43rd Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, May 16, “Let me Help You Help Me: Outreach as Preventive Conservation”, Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group

The structure of this session was three brief presentations followed by three breakout groups to discuss each of the presentations, with the presenters rotating between the groups.
Laura McCann, Conservation Librarian at NYU Libraries, was the first presenter and spoke about library training of student employees.
She gave an interesting presentation on the process their library has undergone in developing a more efficient and successful training program for student workers. Originally the Conservation Department of 3 staff members conducted hands-on training of small groups of students through workshops. While this had benefits of being able to design their own teaching content, increasing awareness among para-professional staff about the work of conservation and library materials preservation needs, and improving communication between conservation and other departments, there were problems such as the students being distracted during the workshop or not attending due to scheduling conflicts, and conservation issues not being correctly identified or work being poorly performed by the students when in placement.
By reaching out to the other library departments, a new approach was devised. Now there are fewer sessions and they involve a presentation (not hands-on) and pizza! The students’ managers are present and the sessions are compulsory. This has resulted in less conservation staff time required in training, more students receiving the training and a large increase in the number of library books correctly identified for conservation treatment.
The next step from here is to adapt this model to other situations, such as NYU’s new allied libraries in Brooklyn, Abu Dhabi and Shanghai with the challenges of geography and time differences added to the usual constraints of limited conservation resources and staffing. Ideas that they are exploring include Preservation Training LibGuides and short video tutorials.
Dawn Walus, Chief Conservator at Boston Athenaeum, spoke next about outreach and access at her institution.
The Boston Athenaeum has a wide and varied outreach program. They hold architecture tours of the building, open house events for the public to view spaces such as the conservation laboratory, evening events with their curators, tours and workshops with groups of young children, and an annual conservation fundraising evening. Members have special events such as specific tours and conservation lab visits, and digital images of the collection made by the digitization team feature in a digital photo frame in the membership office.
As well as public encounters, the Boston Athenaeum offers summer institutional exchanges, internships in conservation through a relationship with the North Bennet St bookbinding school, and scholarships for researchers to study the collections available in the research room. They also take advantages of public curiosity of collection institutions through articles in traditional and social media.
This last point linked well to the third speaker, Suzy Morgan, Preservation Specialist at Arizona State University Library, who spoke about using social media to promote conservation.
Social media is a very powerful tool that conservators can use to direct and control the conversation about conservation without the message being misrepresented or diluted by traditional media. She pointed out that it is resource-light, requiring ‘only’ staff time and not expensive equipment, specialized staff (such as IT) or knowledge.
People are very curious about conservation, so there is a fresh audience out there waiting to respond to your efforts. The online community is very interactive, allowing you to have a conversation with both positive and negative responses, and presenting teaching moments as well.
Some advice Suzy gave was to look at how large institutions are using different social media platforms and copy the approaches you like. Be humorous, allow for some silliness, and keep it short. She reminded us tha the work conservators do is very photogenic and social media platforms are ideal for sharing photos, sound clips and short videos, which often represent our work better than text.
Finally, she said that there are lots of resources on the internet to explain ‘how to’; don’t be discouraged by the well-established platforms that large institutions have, be prepared to give it a try – start small take it slowly, and have fun.
Discussion groups
The three presentations were followed by breakout groups where each presenter came to speak to a group about the issues raised in their talk.
Laura McCann:
–        Q: How many students per year do you train?
–        A: About 20 people; they are tied into the general student orientation program for the library. Also, they use short training videos for patrons and para-professionals.
–        Q: Have you made your own training videos?
–        A: No, not yet. Need management approval. Also, some rare book departments might want more hands on or intensive training for their materials.
–        Q: Could we crowd source this?
–        A: In theory some of these information guides should be able to be assembled collaboratively, but each institution will likely want to add their own specific or specialized information. Other ways of distributing information include putting information cards around the library and in the reading room, or using table tents to inform general readers.
Dawn Walus:
–        Q: What is a good/not good age range for children to come and tour a conservation lab?
–        A: Young children can really appreciate a ‘book hospital’ or ‘make a book’ workshop experience and then take home a souvenir to show to siblings and parents; teenagers are hardest to engage – insist on no cell phone usage in the lab
–        Have workshops on old audio-visual equipment, as some people still have these things at home but don’t know how to use them
–        Q: How can you tell is your lab tours or other outreach programs are a success?
–        A: Speak to docents to see if they get questions about conservation programs; have a kids activity table and monitor its usage; talk to membership office and see if have increase in memberships or donations
Suzy Morgan:
–        Q: Is the social media you do part of a larger institutional social media program?
–        A: No, they are personal accounts, but contribute to the library’s larger social media efforts
–        Q: What is your favorite platform and which are the most effective?
–        A: Suzy is into Twitter and Tumblr and having a go with Vine; she hasn’t tried Instagram. Tumblr is easy to start, has no length limit, can post text, photos, video, links etc and also schedule posts for future release. Each platform has its own style; some are more personal and interactive than others. You need to work out your communication style and decide on the audience you want to reach, then write appropriately.
–        Q: Do you have restraints on your content ?
–        A: No, because she is doing it through personal accounts. To avoid onerous institutional policies, it takes time to build management trust in the social media program to see that no inappropriate content is released.
–        Q: Any advice on gaining institutional trust?
–        A: Start by offering to help with the social media program, provide content and slowly build up your involvement. Show examples of other institutions’ successful social media programs to build faith in your own.
–        It was noted that some institutions force staff to spend large amounts of time contributing to social media programs, and that can adversely affect the time available to spend on other work. If this is the case, ask for help from other staff/workshop participants etc and delegate. You could also point back at your job description if social media is not included.

One thought on “43rd Annual Meeting – Book and Paper Session, May 16, “Let me Help You Help Me: Outreach as Preventive Conservation”, Library Collections Conservation Discussion Group”

  1. Those interested in some resources to get them started in social media (including lists of who to follow, on various different sites), can find them on my Tumblr: conservethis.tumblr.com/resources and conservethis.tumblr.com/list

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