VRA 2013, Redesigning Visual Resources Facilities, Whiteside


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Presented by Ann Whiteside at the Annual Conference of the Visual Resources Association, April 3rd - April 6th, 2013, in Providence, Rhode Island.

Session #6: Redesigning Visual Resource Facilities for 21st century Challenges
• Randi Millman-Brown, Ithaca College
• Jon Cartledge, Smith College
MODERATOR: Jon Cartledge, Smith College
• Jon Cartledge, Smith College
“Evaluating the Information Commons Model for Repurposing the Imaging Center”
• Elisa Lanzi, Smith College
“Re-imaging the Imaging Center”
• Randi Millman-Brown, Ithaca College
“Transparencies to Pixels: VRC to VRC”
• Mark Pompelia, Rhode Island School of Design
“Rebirth of Analog: How the Materials Collection Saved the Visual Resource Center”
• Caitlin Pereira, Massachusetts College of Art
“Refreshing the VR at MassArt on a Shoestring”
• Ann Whiteside, Harvard University, Graduate School of Design, Frances Loeb Library
“Transforming the Design Library for the 21st Century”

Endorsed by the Education Committee
Transforming visual resource libraries into modern, digital-savvy VR centers can be an exciting but complicated process. New spaces can become collaborative learning spaces for faculty and students and be on the forefront of new technologies. Speakers will present their planned or recent upgrades and remodels to show how they have utilized resources available to create new spaces with new uses, discussing topics that take the audience from space design theory to planning and practice.
Thursday April 4, 2013 9:05am - 10:25am

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  • Good morning. Our story is that of how we integrated an existing Materials Collection at the Harvard Graduate School of Design into the visual collections in the library.
  • A Materials Collection was begun at the GSD about eight years ago by a faculty member in landscape architecture, with the intent of integrating the study of materials used in the built environment into the curriculum. The collection was housed in a small room off the Fabrication Lab, and down the hall from the library. The space consisted of shelves on three walls, two or three computers, and open only a few hours per week, based on availability of the students who worked in the collection. Use of the collection was very low and it was difficult to expose the collection to the School. The library had theoretical administrative oversight of the Materials Collection, but the faculty advisor and a few students essentially ran all aspects of the collection.
  • In 2010, I met with the faculty member most recently assigned to oversee the Materials Collection, Jane Hutton, and we agreed that the collection should be more integrated into the life of the School but its location made the collection physically invisible. If we could figure out how to move the collection into a more visible space, the collection could be much more integrated into the life of the School. As we talked, it was clear that working more closely with the library seemed Ike the right collaboration, given our staffing, our skills in information organization and management, and our stable and longer hours of operation.
  • In thinking about where in the library to add a collection, the logical place in which we could make space, and have the collection make sense logistically and intellectually was in the visual resources collections space. The visual collections are in a huge space, about 90 feet long by about 25 feet wide. We had slides, historic photographs, maps, plans, and postcards all on site. Slide usage was almost nothing because the digital image collection grows all the time.Further, throughout conversations with the Dean and some faculty that I was having in other contexts, it was clear that their perceptions of the visual collections were not very positive. Not because of the service, but because the idea of the "slide library" is outmoded to the faculty in our school. Further, the most visible sight in the visual collections space, and actually on that level of the library, was the many cabinets of closed slide drawers, which gave a visual cue that images are hidden and not used. And, in a Design School, the slide drawers also signaled “anachronism”. I had concerns about this because the situation gave rise to rumblings about not needing the space or possibly the staff. Here was the opportunity to re-vitalize the visual collections because the materials could be integrated with our digital images by showing projects that use specific materials that we have in the collections. So, the need for the Materials Collection to have a more visible space and stronger support, and our collective desire in the library to become more meaningful and more integrated in the life of the GSD seemed to come together. We embarked on a series of discussions between Jane Hutton, Alix Reiskind, Johanna Kasubowski, and myself. We started with what our goals were, and what problems we would be solving by integrating the materials and visual collections in the library, and what the impact for visual content might be. We wanted to change misperception of the library as static and not very interesting, and perhaps more alarming, the idea that we might not need the staff. We wanted to find a new way to show the library's involvement in the pedagogical issues of the school. We wanted to make the Materials Collection more visible, support its development and management more strongly, and have it more accessible through the library’s open hours of operation. Our discussions led us to the conclusion that we were not going to just move the collection into existing space, but to create a new, integrated set of collections and services within the library. We now had new challenges in front of us. One was the space. The second was to figure out new roles for everyone involved.
  • We then moved on to working with our Head of Facilities and an architect to develop a renovation plan to be implemented during the summer of 2011. We began envisioning a space that included physical collections, work space, space for finding and analyzing collections, and a seminar space that would allow for using the materials collection in teaching. Our space requirements included display spaces and shelving for the materials collection, space for access to digital image collections, staff work space, flat surfaces for working with collections, shelving to hold a reference collection of print books about materials, space for computer workstations for users of the collections, and a seminar space with a moveable wall, walls that allow for pin ups for reviews, and storage space for faculty to store materials between classes. We also had to re-imagine the visual collections, physically and virtually. If we were bringing in a collection that clearly has currency and interest to the School, we had to make decisions about what parts of the visual collections could find other homes.
  • Because of the nature of materials samples, being visually interesting and tactile, they lend themselves to being displayed, rather than put in drawers, out of sight. The historic photographs were not being used by our faculty and students, and so could be stored off site. Our maps and plans collection is eclectic, reflecting various pieces of the curriculum, but not having a particular theme, and again, with so many maps and mapping resources available online and elsewhere at Harvard, it made sense to weed those, offering some things to the Harvard Map Library, and de-accessioning others. We retained a small, working collection of maps and plans on site. The DVD collection was moved out into the main part of the library, near the print reference collection, and is now a mostly circulating collection, and is browsable. The process gained us much space, and in the case of the DVDs, allowed us to make that collection much more accessible and useable.
  • We agreed that we needed to highlight and make most visible the materials collection, while simultaneously helping faculty and students to make connections between materials samples, images, and other collections in the library. We decided to use multiple ways to display the materials collection - using existing shelving, but adding lighting to the shelves to showcase the collection, and for larger materials, by employing baker’s racks, and utilizing drawers and cabinets with surfaces on the tops for studying.
  • We have a seminar space, though not with the walls we wanted (this became both a cost and political issue so we abandoned the wall concept). We have a series of staff work spaces that provide space beyond desks. The area includes counters, additional lighting, and space to do collaborative work. The result is a space that is a combination of collection and lab space, that is used by staff, faculty, and students, and is a place in the library that is sought after by several faculty as a teaching space. Once the space was done, the intellectual work of transforming and merging services, and changing roles began. In the old space, Jane, our faculty advisor, managed everything, including hiring students to work on the collection, researching new materials, obtaining the materials, overseeing the data entry in the database, and integrating the collection into the pedagogy of the curriculum. Our library staff oversaw the building of the digital image collection, managing the maps and plans, and other collections; cataloging; managing digitization workflow; and assisting faculty and students in finding and using collections. Moving the materials collection into the visual collections space offered the opportunity to have staff participate in many of the operations of both the materials and visual collections.
  • Our first big event as we began the academic year was an "opening" that featured an exhibition of materials with visual images of the materials being used in the built environment. The opening was very exciting, as we had over 60 people from the school show up, and it generated huge excitement across the school. This event was a signal event for the school as it showed the library in a new light that reflects the contemporary issues of the GSD. It reflects a new kind of collection and collection building and offers a new way to utilize space within the library. The rest of the year was focused on library staff learning about the materials collection, and Jane and student employees learning how the library works, and what it could offer to the materials collection.In order to effect the changes we were looking for, library staff met regularly with Jane to talk about how to start transferring the work of managing the materials collection to the library. I think the challenge for all was to figure out how to transfer knowledge. Jane had been the point person for all things materials, and yet many of the issues are library-like. During this first year, Jane and her students continued to find materials samples for the collection, and continued the cataloging. Library staff worked on learning enough about the collection to provide assistance for those wanting to use the collection. At the same time, we also began to lay out a path for a new database to manage the collection, in collaboration with Mark and his institution. In hindsight, I think that working on the database helped to make the transfer of knowledge happen more easily. We worked with Jane to think about how to re-envision the database, and the expertise about databases and metadata that library staff have, along with Jane's subject expertise, allowed for the knowledge transfer to happen through the course of discussions, rather than through division of operational tasks.
  • The move of the materials collection into the visual resources space has had several positive impacts for the library and the visual collections. One, the visual collections space has content that is visual and tactile, which draws people into the space. Secondly, the materials collection is a hot topic in the School, and is becoming integrated into the pedagogy, and yet is housed in the library, which lets people see the integration of library content and pedagogy (something not always understood). Thirdly, I have to say, the space looks contemporary and reflective of the activities in the GSD, which is a draw for students. Some examples of use of the visual and materials collections include on-site classes on Lifecyle Design; meetings with groups of students and faculty from the GSD and the School of Engineering; collaboration with the Fabrication Laboratory; and students from all disciplines using the collections for inspiration, representation studies, and so on.
  • This transformation is part of a larger transformation of all of us in our library, reflective of the changes we are all engaged in within our profession. We have created a new space that offers a new way to perceive visual collections, as well as all our collections. And working with a faculty member to create these changes provides additional value because it is a partnership between faculty and the visual and materials collection. That’s a success for us.
  • VRA 2013, Redesigning Visual Resources Facilities, Whiteside

    1. 1. O N E C O L L E C T I O N A T A T I M ETransforming the Design Library for the21st Century:Ann WhitesideHarvard University Graduate School of DesignVRA 20134/30/2013(c) copyright Ann Whiteside
    2. 2. Old Materials CollectionPhotographer: Jane Hutton 4/30/2013(c) copyright Ann Whiteside
    3. 3. Photographer: Jane Hutton 4/30/2013(c) copyright Ann Whiteside
    4. 4. Photographer: Adam Kellie 4/30/2013(c) copyright Ann Whiteside
    5. 5. Photographer: Adam Kellie 4/30/2013(c) copyright Ann Whiteside
    6. 6. Photographer: Adam Kellie 4/30/2013(c) copyright Ann Whiteside
    7. 7. Photographer: Adam Kellie 4/30/2013(c) copyright Ann Whiteside
    8. 8. Photographer: Adam Kellie 4/30/2013(c) copyright Ann Whiteside
    9. 9. Opening ExhibitionPhotographer: Adam Kellie 4/30/2013(c) copyright Ann Whiteside
    10. 10. Photographer: Adam Kellie 4/30/2013(c) copyright Ann Whiteside
    11. 11. Photographer: Adam Kellie 4/30/2013(c) copyright Ann Whiteside
    12. 12. Thank youT H A N K S T O :A L I X R E I S K I N DJ A N E H U T T O NA D A M K E L L I E4/30/2013(c) copyright Ann Whiteside