Special Collections Unit is Reorganized

Project designed to make collections more accessible to scholars, students, public

Release Date: December 9, 2004 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo Libraries have announced the reorganization and technological updating of their Special Collections Unit, which includes the University Archives, Rare Books Collection and world-famous Poetry Collection, and has named Michael Basinski, Ph.D., as curator of the Poetry Collection.

The project, which will make the collections much more accessible to scholars and to the public, is being directed by Stephen M. Roberts, assistant vice president for university libraries, and interim director of special collections, and John Edens, assistant director of the Libraries' technical services, manages the Libraries' database manager and, for 18 months, has served as interim university archivist.

They have been given a broad charge to reinvigorate and update the units -- which house rich literary and historical resources -- over the course of the next two to three years. Roberts says they expect to hire a University Libraries Preservation Officer who will oversee preservation across the Libraries, but who will work out of and focus primary attention on Special Collections.

Once the above-referenced plans are complete, Roberts says he and Edens will conclude their interim assignments with the hiring of a permanent director of special collections and a university archivist, who will partner with Basinski to carry the work of UB's Special Collections into the 21st century. Basinski replaces Robert Bertholf, Ph.D., who had served as curator of the Poetry Collection since 1979.

Roberts recently spearheaded the extensive reorganization of units in the UB Libraries that support the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

Edens has devoted considerable efforts to the restructuring, description, and organization of the Archives and oversaw the cataloging of the Rare Books Collection. His work builds, says Roberts, on that accomplished by Christopher Densmore, who left UB to become curator of the distinguished Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College, and, for many years before him, that of Shonnie Finnegan, librarian emerita and a fellow of the Society of American Archivists who established the University Archives and built them into the largest and most comprehensive within SUNY.

As the unit's name implies, the materials in Special Collections are unique, valuable, and, often, old and fragile. Unlike most of the other three million physical volumes that reside on open stacks throughout the Libraries, the books, manuscripts, letters, photographs, and other media in Special Collections are housed under secured, carefully controlled conditions and are retrieved upon request for in-house use only.

Each year, the collections attract scholars from around the world work with materials such as the James Joyce's original notebooks and drafts for his famous novels, "Ulysses" and "Finnegans Wake;" the manuscripts of poet William Carlos Williams and the Frank Lloyd Wright/Darwin D. Martin Collection.

"Advancements in computer technology and Internet access that have totally transformed the rest of the University Libraries' system make it feasible and practical to catalog, describe, and even reformat major portions of Special Collections to show the world more effectively what UB owns, and to make many of the items more accessible," says Roberts.

"Subject to copyright compliance, information technology makes it possible to mount digital facsimiles on the Web of treasured objects such as the Poetry Collection's visual poetry collection, for example, and other rare print facets of the Rare Book Collection," he says. "This will expand greatly their accessibility and use in research and instruction by those who would otherwise have to travel to Buffalo for that purpose.

"With this in mind, we have begun a multi-year upgrade and reorganization of the collections," he says, "and will create a new staffing structure, physical environment, and technological infrastructure that will facilitate that process."

Basinski, who received his doctorate in English from the UB, is an acknowledged expert on modern poetry and has worked in several capacities for the Libraries. He has been the associate curator of the Poetry Collection since 1993 and is the Poetry Area chair for the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association national conference.

His scholarly work has focused on small-press poetry. He is a working artist and visual, concrete and performance poet whose work is published regularly in literary magazines. He currently is working on a critical study of underground writer Charles Bukowski and a book of critical essays on poet Gerald Locklin. He regularly contributes articles on these poets and others to journals, encyclopedias, and reference books.

Basinski has written dozens of small books of various forms of poetry. His visual poetry has been exhibited this year at Harvard University, The University of Maine at Orono, The Burchfield-Penney Gallery in Buffalo and the Oculus Gallery in Tokyo. His performance group, BuffFluxus, comprised of UB graduate and undergraduate poets and performance artists, performs nova- and retro-Fluxus works on a regular basis.

Bertholf, says Roberts, has been named Charles D. Abbott Scholar of Poetry and the Arts "in honor of his distinguished career as a scholar and administrator and to give him a long-awaited and well-deserved opportunity to focus his full attention on research in 20th-century poetics."

Roberts adds that over the next few years, collection-level catalog records will be created that summarize each of the relevant groupings of materials in Special Collections. These will be added to WorldCat, the largest and most comprehensive database of its kind created and maintained collectively by more than 9,000-member institutions of the Online Community Library Center (OCLC), the nonprofit computer library service, which will broadcast what UB owns to scholars around the world.

Detailed, Web-based finding aids will be created to explicate what items UB owns, providing, for example, a complete list of the manuscripts or letters or photographs referenced by a given WorldCat record.

"The stack space in Special Collections will be expanded and the collections will be shifted to enhance retrieval," Roberts says. "The reading room will be updated, its security tightened, and facilities upgraded to encourage professors to use the space for classes and seminars. A Reading Room manager was recently hired to head this public services operation.

"Special Collections materials will be systematically digitized both to preserve the originals and, as described above, to facilitate their use in a Web-enabled environment," he says.

Edens adds that grant funding and endowments will be pursued to expand Special Collections, support staffing and assist in creating Internet access.

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