in some detail about the application process for short-term research fellowships at the Newberry. Among his most valuable tips for crafting a successful application were (1) explain your research in a way that will reach a multi-disciplinary audience, (2) make a solid case that research at the Newberry is necessary to your topic, (3) demonstrate that you have done your work in finding all the relevant materials in the catalog in advance, (4) don’t get discouraged if you don’t win a fellowship on your first try – reapply! Most people don’t win a fellowship on their first attempt.
- Diane Dillon, Director of Scholarly and Undergraduate Programs
- Ms. Dillon led us on a tour of the Newberry, outlined the library’s basic research policies, demonstrated best practices for catalog searching (there are two online catalogs), and contributed greatly to our discussions throughout the day. Some photos from our tour are included in a slideshow below.
- John Brady, Director of Reader Services and Bibliographer of Americana
- Dr. Brady pulled some recently acquired items for our Bosch group to examine based upon our research topics. He offered a great deal of insight into the processes involved in the Newberry’s acquisition of materials. I was surprised to learn that so much marketing is involved – each curator and archivist receives a daily barrage of e-mails and phone calls from dealers specializing in the sale of certain types of historical materials. These materials travel a circuit that includes not just libraries and museums, but also individuals with private collections. Generally the highest bidder wins, which is why historical institutions like the Newberry must constantly work to ensure funding levels remain high enough that they can both care for the items they currently have and acquire new items to build upon existing collections. Acquisitions is a crucial aspect of building strong focus collections and remaining competitive in the world of research.
- Kelly Kress and Lisa Janssen, Project Archivists with Modern Manuscript Collections
- Ms. Kress and Ms. Janssen also pulled some items for our Bosch group to examine, this time from a collection that is currently being processed: the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy (CB&Q) Railroad Collection. Although the CB&Q records have been with the Newberry for decades, the library did not have sufficient funding to fully process the collection until recently. The library applied for and won a National Endowment for the Humanities grant that they are now using to clean, repair, arrange, and describe the CB&Q Collection, a process that will make it much more searchable and usable for researchers. I was particularly delighted to learn this, as I spent three separate research trips in 2010-2011 combing through this previously unprocessed collection as part of my research assistantship with the Papers of William F. Cody Project. Future researchers should get far less soot on their hands than I did! They should also soon have a finding aid to give them detailed idea of what’s in the collection. The Newberry even has a blog, Everywhere West, that shares aspects of the collection’s processing and key documents from the collection with the public.
- James Akerman, Director of the Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartographyand Curator of Maps
- Dr. Akerman utilized over a dozen different artifacts to drive home his point that whatever your research topic, maps can probably aid you in your research and enhance your analysis. When I asked about secondary reading material for the historian lacking experience in cartography Dr. Akerman recommended starting with the following resources: (1) Professor Gerald Danzer’s digital work explaining map analysis to high school teachers. (Dr. Danzer has also written several books on the topic.) (2) From Sea Charts to Satellite Images: Interpreting North American History Through Maps. Although I’m still working through ideas about how an analysis of space and interpretations of the physical environment will fit within my dissertation, Dr. Akerman’s arguments were well-taken and made me excited about the possibilities.
- Jennifer Thom, Interim Director of Digital Initiatives and Services
- Christopher Cantwell, Assistant Director of the Dr. William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture
- Ms. Thom and Dr. Cantwell led our group in a provocative discussion of “Libraries and Research in a Digital Age.” Their presentation focused on the ways the emergence of the Digital Humanities has impacted Newberry Library. I was surprised to learn how extensively the Newberry is engaging with DH issues. Thom and Cantwell are particularly excited about the potential DH offers for collapsing boundaries between scholars, institutions, and the public. They told us about the library’s introduction of programming seminars and workshops for its staff and showcased a number of projects and exhibits developed by the Newberry. The Newberry Digital Exhibitions, Digital Resources, and blogs illustrate the ways the Newberry is taking advantage of the digital medium to advance its core goals of enabling and generating scholarship. It will be interesting to see how the Newberry’s digital work influences other libraries and archives across the nation as the digital revolution progresses.
Next week, I’ll wrap up my commentary on the Bosch with some highlights from our visits to the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and the National Museum of American History.