JW: My name is Joshua Wilson and I am here with James Curtin. We have the great pleasure of interviewing Ms. Bridget Gazzo today, June 18, 2013, about her relationship with Dumbarton Oaks over the years. This is the second time this interview has been conducted due to a malfunction in the recording process. Welcome, Bridget. So, how did you first come to be involved with Dumbarton Oaks?
BG: Well, I was hired in 1987. I started work here August 3, 1987. I had just come back from Ecuador when the position was advertised. I had been with the United States Information Agency for two years as a library fellow. I was called a library fellow, but not a research fellow like the Fellows at Dumbarton Oaks. It was actually a contract position. Maybe later I’ll go into more detail about that, but I had the wonderful opportunity to work in our bi-national center libraries – three bi-national center libraries in Ecuador. And of course Ecuador is an Andean country, and I had greatly improved my Spanish. The position was a one-year contract, and we were able to renew it for a second year. And after that, I tried to renew it again, and they said, “No, no. You have to give someone else a chance.” So I came back to the Washington area, where I had lived before, and Dumbarton Oaks was advertising the position of Librarian for Pre-Columbian Studies. It required fluency in Spanish and a familiarity with Andean – or the cultures of Latin America. I saw the ad and three other people saw it and either called me about it – this was before the internet. Somebody mailed it to me. It was in the Washington Post, you know – we used to clip, and everybody would read the newspaper, and so people thought it was right for me. Then, I got an interview. That was interesting because Elizabeth Boone was on sabbatical that year. She was at the Center for Advanced Studies at Princeton. She was the Director of Pre-Columbian Studies. The acting director was Janet Berlo. So, I came in for an interview with Janet Berlo, and then they had the short list come back and interview with Elizabeth a few weeks later. They brought Elizabeth down. I still remember a lot about those interviews because this place was just so amazing to me. And Elizabeth was great because she was real down to earth in the interview, so it was this contrast of – I remember I walked into the lobby and I didn’t know – and this is funny in retrospect – because I didn’t know if I was allowed to step on the mosaic on the floor. And you know, it turns out we probably shouldn’t have been allowed to step on the mosaic, but I stood at the entrance and asked the guard, “How do I get in?” And he said, “Just walk across.”
JW: So you mention that Dumbarton Oaks was an amazing place when you first got here. What were some of the things that contributed to that initial impression?
BG: The collections, because – well, the collections and then the people that I met. The library at that time did not – the Pre-Columbian Studies library was managed by the assistant curator of the collection. So, my first interview, I interviewed with Janet Berlo and I also interviewed with Gordon McEwan, who was the assistant curator of the collection. He is an archeologist. So, he took me through the museum and showed me the Pre-Columbian Collection and explained about the Blisses. I did not know anything about the Blisses. So, what was amazing – the house itself, the gardens. And to tell you the truth, even the experiences – the fieldwork of the people that I met, and they talked to me about their work. And also it was great – I had just come back from Quito and Gordon had done extensive work in the highlands of Peru, so meeting people here who knew so much about the Andes – it was funny too because at one time I felt comfortable with the people who knew all about the Andes and who spoke Spanish, but also it was all very exotic. Of course, the lifestyle of the Blisses was not something I had experienced before, and there was still evidence of the lifestyle of the Blisses. I remember when I met Irene Vaslef. I thought, “Oh, wow!” [To James Carder] I don’t know, did you ever meet Irene Vaslef, James?
JNC: I did.
BG: She was a character. She was the Director of the Byzantine Library. She was very welcoming. On the one hand, she was talking about OCLC and Library of Congress classification, but she seemed very exotic to me too – this older woman from Central Europe. So, that was it. It was a mix of feeling somewhat intimidated, and on the other hand very comfortable.
JW: So we’re going to shift gears a little bit and talk more about your professional role here at Dumbarton Oaks. Would you tell us what you know about the relationship between Dumbarton Oaks and the Harvard University Libraries and how this relationship has changed since you’ve been here at Dumbarton Oaks?
BG: It’s changed greatly. When I first came, we operated very independently. We didn’t even use HOLLIS. We didn’t even use the system that was HOLLIS – it was called HOLLIS, but it was a different operating system. It was NOTIS, the NOTIS software. We didn’t even use that. When I came here, we didn’t even have an integrated library system. The other thing is – I don’t know if anyone else has said this in their interviews – but the three library collections operated independently. The library for Pre-Columbian Studies was physically separate and it was managed separately from the other two library collections. I reported – my position reported to the Director of Pre-Columbian Studies. That’s why Elizabeth Boone and Janet Berlo were interviewing me. There was not a central library administration. Each library staff – well for the most part – reported to the director of studies. The Byzantine library was a department, it was a part of Byzantine Studies, but Irene Vaslef was a department head, whereas I wasn’t, and my counterpart for Landscape Architecture was not. To tell you the truth, each of the three programs – in each of the three programs, the library collection and the library staff was handled a little differently in the organizational structure chart. So I worked – I have to go back and explain that when I was hired, the position for Librarian of Pre-Columbian Studies had just been created. Before me, the assistant curator was managing the library. I should probably talk a little about – this isn’t answering your question, but I’ll get to that later. I should probably talk a little bit about the library of Pre-Columbian Studies. It started out as Mr. Bliss’s personal library at about a little over two thousand books. And he donated it to Dumbarton Oaks. They had it organized by culture in what was then our rare book room, which – I don’t even know what is in that room now. But, in the Main House it’s a wood paneled room. It was open and it was next to what is now Jonathan Shea’s office and across from the men’s room. And that was our library. But that was before my time. All of the books fit in that one room, and they were not catalogued and they did not have Library of Congress classification or any other classification. They were organized by subject and within each subject, the subject being culture, and within each culture by author’s last name. And that worked fine for a couple years. They actually had Fellows – this was in the early 1980s – and even the Fellows were in that room. And then in 1981, Dumbarton Oaks received the bequest of Thelma Sullivan, who was an Aztec specialist. She was American, but she lived and worked in Mexico. She donated her books, her notes, her drafts of her publications – everything – to Dumbarton Oaks. At that time, the books were too many to fit in that room and to be organized – it was time to catalogue them properly and get them into something. But again, there wasn’t a librarian yet. So Elizabeth Boone wrote and got a NEH grant, and they hired a cataloger with that grant, and that was Michael Hamerly, and Michael Hamerly had a PhD in Latin American history. He came and worked – it was a grant for a two-year project. He worked for about eighteen months, and then he got a job on the West Coast. And I met him recently, about a year ago. It was nice to meet him at my Latin American Studies librarians’ conference. He did a great job. He catalogued the library, he used contract cataloguers for any – well, I think actually he didn’t even use – he found copy records. What librarians do is they look into a shared database, and if there’s copy that matches – if someone else has catalogued the book already, they can find that record and bring it in. He found – but we didn’t have a system – so he’d find a record, and at that time we had cards. He’d get the card, print it out, attach our holding to that record. And then if he didn’t find copy cataloguing, he’d do original cataloguing, which is a ton of work. This man did a really good job organizing the library. But then he left. I think he felt a little frustrated that he was working with scholars, but he didn’t have time to do his own scholarship. So after that – that was when the assistant curator had to manage the cataloguing. They were still buying books – I should say, they had started to buy books, because until that time, it was the Bliss’s library and Thelma Sullivan’s library. But they had started to buy books, and so Gordon McEwan was charged with overseeing copy cataloguing. So, they’d hire people from Telesec temporaries who had been trained as cataloguers, but Gordon wasn’t trained as a cataloguer. He was very concerned about this. He told me when I was hired, “I did the best I could, but I didn’t have the training, so I don’t know.” And it showed, because at the beginning there were a lot of records that had been brought in – I keep saying brought in, but we had claimed as our own. They were sitting in this great database called WorldCAT OCLC with our holdings attached, but they weren’t for the right manifestation of the work. We had bought – in the old days, we used to by every university microfilm dissertation that fit our profile. Now we don’t do that anymore because they’re available online. But we used to buy every hard copy. But instead of the copy cataloguing the hard copy being claimed, it was for the microfilm or microfiche, so it took us years to go find all of those and fix those. And also, they’d accept whatever call number was on the record, and sometimes it wasn’t what would work best for our users. But anyway, when I started, it was a three-year campaign of Elizabeth Boone to get a position funded for Librarian of Pre-Columbian Studies. She had to say, “Look, we’re going to be growing. We’re going to keep buying books, our field is growing, there’s a lot being published. We need to professionalize this and get a librarian.” And so after three years, the position was funded and I was hired. So, meantime, like I said, we were printing cards and – that was happening in Pre-Columbian Studies. Byzantine Studies had a whole library staff. They had Irene Vaslef as Director. They had two cataloguers at least, they had an acquisitions department. Landscape Architecture had a – I don’t know when their position got funded. But they had a librarian. I think they called her the librarian of the reference collection. And then they had the curator of rare books. And shortly after I was hired – when I was hired, it was someone named Laura. I forget her last name.
BG: Byers. And she retired, and she had been there for a long time. It was Laura working with Betty MacDougall, who was the director of the program. And then it might have been at that point that they split it and created the position when they hired Linda Lott as rare books librarian and curator of rare books, and then the reference position, and it was Annie Thacher. So, the three programs all had the library organization structure in the way that worked best for their program. But it was a lot of work. It was actually impossible to keep up, because I was supposed to be finding – figuring out which books to buy, and in that day it was all paper. So, catalogues would be sent to me, booklists, phone calls would come through, faxes. And I was supposed to be selecting the books, creating new orders – which was mostly typing in, because we didn’t have a system to upload – so, creating the orders, sending the orders, receiving the books, paying the invoices, and then cataloguing the books. I had part time help to create the labels and stamp the books, and that was it. And I had help to shelve. What would happen, the cataloguing would wait. I would do the easiest cataloguing, and everything else was piling up. And this was happening in all three programs. So, it was good when the decision was made to get an integrated library system. That was under Angeliki. She selected a committee from the library staff here, and we researched it. That was when we started working closely with Harvard. We had Dale Flecker and his staff. They were our advisors. We decided – and he carefully cautioned us about going with Harvard. The choice was – the first choice was whether we were going to go onto Harvard’s HOLLIS system. And this was called a CHUI rather than a GUI. Remember “chewies” and “gooeys”? It was a character based interface, rather than a graphical user interface. It was a DOS-based system by this company called NOTIS. And he said, “We’re undergoing a several-year study to figure out what we’re moving to. If you come on now, you’re going to have to migrate with us.” And also, they had over years – they had bought an off-the-shelf system, but then they modified it so much so that it was not recognizable anymore. They had a whole department called OIS – Office of Information Systems – to maintain it. So their system was now called their own. It was Harvard’s system. And he said, “This has all these issues.” So, he said, “Honestly too, you’re going to be everyone’s last thought down here. We’re not used to thinking about you. Given that, you’re welcome to go onto HOLLIS.” But we decided not to. We selected SIRSI – is the company – the Unicorn system. And it’s an integrated library system. So what we did, we loaded our records from OCLC, that WorldCAT OCLC. We had been attaching our symbol to them all those years, so we were able to load them into a system, and SIRSI called their software Unicorn. And we had Unicorn, and it was at that point we started working together – the three departments here, but we still had very little to do with Harvard. They helped us with the data load, and then after that for years, we were on our own. We had a library information – I forget what we called her – but she managed our software. It was Donna Bible. And Ingrid Gibson, who is now interlibrary loan, but she had done a lot for the upkeep of our Unicorn system. That went along fine – well, not really fine. It went along, but it brought us all three together, but it was an odd time because we were still – I was still reporting to the Director of Pre-Columbian Studies, the landscape people were reporting to their director, and people – the directors were coming and going, so we had to work together, but the organizational structure had us working separately and taking separate lines of command. So Ned Keenan came in and said, “Okay, what do we have to do next, and what will work?” And we created taskforces. So the first thing was created a taskforce for acquisitions. It was called the ATF – the Acquisitions Task Force. We had jokes about that. That was bringing people from the three programs to figure out how to best use SIRSI, because it was supposed to be integrated and we were using it separately. So, we integrated that, then we integrated cataloguing. We still did not have a library as an organizational structure. We did not have a library director. Then we needed to – Ned Keenan said, “Okay, it’s time to bring this all together.” He created the position for Library Director, and Sheila Klos was hired. She came in, I think, 1997 or 1998, and a year later, the big decision was made – to go back and retrospectively convert all of the records that were done pre-Library of Congress classification for Landscape Architecture and Byzantine Studies because those two programs had used a system they had started before OCLC, before the world was sharing everything. A librarian at Harvard had created the Brinkler System. So, he created classification systems by subject area. And he created a Brinkler for Byzantine Studies and a Brinkler for Landscape Architecture. So, even after both of those programs went onto OCLC, they continued using their very beloved classification system. The scholars loved them. They were used to them; they worked for their fields. But for the cataloguers, and therefore for the entire library staff, it was an incredible amount of work. They’d have to re-class everything. This is a lot of work. I mean, it’s a scientific hierarchy. At one point, they had stopped. I think it was the time when we integrated when we created the taskforce, Ned Keenan said, “No. We’re going to have split libraries. We’re going to have the old Brinkler stuff and everybody is going to go LC. We wanted that. The librarians were happy. The scholars, especially the older scholars, were appalled. The world was coming to an end. We had the library separated, but this was in the old house still. We had books everywhere. We had books in closets, we had books up to the ceiling, and we had books double stacked. They were used to that. They knew where their books were. Then all of a sudden, we had a separate little collection that was LC. And again, everything physically was separate. So, there was the pre-Columbian library, the landscape – we called it the garden library – and the Byzantine library. So, then we had the split collection. Sheila Klos was hired and she was told, “You decide with the staff what we should do.” And we decided we should retrospectively convert it. That was a year after she started. And then in – eight years ago, I guess it was 2005 – we moved over physically and that was when the books were integrated. So, it was huge. You asked me about Harvard, but even more importantly in my career here, it’s been the relationship of the library with its programs that has undergone complete evolution. So then, we still had SIRSI Unicorn, and then it was getting to be – oh, then Harvard selected their new system. The graphical user interface, and that was a long time ago now. I don’t remember what year. They selected it, they got comfortable with it, they were happy with it. So, the same year that we moved over here, we went onto HOLLIS fully. Now, our records were in there. Our titles were showing in HOLLIS as being held at Dumbarton Oaks, but that was the only thing. We were not using it for creating our orders or for paying or for doing cataloguing work. We were doing all of the cataloguing work in our system and then uploading it to HOLLIS. So, this was going to be a huge change. Well we did it the same year we moved in [laughs] – just about did the tech services staff in.
JW: What were some of the biggest issues you faced during the move from the Main House to the new library building?
BG: There were so many issues. It was a lot of work. Sheila took care of most of the planning work, of working with the book movers, but then we had to monitor the work, and I would say one of the biggest issues was communication – because it was just a lot of physical logistics that had to happen. The book movers were still here. The contractors were finishing up the work on the house. There was this list. I forget what they called it. It was kind of like the checklist at the end; all of the little stuff that didn’t get done during the big construction. So, all these contractors were still running around doing stuff. We were supposed to – we had to monitor any contractors. They couldn’t be alone in the library. So, one of us had to be there babysitting. The doors were still locked – we couldn’t go – it was extremely stressful. I think the stress came from – the construction was delayed. We had a smaller window of time to move than we had anticipated. The fall semester was still going to start on time and we had to be ready for primetime in, I think, six weeks. Ned Keenan was out of town, and the director of Landscape Architecture was out of town – maybe even moving. I think they were in between directors. Again, this – now, this wouldn’t mean as much because we operate – the organizational structure is our own command. But then, we were still very much intertwined. So, what were the issues? The issues were keeping track of the books, getting the staff settled in, and all of that had to happen in a very short time. There was a lot of clean up. Even, “where are these books?” and “how are we going to manage this?” and “what kind of buttons are we going to put on this?” And then right after that, they had to start the HOLLIS – using HOLLIS. So they had to learn a new system. We had a shadow database in case any didn’t load properly. We had this old database of our stuff and they’d have to go back in and look. So, it was double and triple work to do the same function – for tech services. This wasn’t so much for me, but for my colleagues. For me, it was getting used to being physically separate from Pre-Columbian Studies. And even though we were in the same building, we were on different floors. And again, it was – the beginning was extraordinarily rocky in settling in. I think definitely the library works better in that new building and it’s well-designed, but the stress was such that it took years for people to get over that.
JW: Were you consulted at all with regards to the design of the new building?
BG: Well, we were initially. Sheila worked very closely with the planning committee for the building. So, Sheila did, yes.
JW: And what factors, if any, make the Dumbarton Oaks’s collection different from those in other libraries that are research institutions?
BG: Well, I tell our readers and Fellows when first come to the library – all of the scholars – I tell them, for Pre-Columbian Studies, what’s special is we collect comprehensively in a very narrow field. So, even though the Library of Congress and the University of Texas at Austin have probably almost all of the same books as we have, our collection offers the advantage of that’s all we have – the art history, anthropology of the cultures from pre-conquest up until the early colonial period and from Mesoamerica, central America, and the Andes – where they might have most of our books but in a wider collection of the entire history and anthropology and art history of Latin America. And ours are open stacks, and I also collect gray literature. One of the long-term projects that I’ve done here, which is, I think, one of my major sources of pride and a good legacy for Dumbarton Oaks, is to collect dissertations from Latin America in archaeology. Years ago, people would say, “Oh, it would be great if you could get these dissertations out of Peru, so when Jeff Quilter was Director, we started – the thing is, they don’t have anything like UMI down in Latin America. In Mexico, they have something similar, because a lot of Mexican archaeologists are funded by the government, so they have to turn in a copy, and in Colombia as well; but in Peru they don’t have anything like that. So, one of our Fellows said he’d go back home – one of our Peruvian Fellows – and send me stuff. And so he started photocopying down there – he had grad students do all of this photocopying – and these manuscripts or these photocopies would come loose in these giant packages that look like – for some reason, they were wrapped in burlap and sewn. Everybody hated them when they came, they were like, “Oh no, Bridget got some more dissertations.” And because the photocopying was often poorly done – some of them went back to the fifties – so they were photocopies of typescripts with bad margins, and they used paper – it’s a size that they use in Latin America and Europe called A4. So, they’d come in and sometimes we could use them and just bind them, but sometimes they weren’t bindable, so we’d have to re-photocopy them and make better margins, or try to darken them or lighten them or whatever. And so it was an incredible amount of work, but then – we have the only collection, and we started with the north coast of Peru, and then he helped us with dissertations out of the universities in Lima, and then the southern area of Peru, which, in some cases – we have dissertations that even the libraries and universities no longer have there, or, if they have them, people couldn’t get to them. It was during a period of the Shining Path, and places were not easily accessible, so we have a really important collection. And one time at my conference, the collection development librarian at Harvard asked me what tools I was using to collect because we were getting all these things that they weren’t, and I thought, “Ah!” [laughs]
JW: To your mind, has this collection of dissertations proved useful to the scholarship coming out of Dumbarton Oaks?
JW: How so?
BG: Well, people come here asking for it. And we kind of – an unexpected consequence was we’d get inter-library loan requests for these, and we don’t lend much on inter-library loan. Period. And these – we have the only copy, so we have to be careful, we have to be sure we’re going to get this back. I like to make our resources available to the scholars, so when we do lend them, we lend them with a lot of restrictions: this has to be used in the rare book room or special collection, under the supervision of a librarian. So, definitely it’s noticed that we have them, and people are – one thing they comment on, and this was – we needed special funding to do this because it was expensive to – they all needed original cataloguing, like I said, they needed a lot of checking, they needed re-photocopying, but especially the original cataloguing. We’d send them out a lot, and we asked for more money, and the Byzant – the Director who came from Byzantine studies would say, “Why do you want these? I mean, most of the times the conclusions are, you know, later [laughing] disproven.” We said, you know, “It’s not the analysis, it’s the raw data.” And that’s what our archaeologists would say. A lot of time these never get published – this data never gets published, so it’s the raw data. And we convinced him, and eventually – again, back to our connection with Harvard: back in the day, there were no pre-Columbianists in Cambridge, but now we have Tom Cummins – there are a couple of chairs in pre-Columbian studies, [like] Gary Urton and Bill Fash. And they’d say, “Oh, definitely, you know; these are worthwhile.” So, not only have our connections increased as far as library technology, but subject area also.
JNC: How many dissertations have been collected?
BG: Maybe between 200 and 300. And then, unfortunately, we wanted to do it with Mexico and Costa Rica. Individuals said, “Oh we’ll go back and help.” But then we ran into issues with author permission. And the Costa Rican project – they said, “Well you’d have to get the permission of each and every author.” Now what Colombia did – we had to send their institute of archaeology a letter stating who we are and what we do: our collections do not circulate and we can put any restrictions that they needed to on them. So, we got a lot of great literature from Colombia, and not just dissertations, but the reports that they have to do, like the surveys before they excavate and the site reports afterwards. We were able to get all of those.
JW: So at this point in time, the libraries are integrated, you and your colleagues have secured some unique materials – what do you think the next big step is going to be in making the library as useful and user-friendly for scholars as possible?
BG: Digital initiatives. We’re in the middle of that big step. And it’s huge. It touches everybody, even people who aren’t doing anything with HTML or Plone, Omeka, just because – it’s very interesting – it creates a need for more refined description and more refined data on everything. An example is, Jan said, “Let’s participate” – and we’re happy about this – “Let’s participate in Harvard’s project to digitize rare books.” So he asked each program to select a few rare books every year and we have funding to send them up to Imaging Services, and they have the coolest, snazziest equipment to photograph the books, and they do a really good job. So, we were like, “Okay, we’ll send our books up.” Well guess what? You don’t just pack them up and send them. Most of our book – there’s a software that can create meta-data, so you put in the equivalent of a catalogue record and it creates the meta-data for every image. But most of our books don’t qualify, because, you know, they’re just too special. They don’t fit either the size or the quality of the image, so we had to create the meta-data, and thank goodness for Wendy Johnson, who’s a cataloguer who had just been trained in meta-data because she’s working on this big garden archive project. Well, meta-data is the equivalent of cataloguing each page. Of course, most of it is repeated, and you think, “Okay, well you just put in a page number or image number,” but no, because then you have to decide: what do you do when pages aren’t numbered? what do you do when there’s a section that’s not numbered, and then there’s a section that is, and then another unnumbered section? how do you refer to them? You can’t just say, “Unnumbered 1.” So we had – and guess what? in this world, it’s not all decided, and what we used to do for cataloguing – and I always notice this between us and the museum – that everything we had to do was already decided, like, they started in the 60s; they had international congresses to decide how to do this. We just had to learn the rules. But in the image world, they haven’t ever agreed on all of those rules. So now we were getting into that, and Wendy would call Harvard and say, “Well, you know, what do you want us to do for this?” And they said, “Whatever you want.” [laughs] “We recommend that you decide and stick to whatever you decide so that you remember.” [laughs] So we had to have all these meetings, and it was so detailed – pew! “Well, what do you want? Do you want the fore-edge, and do you want these hinges, and what are we going to call these?” But it was very interesting, but it was a ton of work. So, they went up, and they just came back. And Sheila went and unpacked them, and now our records are in Hollis. If you go to those books, you can click on the link, and you can see the books and page through them. So, it’s a big thing. That was just one thing. And then what – people used to do cataloguing of books. Like I said, Wendy – she’s now working with the Garden Archive Project – she and Sheila are in constant consultation with Harvard, because it’s a catalogue record for a letter, or some text that is linked to an image. It might be – it’s a photograph, or it’s a PDF of the letter. And then the transcription and all of this – okay, but how does that affect me? Well, it’s expected of me – like I say, I used to – I never did book exhibits before. When we moved into the library, I had to learn to do book exhibits, physical book exhibits, so that was a big learning curve. But I got it down, you know, it got to be routine. And then they said, “Well now we want you to put it online.” That was another thing to learn, and the first year I did it with Omeka, because we didn’t have Plone up and running yet. So, I did it with Omeka, and the next time I had to do it with Plone; and now, like I said, we’re getting more finely tuned, where we’re creating the digital facsimile of the whole book, not that that’s part of that project yet, but it could be. So, it’s always one more level getting to the information. The other thing that has changed greatly in my time is that we care about letting the whole world know what we have. When I started here, we were told, “Mm-mm, we don’t have the space, we don’t have the people, that’s not what we’re about. We’re here for the specialists. You know, we decide who comes and how many, and they have to know what they’re doing. We cannot hold any hands. And when they come here, they come here to use our books.” Like, they used to say, “We’re not even going to borrow inter-library loan for them, or rarely.” Because the idea is that the Fellows come here to use our materials. When they’re back home, they can get inter-library loans. But you can’t do that anymore. The world is all intertwined, and it was knocking on our door anyway. So, it was like, we have to decide how we’re going to manage this, how we’re going to control our image, how we’re going to control our digital access, and how we’re going to control their needs. So, now we – Deb gives them training on accessing Harvard’s electronic resources. We pay our part of accessing the electronic resources, and then we offer them to the Fellows. But that’s all changed in the time that I’ve been here.
JW: Did that change occur under Mr. Jan Ziolkowski’s directorship?
JW: Could you characterize his directorship, especially as it pertains to the library system?
BG: Oh, definitely. Whereas Ned Keenan – what Ned Keenan did was get us organizationally integrated, which was no small feat, and then had the library built and moved – that, again, no small feat. But then Jan has – I would say what he has done is brought us closer to Harvard, and he wants Harvard to know how much we offer them. He wants us to always make ourselves known as a good resource to Harvard. And the digital world – I remember – well, he has shown – they all show a great interest in the library, but partly it’s – we’ve come so far in the last fifteen years. The library was always a good resource, but, to tell you the truth, the attention – it was usually thought of as, “Well, it’s taking care of itself, and they’re fine.” But then they realized that we needed more support and space and all of that. So I think it just gets a lot more attention. So ICFA – the Image Collection and Fieldwork Archives – and the library are separate, but we have to know of each other’s work, and it had gotten to the point, you know, where it couldn’t be like – kind of like George Bush when he said “a thousand points of light,” all of these volunteer organizations that will take care of things. Well, we can’t just depend on ourselves reaching out collegially. We needed more structure, so he holds monthly meetings, where he brings us all together, people can report on what they’re doing, and he and Yota are there to hear what we need, and, you know, do we want Harvard to come down, like somebody from the copyright office. Because the other problem that comes up for everything that’s online is what we can put online versus – okay, for example, with my exhibits, I can put books in physical exhibits, where we don’t have copyright concerns, but that same book I cannot put online unless – well, we thought we couldn’t, so we would not put any of our facsimiles online. Well, it turns out that we can with certain restrictions, but we learned about that through this librarian lawyer who came down from Harvard – [laughs] – ,who said, “Everyone’s a lot more – they self-restrict a lot more than they have to.” So, it’s his job to train people in what they can do. So, that’s a big deal. The reason I mention this now is – at one of these, I think the second meeting we had, Jan had developed a mission statement for Dumbarton Oaks, including the library, and he said he wanted the library to be at the forefront of digital initiatives. And I remember thinking, “Too late!” [laughs] But then all of a sudden – we were – especially ICFA – I mean, that’s separate from the library, but we hear about it. They’re doing so much with digital initiatives. And I see the point now, that we’re the right – we’re a good size, we’re big enough, and we have really unique resources, so it makes sense that we put all of this effort into making them available digitally. And now we have enough people, and people with the right training and education, to make it happen. So that’s one of his big contributions.
JW: So we’re reaching the end of the interview. Maybe we can shift gears one last time to talk about life in general at Dumbarton Oaks: the social atmosphere…
BG: Well, one of the things I’ve enjoyed is having the whole community of Fellows. For the most part, it’s wonderful to have them here, you know. They come; they’re so excited to have this opportunity. I get to work very closely with experts in their field, and then they leave, but most of them come back, whether it’s to speak at a conference or come as a reader, or sometimes I just communicate through email with them – so, to just know all of these people. I don’t know – I think that, even though academics are a quirky crowd, as a whole they’re pretty happy with their lives. I mean, they chose it obviously, out of passion; they never thought they were going to make a lot of money. When I talk to other people who work – either librarians who work with other categories of patrons or patrons from other walks of life, I think I’m pretty happy with my patrons. And my colleagues – I think we have great people here, who really care about their work. And, again, I forget it, and I take it for granted, and then I go somewhere else – when I go to my conference, they’re also a good group of librarians; but I hear about the pressures they’re under. So, it’s good. This isn’t social so much as institutional, but a good thing is, we can still – Dumbarton Oaks can still pay attention to individual people and individual books, and other places can’t do that anymore. I mean, they have to buy wholesale books that were selected by somebody else, and you have to buy the cataloguing that comes with them, and you can’t do anything. And we still have – we’re still allowed, we’re still funded to catalogue; do original cataloguing and talk to individual researchers. So, that’s very nice, and through that we get to know the people, and then we get to keep really qualified staff.
JW: Do any memories, positive or negative, stick out about your time here at Dumbarton Oaks?
BG: Oh lots. [laughs] I’d have to pick…so many… I don’t know. I remember – I don’t know which ones to tell. But when Elizabeth Boone interviewed me, I remember she said, “We get some people who have a prima donna complex. So, tell me, how would you deal with that?” And I thought, boy that was a really good question. But it’s not too much of a problem in Pre-Columbian Studies.
JW: Do you remember your answer to the question?
BG: Yeah, and actually I do remember, and it’s kind of what I do. I said, “I pretend I don’t notice.” You know, I just treat everybody like – I address the issue at hand. And it does work, like if people are trying to push their weight around, or want special services – just pretend like it’s gone over my head [laughs].
JW: Is there anything that James and I have neglected to mention that you would like to discuss with us?
BG: I don’t think so. I hope I said enough about the Harvard – the evolution of our relationship with Harvard.
JWC: You did mention that Harvard gets a lot from Dumbarton Oaks. What do you think that you gain from Harvard?
BG: Well, in part it’s name recognition. If we have to deal with an outsider, and we say, “Oh, we’re part of Harvard,” they listen. [laughs] And also now a lot of support – not so much me in collection development – but tech services. And I’m so out of the loop now that I don’t know the details, but they deal with their Aleph people, so the systems people – Aleph is the software behind Hollis. They get systems support, they have to deal with the accounting office up there because – see, when I did acquisitions, we just managed all of our own accounting here. And then the finance office here reconciled with Harvard, but now the reconciliation has to start within, and our Director of Acquisitions, our Manager of Acquisitions has to reconcile all of the accounts in the Harvard system. So, it’s more work, but also a lot of support. See, that’s a double-edged thing, you know, because it’s a very complicated system; but I think everybody’s happy that we’re in Hollis. I mean, all of my colleagues, I think – we had gotten too big, and the world is too sophisticated to try to do it on our own anymore.
JW: You mentioned that you’ve got a very unique group of patrons at Dumbarton Oaks and you have very unique collections – how has working here changed your conception of what a librarian is and does, if at all?
BG: I don’t know if it’s changed it. I think it’s allowed me to be the librarian I had envisioned in the library that I had envisioned. And that’s what’s not true very many places anymore. I mean, the big university libraries, Ivy League, and the big public flagships, they can’t do it anymore. So, I think it’s confirmed for me.
JW: Well, unless we have any more questions…
JNC: There are a number of people whom we unfortunately cannot interview, and I was wondering if you had any interactions with Seka Allen, for example, and could say anything about what she did here.
BG: Oh…I did. I overlapped with her for years, but I don’t know if I can remember – because I did – my interaction with her was mainly having lunch with her; and I liked her a lot. She was one of the people in one of the Byzantine studies programs that really reached out to the pre-Columbianists; but as far as what she did with the index, I don’t remember. I just remember it was very physical, it was cards and papers and cutting and pasting. But she was a well-trained old-school librarian or archivist.
JW: Thanks you so much for your time.
BG: You’re welcome.