I am happy to be posting another portrait in preservation and thrilled that it is Michele Cloonan. Her writing often inspires me and her 2001 Library Trends article "W(h)ither Preservation" continues to be one of my favorite things written for the preservation field.
Bio: Michèle V. Cloonan is Dean and Professor of the Graduate School of Library & Information Science at Simmons College. Prior to that she was Chair and Associate Professor, Department of Information Studies, UCLA. She has written widely in the areas of preservation, book trade history, and bibliography. Her most recent publications have concerned the preservation of digital media and the ethical, social, and political aspects of preservation. Before she began her teaching career, she designed the preservation program at Brown University. Dean Cloonan has held a variety of offices in the American Library Association, served on the board of the American Printing History Association, and is immediate past Chair of the Board of Directors of the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). She has also served on the editorial boards of Libraries & Culture, Library Quarterly, and Libri. Long interested in international preservation education, she was a member of the Preservation and Conservation Section of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) from 2006-09. From 2004-07 she coordinated a Simmons College/Harvard University/UCLA Libraries initiative to train Iraqi librarians. Michèle was president of the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) in 2008-09. She is the recipient of the 2010 Paul Banks and Carolyn Harris Preservation Award of the American Library Association.
Describe an experience that was particularly influential in your professional development.
When I started college, I planned to go to law school. A chance meeting in 1973 with a local bookbinder who lived in Shaftsbury, Vermont, changed my career path. Kathryn (Posy) Gerlach was an American who went to Europe to study bookbinding. While working in Leipzig with Ignatz Wiemeler she met her future husband, Gerhard Gerlach. They moved to New York City in 1934, and to Shaftsbury, Vermont some thirty years later. I studied with Posy my last two years of college, by which time she was a widow.
My studies with Posy included more than bookbinding. She and Gerhard collaborated with Frederic Goudy, Dard Hunter, and Veronica and Rudolph Ruzicka. (Rudolph was an artist, book designer; his daughter Veronica was a cartographer an artist who made paste papers.) Posy owned examples of all of their work. So began my initiation into the book arts. The poet and printer Claude Fredericks was my thesis advisor. Posy was the edition binder for Claude’s Banyan Press. Regular field trips to the special collections at Williams College introduced me to the history of the book. All thoughts of law school soon banished.
Although I gave up bookbinding in the 1980s, my immersion in the book arts has not abated. My husband, Sidney Berger, and I collect fine press books, artist’s books, and decorated papers. Many, many students and book artists come to our house each year to see our collections. In this I am guided by Posy’s generosity.
How do you think working in preservation has shaped or changed your worldview?
I view the world through preservation-colored glasses. It all started in 1976 when I went to Dublin to intern with Tony Cains in the conservation lab at Trinity College. A major controversy had just erupted in Ireland: should the Book of Kells and other important artifacts be allowed to leave the country for two years to travel around the United States as part of the blockbuster Irish Treasures exhibition? Tony Cains lost the battle to keep the items in Ireland. I went to Dublin last spring to re-familiarize myself with the event. Re-reading the contemporary accounts in the Irish Times, reminded me how important cultural heritage issues are to the public.
Since then, many other world events have influenced me. At the 1991 IFLA meeting in Moscow, Susan Swartzburg and I watched protesters take down Soviet-era monuments. Would they be preserved, we wondered. The answer to that question has turned out to be rather complex.
After the American invasion in Baghdad in 2003, a group us of starting training programs for Iraqi librarians and educators. For me the preservation of cultural heritage is intertwined with social justice.
I have been teaching preservation management since 1986. I have always believed that every librarian and archivist should understand the importance of preserving the cultural record. In this digital era Preservation awareness is more important than ever before.
What part of your preservation work most excites and engages you?
I equally love teaching preservation and writing about it.
If you were teaching what you do to a student, what would you say is the most important thing to learn in order to do your job well?
Lead with passion, discipline, and dedication. Learn patience; change doesn’t always come quickly. Find collaborators. Preservation is an inherently multi-disciplinary field.
Bonus question (optional) - What do you preserve and why?
I have just been writing about this topic. Preserve everything that will be of value to future researchers. That is a reductionist answer. I am in the final stages of compiling an anthology of preservation publications, Preserving Our Heritage: Perspectives from Antiquity to the Digital Age. It will be published by Neal Schuman later this year. The authors represent a number of disciplines and have a number of answers to that question. I learned so much by reading so widely. I can’t wait to introduce my students to authors whose work was new to me when I started this project. So my answer is: read widely and think deeply.