Randall K. Burkett: Building African American Collections
Randall Burkett, curator of MARBL’s African American Collections, is getting his photo taken in the “Portrait & Text” exhibition on the 10th floor of Woodruff Library when the elevator doors open and a tour group steps out. Despite the fact that a guide is already present, Randall can’t resist joining in; he’s co-curator of the exhibition, and his knowledge and enthusiasm are apparent. He demonstrates the kiosk that links the 21 featured African American artists to more information on their collections in MARBL, answers a few questions, and chats with one young man who’s looking at the displayed materials with a bit of awe. “Come back as many times as you like,” Randall encourages him.
Randall has been with MARBL for 14 years, arriving in February 1997. As curator of the African American Collections, he has helped bring remarkable materials to the library. Previously, he was at Harvard University for 12 years as the associate director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. While there, he built a network of scholars and researchers he’s kept in contact with – connections that often lead to acquisitions for MARBL. “That’s a useful network to draw on when we’re looking to build collections at Emory,” he says.
But collections come in a variety of ways. The relatively recent acquisition of Cedric Dover’s papers came about because a graduate student from another university was using MARBL for his research on Carter G. Woodson and was impressed with Emory’s collections and treatment of its materials. He put Randall in touch with Dover’s widow in England, whom the student had met during a previous research project. After a few conversations with the persistent curator, she agreed to donate Dover’s papers.
Randall recently compiled a report showing that in six months’ time – from August 2010 to February 2011 – MARBL received as gifts African American collections valued at more than $525,000, which is significantly more than paid to purchase similar collections during that time. “That’s an extraordinary thing for the institution,” he says.
During his tenure as curator, MARBL has acquired the papers of Alice Walker, Carter G. Woodson, Benny Andrews, William Levi Dawson, Louise Thompson Patterson, Matt and Evelyn Crawford, the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition (SCLC), and Cedric Dover, among many others.
But the single most important acquisition, Randall says, is the Billops-Hatch collection. New Yorkers Camille Billops, an artist and filmmaker, and James Hatch, a theater historian, have been collecting material for 50 years, virtually all of which they are donating to MARBL. The collection includes thousands of rare books, periodicals and posters, scripts from hundreds of African American-authored plays, photos, theater programs, and interviews with more than 1,200 leading cultural figures.
“They had offers from other universities to purchase their collection but decided Emory was where they would donate their papers. They wanted to make sure the collection they started would continue to grow and be kept together,” Randall says. “They’ve become strong advocates in talking to other artists, writers, poets and playwrights, urging them to consider Emory.” Through the association with the couple, MARBL has acquired the papers of playwright Ed Bullins, playwright/director Paul Carter Harrison, and artists John Biggers, Samella Lewis and Edwin Harleston, among others.
Randall has donated much of his own collection to MARBL, including the papers of William H. Scott, a 12-year-old former slave educated by a Union regiment during the Civil War. Scott went on to be a founder of the Niagara Movement, the predecessor to the NAACP. Scott’s grandson, on his deathbed, bequeathed the materials to Randall in hopes that his grandfather’s story would be known. “I don’t collect for myself now, since I collect for an institution,” Randall says.
The Burketts also have been financially supportive of MARBL, particularly of the Billops-Hatch endowment fund “to ensure that collection will continue to grow.” Randall and his wife, Nancy, who’s retired from the American Antiquarian Society, still live in Massachusetts. He spends about three weeks in Atlanta and one week in Massachusetts, depending on his schedule.
After receiving a bachelor’s in international relations from American University, Randall earned a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD in social ethics from the University of Southern California. It was during his graduate studies that he became interested in African American religious history; he had worked on that topic for two classes at Harvard, but research material was not easy to find.
“I started collecting in part because the materials I was interested in weren’t kept by libraries. African American studies wasn’t high on the priority list, and religious history certainly wasn’t,” he says. “This was the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the era of Black Power, and the kinds of materials I needed for my own research were not highly sought after. I was able to build a very large collection with not very much money.”
Ginger Cain, interim director of MARBL, has worked with Randall for many years and has an appreciation for his contributions. “Randall possesses a unique combination of deep scholarly knowledge, unbridled passion for his work, and unending connections to key players and collections in the study of African American history,” she says. “The impact of his work is evident in the scope of the collections acquired and in the extent and quality of the research undertaken in these collections.”
Randall also has been very successful in helping secure grants fostering the African American collections. Current funding includes a $400,000 CLIR grant (shared with Auburn Avenue Research Library) to process the SCLC papers in a collaborative project on civil rights organizations, and a Save America’s Treasures grant that provides $170,000 over three years to preserve and digitize scrapbooks in the collections.
Under Randall’s direction, MARBL has begun collecting in a new area: African Americans in sports, with the assistance of consultant curator Pellom McDaniels, a scholar and former NFL defensive end with the Falcons and the Kansas City Chiefs. McDaniels earned his PhD at Emory in 2007.
Randall is proud of MARBL’s African American collections and invigorated by the prospect of new collections he can help bring to the university. The larger significance of these holdings was noted by Du Bois Institute director Henry Louis Gates Jr. “Emory’s commitment to the field of African American studies is indicated in the most subtle and important way by the hiring of Randall Burkett,” Gates said in the spring 2011 issue of Emory Magazine. “That is how Yale became dominant in African American studies in the seventies, because it had the best archival collection.”
This points to Randall’s greatest hope for his work: “That our own rich holdings will attract graduate students and faculty, as well as visiting scholars from around the world who see Emory as a premier site for research in African American history and culture.”
—Maureen McGavin, KeyWords writer/editor
Media of interest
“Campus Copyright: Publishers Sue Over University ‘E-Reserves’ ”
If you've been to college in the last decade, you've probably dealt with “e-reserves”—book chapters and articles made available electronically to students in particular classes, usually through the university library. But how much material can a professor upload before having to pay a licensing fee? Right now, several major academic publishers (Cambridge, Oxford, and Sage) are squaring off against Georgia State University over the extent to which the school can upload and distribute materials via its electronic reserve system.
Thanks to Peter Hornsby for sharing the above reading.
“Setting Up a Library iPad Program”
College & Research Libraries News
Briar Cliff University is a Catholic Franciscan institution of roughly 1,100 students, served by the Bishop Mueller Library’s staff of four full-time employees and a dozen student helpers. Over the past several months, we have been looking at many ways to proactively help our patrons become more comfortable with new technology, such as ebooks, ebook readers, PDF annotation software, and mobile interfaces.
In Summer 2010, the campus IT department approached the library with the possibility of having iPads to check out, and we jumped at the chance to provide such a service. We saw iPads as having the potential to introduce some of the new information management tools to our patrons.
“The ‘Just Do It’ Approach to Customer Service Development: A Case Study”
College & Research Libraries News
With financial constraints curtailing the opportunity to grow our collections and buildings, and the ever increasing demand to improve the student experience, academic librarians are turning more towards quality in customer service in order to develop and enhance services. . .
The Customer Services Group at Newcastle University Library wanted to develop services that would have the maximum positive impact on the users of the library. However, library staff are well aware of the difficulty in extracting opinion and responses from students, especially in this age of survey ennui. The group decided to adopt a “quick and dirty” survey approach.
“The Evolving Library: Supporting New Teaching, Learning Styles”
April 11, 2011
Ask today’s students what they do in the library and their answers will vary greatly. Some are looking for a quiet refuge in which to concentrate, while others need a place for peer-group work. Some come to browse through reference books, while others want to plug in their laptops and access online resources. The evolving role of the library also has a profound effect on the role of the librarian. No longer viewed as administrators of books, librarians are expected to be content experts, IT service providers, collaborators with students, and educators.
“Librarians Put Increasing Value on Their Role in Support of Student Learning”
Chronicle of Higher Education
April 4, 2011
Supporting undergraduate education and teaching information literacy to students are chief priorities for academic libraries, trumping their traditional emphasis on collection-building and the preservation and discovery of research materials. That's one of the central findings of a new survey of top librarians at four-year colleges and universities being released today.
“College Librarians Look at Better Ways to Measure the Value of Their Services”
Chronicle of Higher Education
April 1, 2011
How do you take the measure of academic libraries and librarians? At the Association of College and Research Libraries conference, which began here Wednesday, presenters took up the problem of how libraries can demonstrate their value to their institutions—and whether conventional attempts to measure return on investment, or “ROI,” are any use in that campaign.
“Finding a Way: Moving from Open Access Principle to Practice”
Association of College & Research Libraries
March 23, 2011
On April 1, 2011, the online version of C&RL (http://crl.acrl.org/) will become open access. A print version will continue to be available through a paid membership in ACRL or through a paid subscription to C&RL. Discussions about the future of the print version are underway.
. . . to the preservation staff of Ann Frellsen, Julie Newton and Kirsten Wehner, along with student assistant Lara Kesler, for coming to the aid of materials damaged in Pitts Theology Library after the violent storms on the night of April 4. The wind blew off an air handler cover located on the roof above the Pitts special collections area, allowing rainwater to collect in the attic and some to drip onto books and pamphlets from the 18th century in the room below. Pitts library director Pat Graham said some were barely damp, while a few were completely wet. The preservation staff worked to dry and press 51 books and more than 700 manuscripts; fortunately, the damage was not severe.
. . . to Xuemao Wang, who was one of 25 candidates selected by ARL to participate in the 2011-2012 ARL Research Library Leadership Fellows (RLLF) program. This highly competitive executive leadership program focuses on succession planning and preparing the next generation of research library leaders.
. . . to our Woodruff Library staff members celebrating milestone anniversaries – 110 years of combined service to the Emory Libraries! They were honored along with others by the University at a luncheon with president Jim Wagner.
Linda Nodine, human resources associate – 30 years
Eileen Rubnitz, acquisitions specialist – 30 years
Lloyd Busch, senior reference specialist – 25 years
Brandy Scott, senior library specialist in acquisitions and bibliographic management – 25 years
. . . to the staff who worked on the fall 2010 MARBL magazine, which won the CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) Grand Gold Award. Holly Crenshaw and Ginger Cain produced the magazine with Stanis Kodman, Susan Carini and Stuart Turner from Emory Creative Group and Kay Hinton from Emory Photo/Video. The national award recognizes outstanding work in communications and marketing. The magazine included stories about the opening of the Robert W. Woodruff papers, a bequest from the late Turner Cassity, and MARBL’s acquisition of Cedric Dover’s library and papers. “The images are spectacular, the content compelling, and the blend of the two seamless,” the judges commented. Check out the award-winning issue here, and the current spring issue here.
. . . to Brenda Tindal, the Woodruff fellow in MARBL and a PhD candidate in ILA, who has been accepted for a one-year fellowship working in the HistoryMakers African American archives. She will take part in an immersion training program at the HistoryMakers Chicago location during the summer, then spend the academic year at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University. During her time in MARBL, Brenda has worked on the processing of the SCLC papers and the Alice Walker collection. She also appeared on the cover of the inaugural issue of “Keywords” magazine in summer 2009 in connection with her cover-story essay on her experience working with Alice Walker’s papers.
. . . to Heather Williams, who was selected to be the new Electronic and Continuing Resources (ECR) team leader, effective March 1. In addition to supervising the ECR team, she oversees all University Library serial resources, acts as a chief resource for other libraries, leads university efforts to optimize the delivery of electronic resources to users, and manages the e-resource discovery and delivery tools, including SFX, bX and Metalib. She remains the project manager for the Ex Libris product implementations, which includes the Aleph migration.
. . . to Richard Gess, who has been promoted to serials coordinator in the ECR team. Richard will be the primary contact for issues such as serials check-in and subscription, reports and statistics , and cataloging practices.
Sharing our knowledge
Staff members took part in peer-chosen presentations at the ACRL 2011 Conference in Philadelphia March 30-April 2. Frances Maloy, Liz Cooper, Amy Boucher, Jon Bodnar, Charles Forrest and colleagues from Georgia Tech gave a panel presentation called “Mashup or Crashup: Collaborating with Intra and Extra Library Partners to Create a Merged Service Desk.” Panelists shared how, when the two university libraries discovered via a listserv post that they were each planning to merge their circulation and reference desks at the same time, they began to share strategies, successes and challenges. Liz Cooper and Christine Terrell gave a poster presentation called “From Notebooks to eBooks: How to Bridge the Gap Between Research and Writing Skills,” discussing the library’s experience merging Emory’s research and writing resources.
…to Brigitte Collier-Laney and Jack Scott, operating system analysts/administrators, who became full-time staff members in April. Both started working for Woodruff Library as contract employees with Smart Source Inc. in September 2010. Brigitte previously worked for the DeKalb County School System for seven years as a certified technical support specialist. She received her B.S. in computer information systems from Morris Brown College. She will receive her B.S. in information technology-project management from Kaplan University in November. Jack was a student employee in the Woodruff Library in the winter of 2006, working for desktop support. He received his Associate of Arts from Oxford College in 2007 and his B.A. in art history and visual arts from Emory in 2010.
… to Jennifer Jones Elder, who joined us in March as the social sciences librarian. Jennifer worked in the Emory Libraries from 2003-2005 when she served as our first instruction librarian and liaison to first-year programs; prior to that, she worked at Brenau University as extension services librarian and liaison to the occupational health department. Jennifer received her M.A. in English and American literature from New York University, her MLIS from Florida State University and a B.A. in psychology from Boston University. Before joining us this year, Jennifer was the elementary school media specialist at Brockett Elementary School in the DeKalb County schools.
...to Lola Halpin.
...to Dianne Smith.
...to C.J. Jones, whose father passed away in February
...to Abby Ellerbe, whose mother-in-law passed away in February.
—Maureen McGavin, KeyWords writer/editor
Bev Turner: Cake boss
Bev Turner is a bibliographic management specialist in the content division. Next year she’ll mark 40 years with the Emory Libraries. She’s as well known for her friendly demeanor as she is for the sweet treats she bakes. She does it all – cakes and cupcakes, brownies, pies, pastries, mini-tarts, any kinds of sweets. “I love to bake. I like to fix food, period,” she says.
Around the library, she’s known especially for her mint brownies – brownies with mint frosting and a layer of chocolate on top. They’re a favorite at the annual staff holiday party, and Lola Halpin requested them for her “Death by Chocolate” retirement party in March. Her Red Velvet cake is a favorite and so are her Key lime cupcakes with Key lime frosting – “Sarah Ward was oohing and aahing over those,” she laughs.
Bev admits to subscribing to several food-oriented magazines. “I have a whole library,” she says. “I love Southern Living. It’s got so many versions of things in it.” The magazine publishes an annual cookbook, and Bev, who is on the board of the Friends of the East Atlanta Library and gets a preview of the book sales there, has scooped up more than one cookbook this way. “My husband made a bookcase and made sure I had nine or ten shelves to house my collections,” she says.
And of course, Bev watches the Food Network – “Now I’m into ‘Cupcake Wars,’ ” she says – and any cooking shows on any network. The shows inspire her to consider taking more classes, which she hasn’t had time to do since she took cake decorating classes when she first became serious about baking. “And I spend a lot of time looking at cookbooks, which is just what I like to do,” she adds.
Bev started baking when she was a teenager. She would make lemon meringue pies while her mother made all the other food for Sunday dinner. “That’s really how I got into it. Then I started making cakes and other sweets,” she remembers.
She still enjoys baking since she started some 30 years ago. “It’s fun to see the expression on people’s faces when they taste something they were kind of hesitant about trying,” Bev says.
“To see the sparkle in their eyes, especially kids, when they’re enjoying something I’ve made – or for them to go back and get some more – really makes my efforts worthwhile.”
Bev gets a lot of repeat business, as well as new clients from word of mouth. She usually bakes from scratch, depending on what the client asks for. “Usually they want the homemade taste, not Publix or Kroger, so I always try to please my customers.”
She’s made several wedding cakes for quite a few co-workers in the Libraries over the years. “They’ve trusted me to do both the food and their cakes, and I’ve enjoyed doing each event.” She made the wedding cakes and food for Betty Berry, Sue Trowbridge, Lloyd Busch, and for others who have since left the Libraries. “I thoroughly enjoy doing something for someone that I know,” Bev says. “You tend to put more of yourself in it when you know the person.”
When she doesn’t know the person being honored, Bev likes to know something about them, so she can personalize the birthday or anniversary cake she’s making in addition to the inscription. In February, she made a birthday cake for author and Emory professor emeritus Richard Long, who was a guest at the “Portrait & Text” exhibition opening reception in MARBL. The cake, presented during the reception, was personalized with a replica of a book made of frosting, the word “Emory” inscribed on its cover. “It just adds that special touch when the client can see a little bit of them in their treat,” Bev says.
These days, she’s getting ready to help her daughter, Mishka, with her wedding on May 7; Bev is doing both the cake and the food, preparing them ahead of time so others can do the serving while the mother of the bride enjoys the day.
Bev has considered becoming a caterer after she retires, but “it’s a tough business” – she’d do it on a small scale, perhaps, or she might teach cooking classes and instruct young kids how to work in the kitchen. She’s already trying to teach her nine-year-old grandson a few things, because he loves to help with meals. “When I’m setting up and there are little kids around, I get them to wash their hands and come help me,” Bev says. “I try to get them involved so they can say they helped, and they can feel they had a part in producing and presenting a culinary delight, whether it’s sweet or not. I want to pass that on.”
—Maureen McGavin, KeyWords writer/editor
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