Monday, 7 March 2011

Not Fading Away

To Grasmere last week, to the Innovative Interpretation of Manuscripts conference, organised by the indefatigable Jeff Cowton from the Wordsworth Trust.

As we edged along Ambleside in glorious sunshine, I mentioned to my taxi driver where I was going. She never learnt Wordsworth at school, she said, and had never been to Dove Cottage. He was just a name, and his work was irrelevant.

I spoke with Dr Luca Crispi from University College Dublin (formerly from the National Library of Ireland), showing some work we did with Joyce and Yeats manuscripts. Eighty people jammed in to the Jerwood Centre with others sitting in the lobby outside, and a further fourteen on the waiting list. It was a great event, the numbers proving that there's a real demand for information on this subject. Too often librarians can just do what they've always done. The charismatic Nat Edwards spoke about the Burns Birthplace Museum, and I was struck by the attention he'd paid to environment, and the erudite David McKitterick from Trinity College Cambridge illuminated us on the revolutions in writing.

I blogged not long ago about the centrality of special collections, and the importance of the user experience and interpretation. The conference gave me a new understanding of the need for leadership, knowledge sharing and collaboration in these areas.

Unless we can get user experience and interpretation right, it won't just be the taxi driver who doesn't know who Wordsworth is. Visitor numbers are declining at the homes of many smaller collections. I think we know how to fix this, but we will need to learn from those who already have.

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