Speech: Special Collections Classroom Dedication

I gave this speech at the dedication of the Gerald H. and Victoria C. T. Read Special Collections Classroom and Processing Center, 3 October 2008. The audience included the University President, Dean of Libraries, and relatives of the Read family.

Thanks, Cara [Head, Special Collections and Archives]

My name is Robin Katz and I am in my second year in the School of Library and Information Science. I was born and raised on the East side of Cleveland. My father is a printer, and my mother a teacher who was a freshman at Kent State in 1970. At the age of 18, I was itching to leave Ohio. I went to college at Brandeis University outside of Boston, where I studied literature and European cultural studies. After graduation, I was volunteering in New Orleans when the American Library Association held their annual conference there. This was the first convention after Katrina, and it meant a lot to the city. Incidentally, in my chats with librarians that weekend, I started to realize that many of my interests were pointing me towards a career as a Special Collections librarian.

After a year teaching English in France, I was ready to go to graduate school. It was solely because of this assistantship that I chose Kent, so, on a totally personal note, I must thank you for this opportunity because it brought me back here and gave me the chance to reconnect with my roots, my family and my community. Working with the May 4 Archive and Oral History Project in particular has taught me a lot about memory and memorial and about our collective past. I am very concerned about our collective future as a region and I hope that Kent can continue to be a positive force in this area.

I would like to extend many thanks to Victoria Anne and Carlton Thornbury, Roger and Judy Read, and Sheila Smith for your commitment to the success of this department which serves such an important role in our community. And to the Read family, I must say, that I admire Dr. Gerald Read’s early work in the field of comparative and international education.

I am deeply grateful for the sheer generosity of your gift. Having a tuition waiver and a stipend is virtually unheard of for a Master’s degree. I come from a modest family who was only able to send me to an expensive private school for undergrad because I received very generous scholarships. Especially in this uncertain economic environment, your gift has personally made a huge difference to me. I will not feel rushed to accept an ill fitting job come graduation, and I have been able to focus my attention on my career goals unlike some of my classmates who juggle several minimum wage jobs and take out additional loans to get by.

This assistantship provides, of course, way more than financial relief. I consider my assistantship the core of my education. The practical experience that I have gained in this department is not extracurricular or complimentary to my coursework. In fact, it is just the opposite – I come to my coursework with the solid foundation of real-life interactions thanks to this assistantship. I have helped undergraduates, faculty members, journalists, and the public when I staff the reference desk in our reading room. I have rolled up my sleeves and done the intellectual and the physical work involved in processing real archival collections – so that when I sit in my class and read the theoretical work I have a deeper appreciation of the material. I cannot imagine earning my Master’s without this work, so thank you, again, not only for your support but for the opportunity to learn so much.

I know that as I graduate and move into the field, I will have an arsenal of practical experience. I have already seen how serving as the Read Assistant will benefit me in other library settings. This past summer, I was selected for an internship at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University where I worked on digital projects. Because that institution is large and highly specialized, they were very impressed with the breadth of experience I have had here at Kent – from public services to preservation to archival processing. I believe that the reason I got the internship, in fact, was because I am a Read Assistant. This opportunity will inform my future career and will equip me to contribute to my profession, to hopefully become a leader in the field.

So there is no doubt that I have benefited immensely from the generosity of the Read family. But I hope you understand that your investment – in this department, in future assistants – is really an investment in this university, in scholarship, and in our community. The Read Assistantship improves the School of Library and Information Science by attracting top students, creating leaders, and supporting a sometimes neglected specialization of librarianship. It benefits our department, which directly serves the Library’s mission of supporting the teaching and research needs of this university.

I am proud to serve as an Assistant here because the work that we do is really important. We are more able to process, preserve and make rare material available to a wide range of audiences, including a huge percentage of undergraduates, which is really special. I, for one, never handled archival material in my undergraduate career. We fill international reference requests, we work with faculty and visiting scholars from other institutions, and we welcome the public. In our postmodern digital age of electronic reproduction, rare and primary materials are of increasing importance. They are what distinguish us, what make us special. And in this information flood, the selection and interpretation that we provide – for free – is a much needed service. In this context, I am truly honored that I – and others after me – will be so well trained to do this significant work thanks to the generosity of the Read family.

Thank you.

Katz, Robin M. Read Classroom and Processing Center dedication. Special Collections & Archives, Kent State University Libraries. Kent, OH. October 3, 2008. Speaker.
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