Interview with Gail R. Redmann

The Bottom Line

ISSN: 0888-045X

Article publication date: 1 March 2004



(2004), "Interview with Gail R. Redmann", The Bottom Line, Vol. 17 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Interview with Gail R. Redmann

Interview with Gail R. Redmann

Edited by Kent C. Boese, Arts Cataloger, Cataloging Services Department, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington, DC, USA.

Keywords: Librarians, Special libraries, Financial management, Fundraising, Archives, Sponsorship

TBL interviews Gail R. Redmann, vice president, Research Library and Collections, Historical Society of Washington, Washington, DC, USA.

TBL: What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Redmann: In January 1996, I was hired by the Historical Society of Washington, DC, as a part-time reference librarian. At that time, library reference service was being conducted primarily by volunteers. We were open just four days a week and had no electronic access to our collections or collections management records. I believe my greatest achievement has been meeting the challenge of professionalizing our reference service and collections management operations. We now have a strong archival internship program, a well-organized electronic catalog, and a staff of five to manage our reference services and collections including library materials, manuscripts and archives, photographs, art, and artifacts. We also have a beautiful new reading room and well-organized collection storage and work areas at the new City Museum of Washington.

TBL: What writings on financial management best inform you to do your job?

Redmann: I think that there is not a really good resource that deals with the financial management of a special collections library within a larger institution. Tasked with generating income for the entire institution, development officers are often unaware of specific library needs and fundraising by the library can be seen as competitive. It is important for library staff to be proactive in finding ways to work with their development officers to find donors who have particular interests in library projects and will support the institution in order to see that those are accomplished.

TBL: What do you think of corporate sponsorships? While they bring significant funds to libraries, do they threaten the library's neutrality?

Redmann: Corporate sponsorships have served an important role in supporting our museum's exhibits and programs. For example, local businesses have provided food for special events and sponsorship for neighborhood exhibits. Our development department aggressively seeks corporate members and sponsors in order to encourage them to have a stake in the preservation of the city's history at the City Museum. Rather than threatening the library's "neutrality", we hope these partners will actively support the library's mission to collect, preserve, and teach the history of the District of Columbia.

TBL: Given the opportunity, how would you resolve the copyright protection vs unfettered Internet access conundrum?

Redmann: As a library within a private, non-profit institution with a highly specialized collection, our involvement with this "conundrum" is somewhat different than for our colleagues in public libraries. Our relationship to this issue stems from how we choose what we make accessible on our Web site while still retaining the ability to draw income from reproductions of materials in our collections. For example, we are beginning to add digitized images to some of the collection records in our on-line catalog. While we recognize the demand for this service by researchers and want to provide reference images, income from the reproduction and publication of our images is crucial for supporting the preservation of the collections.

TBL: If money were no object, what is the most significant change that you would institute in your library?

Redmann: One thing I would do is hire the staff necessary to step up our archival processing program. While we have had great success with interns and volunteers, processing large collections that are beyond the scope of a semester intern or one-day-a-week volunteer has been difficult. While grant funds for processing is sometimes available, specialized local history collections often do not meet the criteria. I would also like to have the staff and equipment to handle our reproduction services in-house. Right now, we contract out most of our client reproduction services to the National Geographic Society's photo lab. In addition, I would work on dealing with some of our more expensive preservation concerns, including art conservation and rebinding some of our rare books and pamphlets. We would also complete our ongoing project to encapsulate and rebind our heavily-used real estate atlases.

TBL: What fund-raising activities have worked for your library?

Redmann: One project that has been successful for us over the past several years is an annual book sale. The first year we weeded materials that were inappropriate to our collections, and as time went on, we gathered donations of used books to supplement and, finally, to supplant weeded materials. However, although we generated several thousand dollars for our real estate encapsulation project, the staff time required was excessive and we can not continue this project without more volunteer support. We are hoping to develop a Friends of the Library group at the City Museum to help us organize and staff a variety of fund-raising projects for library needs. We are getting ready to launch a newsletter to promote the library and our collections next month. It will be available on our Web site and hard copies will be available to pick up in our reading room.

TBL: How important are digitization projects to your organization, and how did you allocate funds to undertake this initiative?

Redmann: Aside from in-house scanning of a few hundred photographs that appear in catalog records on our Web site, we have not had the equipment or funds for a major digitization project. We also understand that digitization is not a long-term preservation solution, and, if funds are available, microfilming special collections is still the best choice. However, we recognize that having digitized images on our Web site will encourage greater use of our collections. I have recently completed an application for an NEH grant to digitize one of our most frequently used collections the John P. Wymer Photograph Collection, which is a photographic survey, taken from 1948 to 1952, that encompasses the entire city. (For a sampling of the Wymer photographs, consult our on-line catalog at At the advanced search screen, enter "Wymer" in the photographer field.)

TBL: What has been the hardest decision you have had to make in your career?

Redmann: The most difficult project in my career was planning and implementing the move of our entire special collections library from our old location in an historic house in Dupont Circle to our new location in the City Museum. This process required many major decisions, including appropriate environmental controls, collection storage design and appropriate shelving (including accurate mapping of the collections to the new location), reading room design and furnishings, and selection of an appropriate move consultant and moving company. It was a massive undertaking for a small library with a staff of three and definitely the most significant learning experience of my career.

TBL: If your budget were decreased by 10 per cent, what would your response be?

Redmann: Dealing with a drastically curtailed budget is a fact of life in most non-profit cultural institutions and ours is no exception. We have always operated our library on a shoestring with large doses of dedication and sweat equity by both staff and volunteers. Each member of the library staff is highly flexible and adept at multi-tasking so that we work as smartly as possible with limited resources. We have budgeted our archival supplies carefully, recycling when possible and ordering in bulk for discounts but not for a large stockpile. We encourage the donation of needed titles by circulating a book wish list to our members and patrons. We have developed our own library brochure and print it as needed on our color photocopier in order to cut down on outside design and printing costs. As we develop our audience at the City Museum, which is a much larger building to support and maintain, these skills are even more important.

TBL: From your years of service in the profession, is there one piece of advice on fiscal responsibility that you would like to give today's library managers-to-be?

Redmann: My library experience has been as a solo librarian or now with a very small staff in a larger, financially-strapped institution. In that setting, I think one's fiscal responsibility is similar to the kind of fiscal responsibility practiced within a personal or family budget and we carry the same concern for making ends meet in the workplace as we do at home. We watch our expenses carefully and try to be creative about ways to generate income while maintaining a strong customer service ethic. Most of our patrons understand the difficulties faced by institutions like ours and realize that we need to charge for some services in order to make ends meet. We also emphasize a strong work ethic and team spirit. We must work smartly and efficiently in order to make our limited resources go farther. It takes constant vigilance and commitment to the mission of the organization.

TBL: How did you first get involved with library finance issues? Did you have a mentor?

Redmann: In a small institution, when the librarian is a department of one, library finance issues are an immediate concern. Working within a limited budget has been a continuous part of my on-the-job training. When I arrived at the Historical Society's library in 1996, I found that volunteers were running themselves ragged pursuing the answers to reference requests for people who could not come to the library to do research themselves. Doing in-depth research of this kind was draining our personnel resources for organizing our collections and working with patrons who visited our reading room. We instituted a policy of spending up to 15 minutes to answer a reference request by telephone or e-mail. Research requiring more staff time was directed to our new Library Research Service for which there was an hourly charge. Besides generating much-needed income for supporting the work of the library, this move actually heightened the value of the work we do and was still a bargain for out-of-towners. In dealing with issues relating to efficiency and fiscal responsibility, my greatest mentors were my parents, who demonstrated the work ethic and money management skills of the depression-era generation.

TBL: What is the most significantcost-savings measure you have implemented in the course of your career?

Redmann: We are proud to have produced our new on-line catalog, which continues to be updated and improved, on a very limited budget. Its creation was actually the result of a number of cost-savings measures as we moved toward professionalizing access to our collection. The first has probably had the most significant impact for us over time. In 1996, we entered into a cataloging partnership with the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) cataloging team at the Library of Congress. That department offers an incredible service to small institutions that can not afford OCLC membership and a full-time cataloging staff. As we process our manuscript and archives collections, we send the completed finding aids to the NUCMC team for cataloging. They then provide us the electronic MARC records, which we import into our PastPerfect collections management software. This relationship continues to be a tremendous asset to our collection management operations.

TBL: What are the most important skills that new librarians need to succeed in the twenty-first century?

Redmann: I believe that new librarians should have a broad education to develop skills in a variety of areas that might serve them in their career, particularly since most will find themselves in institutions that are understaffed and underfunded. These skills include learning how to effectively manage time, personnel, and resources. Customer service skills are also crucial.

TBL: Are library schools doing enough to prepare librarians to be sound financial managers?

Redmann: I can not speak for all library schools, but I believe that library management in general is not well covered in most curricula. Many library schools are focusing on information technology and computer skills when people, time, and money management skills are probably the most universally useful.

TBL: If you had the opportunity to do it all over again, would you still choose a career in this profession? Why or why not?

Redmann: Absolutely. My career as a librarian and archivist has been richly rewarding. I have learned a great deal about professional practice, my subject area (the local history of Washington, DC), and myself. I have met literally thousands of fascinating people with whom I've been able to share my love for the work I do and the city I live in.