Q&A with Jessica Lacher-Feldman, new Assistant Dean & Joseph N. Lambert and Harold B. Schleifer Director of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation

Q&A with Jessica Lacher-Feldman, new Assistant Dean & Joseph N. Lambert and Harold B. Schleifer Director of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation

August 22, 2016

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and where did you work before you joined the University of Rochester? 
I came to Rochester from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I was the Head of Special Collections at Louisiana State University. Before that, I was the Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Alabama. I spent sixteen years in the Deep South, but I am originally from the Albany area, so Rochester feels like a wonderful homecoming for me.

The way you see it, why is it important for universities to have Special Collections libraries? 
At the end of the day, Special Collections libraries are what sets academic libraries apart and thus have a great impact on the specific kind of research a university is able to support. But just as importantly, Special Collections libraries are critical resources in preserving and making accessible the actual "stuff" of history - primary source materials that help us better understand our past. And the uses for these materials are endless. Archives and Special Collections are not "dusty old things" but rather living documents that help us explore the past in infinite ways.

How do you plan to bring Special Collections to the community beyond Rush Rhees Library and the University of Rochester campus? What kind of collaborative programs would you like to initiate?
I believe that the best way to share what we have in our Special Collections is through exhibits and direct community outreach. I hope to bring my enthusiasm for what we do to a broad audience, starting of course with faculty, staff, and students, but also going well beyond our campus. Rochester is a vibrant community with many exciting opportunities for collaboration, programming, and much more. I want to get people excited about what we are doing through social media, by enhancing our website and online exhibitions program, and by looking for new audiences and new collections. I also encourage community members who are interested in what we do to feel free to reach out to me directly.

What do you think are the main strengths of our Special Collections?
There are so many interesting strengths in our collections - I am only just beginning to learn about our holdings and their significance. People often think of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass when they think of our library. These are very important collections, but there are hundreds more, as well as thousands of important published items, all of which are significant and important for students, faculty, and scholars. Of course one of our greatest strengths is our staff - they are the most dedicated and knowledgeable team you could imagine. They have all been so incredibly generous with me in their sharing of knowledge and information. We have a very steep learning curve in our profession, and I very much value their willingness to answer my seemingly infinite stream of questions, and to share with me and show me their work.

What are the main principles that have guided you and will keep guiding you as a director of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation? 
As archivists, we have to have deep knowledge of our collections, and a commitment to archival principles which include providing equal and unprecedented access to our holdings. We also need to be innovative in seeking new ways of doing so, be mindful of issues relating to preservation and security, and seek out opportunities to document voices from all walks of life. One of the most important principles that encompasses much of what we do is that of ethics. We have a great responsibility as the keepers of the past, and we have to be dedicated to an ethical, measured, and very aware approach to what we do. I am also guided by my commitment to my colleagues - it is very important to me to be the kind of leader who is willing and able to jump in and roll up my sleeves whenever it is necessary. In addition, I am guided by my own enthusiasm and curiosity, and by the value I receive in connecting with others. I love people, and I love to hear about their work, their past, and their stories. My willingness to listen and learn from others feels like something that is critical to being a successful archivist and special collections librarian, and I look forward to start collecting new stories.


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