Riding the waves

September 29th, 2010 by Cathleen Miller

Since the fall semester began, our mostly-quiet collection has been abuzz with activity.  Last week, we hosted an open house on Tuesday and the Maine Women’s Studies Consortium meeting on Friday.  It was energizing to see the Sarton Room filled with so many smart, warm people who care about literature and women’s history.  I felt incredibly enriched by both of these events, despite my fretting over what sandwiches and cookies to order!

The open house allowed me to meet many of the people who will become collaborators and partners in one way or another at the University and in the larger community.  I met a few poets I was hoping to meet–both Betsy Sholl and Annie Finch stopped by.  I talked with Carolyn Gage for a while about her new show, and met some other writers who stopped in for a chat.  I received several donations to the collection during the reception–one was a book from local author Susan Young, the other was a large collection of records from a girls’ camp called “Moy Mo Da Yo”.  Overall, the open house was a perfect introduction for me.  It is difficult to make connections to the people you need to meet in a new place, but that afternoon was filled with so much generosity and encouragement.  I feel lucky to have landed in such a wonderful town.

Friday’s Consortium meeting was a great chance to meet new colleagues from across the state.  It was difficult to hear about the financial struggles of the Women’s and Gender Studies programs in the University of Maine system.  Many people talked about how they put so much work into building these programs, and that slowly, one by one, they are being limited or dismantled.  It is discouraging to think that we could be sliding backward into a time when a Women’s Studies major was an oddity.  I hope that these are temporary budgetary constraints and that things will return to their former vigor.  Despite setbacks, it was inspiring to hear how hard people are fighting for their students, for their disciplines, for their place in the academy.  I look forward to working with these feisty women as I dig deeper into this job.

This week, things are back to a slower pace.  I am inventorying the collections I received last week and spending some time creating a routine for myself so that I can leave feeling a sense of accomplishment instead of looking at my ever-growing to do list.  I have had to redefine my sense of what “work” means since I arrived here.  I used to spend most of my time with my head buried in collections–I was responsible for processing collections, selecting items for digitization and conservation, and doing a lot of writing.  Here, I spend a lot of time doing administrative tasks that leave me with less of a sense of having accomplished something.

Yesterday, Sue Walker, one of our amazing volunteers, was working on the Cathie Pelletier papers, and I found myself nostalgic for the days when I could close a box and say “yes, done.”  Now, I have several collections that I am working on in addition to paperwork, working with patrons and classes, visioning for the future of the collection, and many other fun and important tasks.  I am still adjusting to the idea that thinking about things is part of my job…not that it wasn’t before, but I simply had so much to do in a very specific amount of time.  I always had to hustle.  Now, I have room to breathe, and I’ve got to say, it’s a little weird.  I am enjoying the space, enjoying the time to come up with my own priorities.  Mostly, I’m still figuring out the rhythm in this new territory.  It seems more and more evident that I must create my own rhythm so that I can keep my head above the waves.

And so we begin anew

September 22nd, 2010 by Cathleen Miller

Welcome to the Maine Women Writers Collection!

back to work after the open house

We are entering a new era here–one that values the manuscripts, books, and objects in our collection as much as ever before, while embracing the tools and challenges gifted to us by the ever-changing digital environment.  We are reaching out to younger audiences, as we deepen our strong connection with long-time loyal supporters.  We look toward collecting work that represents the diversity of voices in Maine’s writing and publishing world.  We are considering ways that writing has changed over the past several decades, and are looking at blogs as a growing outlet for writers.  We embrace emerging writers and women who may not even consider themselves writers, but create records of their lives in diaries or correspondence.  We also collect the work of women who contribute to organizations and movements that speak to women’s place in the world.  What voices do you wish were included in our collection?  How do we bridge the gap between the two Maines?

I have begun a preliminary list of Maine Women Bloggers, and will continue to add to our blogroll as we create a portal to the rich voices of Maine women who write for a digital audience.

These are some of the visions that I have for the collection.  I feel that we are at a pivotal moment, and that we are ready to reach out in new ways to build a strong foundation for the next fifty years of our collection’s history.  I fully believe in collaboration, so share your ideas with us if you feel so inspired.

It is such a pleasure to come to this space every day, to drink the air of literature and activism and woman-energy.  I feel extremely privileged to be the new curator for the collection.  Last week, I celebrated my three month anniversary here at Maine Women Writers.  At the beginning of October, I will mark my four month anniversary of living in Maine.  I have a lot to learn, but I am so happy to be embarking on this new adventure.  This blog will be one place I will record some of my thoughts about the evolution of the collection.  I will also be posting about our projects, events, and other goings-on.  Look for posts by other staff members, as well as volunteers and interns.  Consider this blog something of a conversation with you, our supporters, researchers and community.

Thank you for reading and for supporting the work we do here.  We couldn’t do it without you!

Until next time,