Meet the Conference Co-Chairs

What is your day job?

Kate: I am the Research Services Librarian for the University of Michigan Library Special Collections Research Center.  I manage the reading room, work with researchers to identify and get resources useful to their projects, supervise student assistants, collaborate with colleagues (a lot) to manage retrieval and shelving of materials, and offer instruction sessions with our materials for a pretty varied assortment of U-M classes and groups.

Ben: I have been a digital archivist since joining Penn State Special Collections in 2012, but recently my role and title have changed. Previously, my work entailed developing and implementing strategies that support the long-term stewardship of digital content in special collections, where I have also overseen the development of a web archiving program. As much as I have enjoyed this work, especially web archiving, I am excited to be transitioning to a new role, Archivist for Curatorial Services and Strategy, which will focus on facilitating collaborative efforts around collection development in Penn State’s Special Collections.

How many years have you been involved in RBMS? Why have you continued your involvement?

Kate: My introduction to the section was through my library school internship mentor and first library supervisor, Kathryn Beam (retired from U-M Library in 2010), who assigned me to read and make my way towards embodying the then-recently-published Guidelines: Competencies for Special Collections Professionals. She also encouraged me to attend my first RBMS Preconference in Charlottesville in 2009, where I felt very welcomed and as though I was expected (in a good way) to contribute right off the bat. Shannon Supple was actually my “conference buddy,” assigned to sit next to me at the orientation and I think buy me a coffee. The many professional relationships – dare I say friendships? – and the ample opportunities for service have contributed by to my motivation to remain involved.  Also, I have been gratefully pushed to learn and do better in my own work by the ongoing dedication of the section’s leadership and large portions of the membership to critical self-reflection in the necessary efforts towards greater inclusion, diversity, and equity.

Ben: My first professional presentation out of library school was at the 2010 RBMS Conference in Philadelphia, as part of a panel on born-digital archives. Since then my involvement as an attendee has been sporadic, as I balanced professional development funds and service commitments elsewhere. I returned to the RBMS fold when Athena Jackson was hired as Penn State’s Head of Special Collections in 2015, and started reintroducing to me all the great activity happening in this community. In early 2017, I attended a very small conference at NYU, the Libraries and Archives in the Anthropocene Colloquium, where I met Kate Hutchens and Shannon Supple, my co-chair and section chair colleagues for RBMS 2019. This event helped energize our collective interest in the theme of climate change.

What are you most looking forward to about RBMS 2019?

Kate: I am so looking forward to all of these exciting sessions that connect climate change and environmental issues to our field that perhaps would not have gotten onto the schedule for a conference that wasn’t specifically seeking to offer a platform for such content.  And the seminars and everything else we had only a very little to do with planning look amazing, too! If I’m being honest, my first comprehensive read-through of the program with all the abstracts and details was at the point of assembling the print program (a.k.a. “Vade mecum”) in early May, and suddenly I just felt so lucky and excited to just attend this conference, let alone that I’ve been able to help share it with our colleagues.

Ben: I am excited to see how our plenaries play out and are received. Kate and I spent a lot of time trying to work out the mechanics of what we wanted these plenaries to accomplish relative to the theme, and how they might form a coherent narrative that guides attendees through an issue like climate change, relating it to our work and to other important ethical issues in our profession. I’m excited at what we came up with, even as it evolved throughout the planning process.

What has been the most exciting part of planning for RBMS 2019?

Kate: Getting to recruit and converse with this year’s new (the inaugural?) Conference Sustainability Subcommittee, co-chaired by Sarah Cahalan and Jessica Pigza, has been really gratifying.  It’s something new, and it’s been fun nerding out (and even sharing deep worries) about these big issues related to conferences, our work, and our world’s with others who get excited do things like to go out and search for reliable carbon calculators. This interest seemed to percolate across the whole planning committee this year, really, but especially with this focused subgroup. Further, I was energized by the really positive and creative ways conference sponsors responded to our theme and priorities, even when it meant departing from some RBMS traditions, and I think that even more fruitful connections between RBMS leadership, conference attendees, and conference sponsors have been built for our having had these conversations.  

Ben:  I find it extraordinary that the RBMS community is not only willing to organize a conference theme around a pressing societal topic like climate change, but that its members have responded so enthusiastically to it. We really had no idea how people would respond to this theme, but the program committee have been energetic drivers from the beginning, our colleagues in ACRL have been enthusiastically helping us to challenge conference traditions in support of sustainability, and most importantly, the RBMS community responded to the Call for Proposals with some really fascinating (and in many cases pleasantly surprising) ways of engaging with the theme. Also, getting to work with Kate has been one of the happiest collaborations of my library career!

What excites you the most about the conference being in Baltimore?

Kate: Exploring the city! It’s only the second time I’ll be in Baltimore. I can’t wait to hop on the Charm City Circulator to just see what there is to see, and hopefully check out the National Aquarium (while incurring the jealousy of my four-year-old kiddo).  I also am really excited, personally, about some of the climate and environmental justice organizing and wins happening in Baltimore lately, including the long-term fight against trash incinerators in the city and the passing of the Baltimore Clean Air Act this winter.

Ben: The Peabody Library is an amazing space to hold the all-conference reception, and I’m thankful that our local hosts at Johns Hopkins have helped make this happen. I know there’s always a local flavor to conferences, but this year I am excited to see a session like Organizing Outside of Bureacracy, which is meeting not at the conference venue proper, but, in accord with the session goals is instead meeting at Red Emma’s a radical bookstore in Baltimore.

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