Jim Galbraith, chief librarian of The Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass, started in his position at the Museum in March. I recently caught up with him to hear how he’s settling back in to his hometown and what he has in store for the Library.
You have worked in Libraries in the past, but tell me about your connection with glass. Is it something completely new to you to be working with a collection dedicated to glass and glassmaking?
Glass is new to me and part of the fun is learning from my colleagues and starting to gain an understanding of glass and glass art. It’s exciting to have the opportunity to learn so much and it’s challenging at the same time. There are similarities with libraries I have worked with in the past that strive to be the library of record in their area. When I was at Columbia University, I worked with the Avery Art and Architecture Library which is the library of record for art and architecture worldwide – they try to collect everything published in their area. And, just as the Rakow Library indexes articles about glass, the Avery Art and Architecture Library also indexes journals in art and architecture.
Usually academic libraries seek to be comprehensive in selected areas if they are a research institution. UC Irvine collected in critical theory. At DePaul University, everything related to Vincentian studies. At the Rakow, we collect glass comprehensively.
Do you have a favorite object either in the Museum’s collection or the Library’s collection that has been exciting to work with?
I do actually. There are a few artists that I was taken with immediately when I saw their work. It’s the Libenský piece—Red Pyramid—that I find very striking. I tend to like pieces that are more architectural. The Rakow Library’s collection of the Czech glass sketches—the Steinberg Collection—is my favorite. It’s an amazing collection.
And then I have to say, one of my favorite objects is one that came to the Rakow just after I started here, Michael Glancy’s piece. I love the way Glancy works with glass and metal and receiving the gift of Almost Perfect was amazing. It’s a beautiful combination of glass art and artist book, which I find interesting—the physical book itself is a work of art.
What are you looking forward to in your role as chief librarian of The Rakow Research Library?
First of all, we’re the library of record for glass, so continuing to expand our collection is important. And I would like to expand on different areas that we haven’t collected in in the past. I want to increase our technical/scientific works. I would like to acquire more artist books as well. And then of course it is critical to continue processing the archives that we acquire and make them accessible.
We’ve done a lot of really excellent work with digitization, we want to continue expanding our digital collection and providing content to glass enthusiasts worldwide.
Educational outreach will be a major component. We’re bringing in a new outreach librarian to help with community outreach, regional outreach, to both the community and other libraries in the region.
One of the things I’d really like focus on—the Rakow is well known in the glass community, but not as well known among other libraries. I’d like increase our presence in the library community as a research library of renown.
It’s exciting to be here and every day is fun because you get to work with different people and ideas. One of the things that is unique about the Rakow Library is how international it is. In one week we had visitors from Colombia, Spain, and a researcher from Iran—she was visiting the area and stopped in. You get to meet a lot of people from different backgrounds and different places all the time.
Do you have areas of specialization?
I’ve been a collection development librarian for a very long time and developing research collections is one of my specialties. I’ve done a lot of work on the digital side of things, I was an electronic resources librarian for quite a while and then when I worked for OCLC I did a lot of work with e-books and developing user interfaces, that type of thing. I actually started out my career as a business government documents librarian, and so it’s always fun when MBA programs come to tour the Library.
What led you to The Rakow Research Library?
Well actually, I grew up in the area. I’m from Elmira, New York. When I was a kid I was interested in Roman history and one of the places that my parents took me was The Corning Museum of Glass. The Museum made a strong impression on me because it was the first time I ever saw any Roman artifacts in real life and it was this affirmation that yes, you can see these things, you can study them and they’re real; and it started a life-long interest.
When I was at DePaul University, I had moved around a bit in my career and I was looking to buy a house and settle down. I started looking at New York because my brother is here and a lot of friends and family are in the area. I’m very happy to be back in the region. It goes back to my childhood and just loving the region and loving the Museum and knowing how powerful a museum can be.
Your family is from the Corning-Elmira, New York area; tell me more about coming back here.
Kind of a remarkable sense of déjà vu. It’s very interesting how much has changed and hasn’t changed. It’s been about 25 years since I’ve lived here.
What’s the biggest change?
The area in Big Flats and Horseheads is much more built up then it was when I left. First Arena wasn’t here, that’s completely new to me. The Museum has changed incredibly since I was last here. I am very impressed by the glassblowing demonstrations, I’m excited about the new modern glass gallery we are building, the gift shop is amazing. I also love the way we are displaying the 200 inch disc now—that’s so iconic.
The whole Innovation Center is completely new too. And of course, the Chihuly Fern Green Tower is 5 feet taller so that’s wonderful. It’s funny because I mostly notice things that haven’t changed in the region.
So what hasn’t changed in Elmira in 25 years?
I’m amazed at all the little shops that are still open. If you go down Route 352 between Elmira and Corning, you will see Denny’s subs. It’s this little mom and pop sub shop place by the gas station. I remember when Tags was just a little bar and now it’s bringing in national acts. And Anniello’s is still here. I remember when that was across the street and just getting started, when it was a much smaller pizza place. It was my family’s favorite in the region. It’s always restaurants with me! I was very happy to see that the Elmira Drive-in is still open, the Clemens Center, the Steele Memorial Library, of course.
The feel of Corning is very, very similar to the way it was before. Market Street is still as beautiful as it ever was, still a wonderful place to go and walk, visit antique stores. It’s funny, but I didn’t realize as I was growing up to Elmira, how you have this kind of rivalry between Elmira and Corning. Looking back on it, I think I never fully appreciated Corning because I was from Elmira, I was caught up in it myself. Living in Elmira and working in Corning, I guess I get the best of both worlds now!