Conf/CfP – Collection Thinking 12 – 14 June 2018, Canada

Deadline for proposals: 1 March 2018

The Richler Library Project presents:

“Collection Thinking”

A free-to-attend conference

12-14 June 2018, Concordia University, Montreal, QC, Canada

What is a collection? As a concept that signifies both an action (of gathering things together) and an entity (the things gathered), the collection raises important questions about how we create meaning through acts of selection, arrangement and description. The idea for this conference originates in a project that considers the literary historical and cultural significance of the author’s personal collection (of books, papers and ephemera) as a repository of materials with culturally-informed organizational structures. Using such a hybrid collection of books, archival materials, furniture and personal memorabilia as a conceptual starting point, we invite scholars, archivists and librarians of all disciplines to choose their own examples and case studies of collections that will help us think about the nature and meaning of collections within their broader social and cultural contexts of creation and use.

Collections of all kinds and scales are created, held, contained, preserved, stored, and consequently record the instantiation of something of value to an individual or a community. “Collection Thinking” has us ask, in the first instance, under whose terms has a collection been made and to what ends? Further, within our present context of networked digital media, collections have become as much associated with recirculation and consequent reinterpretation as with material location. As Gabriella Giannachi explains, “over the centuries, archives started to be considered not only as locations or objects but, as media, and communications strategies.” Archives and libraries that house collections in this iteration function less as places that determine a singular form of authorized value than as sites for the possible production of multiple and diverse systems of value. They become subject to what Hal Foster has called an “archival impulse” among artists “to make historical information, often lost or displaced, physically present” in ways that run counter to the original terms under which those archival records were initially housed, through acts of resituating, reordering and re-presenting.

From this perspective, the meaning of the collection may be discernible in the acts of structuring, arranging and cataloguing that give it shape. The record we produce to identify an object within a collection represents an event that transforms a fugitive thing into a piece of a larger, meaningful whole: a collection. The methods and records used to organize and describe collections, whether in established memory institutions or personal collecting activities, have their own histories and underscore the implication of descriptive and structuring methods and actors (the collectors) in the process of collection as a cultural phenomenon. In her discussion of unofficial collections or “rogue archives” created, usually online, by “amateurs, fans, hackers, pirates, and volunteers,” Abigail De Kosnik stresses the productive, eventful aspect of archival enactment and collection. This suggests that we can learn a lot about collection and cultural preservation by studying not just the materials collected and preserved, but the collection and preservation practices of the individuals committed to such work. In describing the practices that keep certain traces of events and people preserved in collections, and thus in play for use in the present, we may account for the repertoire of concepts and labour practices that produce and gird the meanings of the cultural/conceptual entity that motivated the collection in the first place.

We are excited to read your own proposals about how we can productively think about collections as social and cultural entities and activities. We are calling for proposals for individual papers, or, full panel sessions that pursue your approach to “Collection Thinking”. Further, we have listed a series of special session topics to which you may propose an individual contribution.


Individual papers will be between 15-20 minutes in presentation length. Panel sessions will be 90 minutes in duration, ideally with time for discussion. If you wish to propose a full panel session in a format that differs from the regular three x 20-minute paper format, that is fine, but be sure that it will fit within a 90-minute session slot.

Please send proposals of no more than 250 words for individual papers and panel sessions, plus a one-page CV for each presenter as Word or PDF attachment, to Chalsley Taylor <> by 1 March 2018.

Some suggested topics for papers or proposed sessions to pursue include:

  • The collection viewed as a whole, or as incomplete
  • Tiny collections
  • Meaningless collections
  • The preservation of collections
  • Official and unofficial collections
  • The author’s library as collection
  • The uses of collections
  • Teaching with collections
  • Iterative or flexible collections
  • Hidden collections
  • The changing meaning of collections
  • Collection narratives of provenance
  • Oral histories surrounding collections
  • The relationship of photography and writing in author’s collections
  • Collections and Affect/Emotions: the feelings of collecting and the feelings collections incite

Calls for Special Sessions

In lieu of submitting a full panel proposal or individual paper proposal to the general call, you are invited to submit a proposal that is directed to one of the special session topics described below.

Imaginary Collections

Papers proposed for this special session may address anything from literal collections of non-existent volumes, e.g. Thomas Browne’s Museum Clausum and Borges’ fables; to the imagined collections of existent volumes, like the Wunderkammer collected by characters in literature, e.g. Prospero’s books in The Tempest, Faust’s in Goethe, The Spoils of Poynton in Henry James and Barney’s spoils in Richler, etc.

The Book as Collector

How has the codex functioned as a platform for the display of collections of different kinds? Among the book-based genres of collection that might be considered: The anatomy (Stubbs of Abuses, Burton’s of Melancholy); miscellany (beginning with the first printed book of English verse, Tottle’s Miscellany); commonplace book (from Ben Jonson’s Timber and Lichtenberg’s Sudelbuecher — “Waste Books” — to Jan Zwicky’s Lyric Philosophy); bestiaries (from Aesop and Topsell to Apollinaire and Borges); cento poem (from Ausonius to Pound to Ronald Johnson); almanac (from Ben Franklin to Der blaue Reiter); catalogue (from Minoan Linear B and Evelyn’s herbals e.g. Sylvia, to Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Francis Bacon’s Paraceve, Whitman’s “Song of Occupations” and The Book of Lists), assemblages (Benjamin’s  Arcades project), etc.

“Papers” with Images

The Richler Library Collection contains a great many photographically illustrated volumes whose images might be correlated, however tangentially and speculatively, with Mordecai Richler’s later writing. Links might even extend to his earlier work – picture books are notoriously hard to part company with. The use of photographs to appeal to collective memory, spark imagination, or simply to enrich description is a common practice in the writer’s den. Such uses range from the literal to the oblique: Michael Ondaatje and W.G Sebald are well-known examples of the latter. For this session, we are interested in papers that explore the relationship between photography and writing, through the lens of an author’s collections. Archivists and curators who have worked with “papers” that include images are especially welcome, as are poets, novelists, and essayists who have responded to the photographic spark.

Unruly Objects

How do we deal with the objects that “don’t belong” in a collection, but are nonetheless present? This panel will address the difficult materialities of the heterogeneous things that find their ways into otherwise uniform collections, and with their import to the collections from which it is all-too-tempting to exclude them.

Descriptive Metadata for Peculiar or Hybrid Collections

How might we approach the description of collections that seem to demand more than a single metadata format, for example, a collection that combines books, manuscripts and realia? What do “peculiar” collections of objects from intuitively distinct records categories teach us about the power and limits of metadata? This session will consider what we can learn from collections that seem to resist rational description.

Collections Infrastructure

As Susan Leigh Star argues in “The Ethnography of Infrastructure,” infrastructure is “a fundamentally relational concept, becoming real infrastructure in relation to organized practices.” Working from case studies around specific collections, This panel will examine the ways in which both ad-hoc and professional archival and collections management practices harden into policies and other forms of infrastructure that come to determine how collections can and can’t be used.

Teaching with Collections

The use of archives, artists’ libraries, and other collections in teaching presents an opportunity to reanimate, reimagine, and reinterpret their contents. Panelists are invited to propose papers that present experiences and address the theoretical and practical issues behind integrating collections into the classroom.

The Sociability of Personal Collections

What modes of sociability are revealed by personal libraries and collections (especially those by women)? What are the various echelons of engagement and how does one characterize these professional, supportive, and personal levels of support as laid bare through personal collections? How does the latter change how we approach personal library collections, in particular, not as secondary source materials, but rather as primary ones?

Activating Collection Stories

Collections represent arrangements of things that suggest narratives of human agency, purpose and desire. A diverse range of methods developed by oral historians represent a powerful means of inviting the stories of collections to be spoken and heard. This session invites papers that consider how the meanings of collections can be revealed through the use of techniques in oral history.