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Rosemary Magee talks about MARBL

Rosemary M. Magee, vice president and secretary of Emory University, has been named director of the university's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.

Q: What do you see as the role of MARBL at Emory?

A: It's interesting to note that "primary evidence" is a focus for Emory's Quality Enhancement Plan as we prepare for a reaffirmation of accreditation review in 2014 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). So many endeavors associated with the university are essentially connected to primary evidence. Universities and libraries, along with museums and other related institutions, are the keepers of primary evidence, so that students and scholars can have direct association with the words, the materials, the rare books, the artifacts, and in some cases the art of the great thinkers and contributors to civilization. MARBL represents that perspective and that opportunity. From my point of view, every student who comes through the university should have a close connection with these kinds of materials. MARBL is a beautiful manifestation of that possibility.

Q: What do you see as some of MARBL's strengths?

A: Several things are worth pointing out. First, MARBL shows how it's possible to identify key areas for collection development that are closely related to areas of academic focus and also important historically to Emory and Atlanta. That approach is well demonstrated through the Irish literary materials, the African American collections and by the Danowski Poetry Collection, among others.

Thus it's possible to identify rich areas of a very deep connection to what Emory is and who we are in terms of our teaching and research mission, and then to develop and strengthen them. That enterprising spirit can lead to some very interesting exhibitions and programming as well. The current Writers exhibition in Schatten Gallery is paired with MARBL's writing collections and guest curated by a wide range of people from the Emory community. So MARBL represents the opportunity to collect these materials, to go deep with these materials and to provide a wide range of access to the materials, whether that's through classes visiting, or exhibitions, or sponsoring a writer or artist. It's deep and wide.

Q: How is MARBL connected to the pursuit of excellence in the liberal arts?

A: The MARBL collections demonstrate both critical inquiry and the process of creativity and discovery. These are interconnected impulses. If you read through the various collections, you will find writers who have developed a particular approach, and then subjected it to questioning, revised it altogether and started over, and picked it back up. We tend to think of literary products as being final, as if the work came all of a sudden to Flannery O'Connor, as though she knew from the outset what she was going to write about. But we know from her letters that it was an evolving process. That's true for all of us. Creativity is a process that frequently takes a lot of work and lot of attempts and sometimes many failures. Such work requires great discipline and prospers from full investment in the liberal arts.

Q: How is MARBL connected to the future of Emory?

A: We think a lot at the university about how things are going to look going forward, and I expect a place like MARBL will be even more important in future, even more important in the digital age.

One reason is that it provides the source material, and anyone can experience it firsthand. There's something very meaningful, tangible and almost spiritual about encountering those source materials and accessing them on a first-hand basis. That will continue to be a meaningful part of the educational process. Another reason is that the materials are perfectly suited for innovative approaches to digitizing. There are many great examples already associated with our library—perhaps the most well known is all the innovative work that's been done with the Salman Rushdie archive.

So MARBL is a place that honors and treasures the past, but it's a place that brings the past into the present and it's also a place that brings us all into the future as we experience these materials in ever-new ways.

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