Thursday, 4 April 2013

Professional Development Call: Mr. Howard Dodson

Professional Development Call: March 24, 2013
Moorland-Spingarn Research Center – Washington, D.C.

Mr. Dodson worked at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture for twenty seven years; he is currently employed as the Director of Howard University’s Library and the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Mr. Dodson is quick to say that he is not an archivist or a manuscript librarian but he values the incredible impact of their work.

After graduating from college, Mr. Dodson joined the Peace Corp and worked in Ecuador. By the time that he got back to the United States in 1968 to work on Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign, Dr. King had been assassinated. When he thought about working on the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy, Kennedy was assassinated. These traumatic events brought a depression over Dodson, and he needed time to re-focus and determine what he was meant to do in this life. He decided to ship all of his books about African American history and culture to Puerto Rico; he followed shortly after and spent a year in the mountains reading those books. Dodson eventually ran out of money and came back to the United States to enroll in a Ph.D. program at the University of California at Berkeley. He received a scholarship and determined that the program would provide structure to his readings. Dodson convinced his department that he should go to the American South to study Black people, and he began doing work for the Institute of the Black World in Atlanta, Georgia.  After he finished his Ph.D. he worked in Atlanta for seven years.

Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture
In 1984, Dodson was offered and accepted the position at the Schomberg. He used $10,000 renovate the old building and create new spaces in the library for the viewing of photographs and art as well as listening stations for the recorded sound materials. It was Dodson’s idea to break the collection into divisions that corresponded with preservation and service concerns; for instance, prints and photographs are housed together, rare books and manuscripts are housed together and so forth. Dodson’s divisions also ensured that the Schomberg collections were organized in a way that the general public and scholars could easily understand.

Collection Initiatives
Much of Dodson’s success at the Schomberg can be attributed to his ability to break from the past and re-define collection priorities. His shift from documenting Black achievement in the United States to looking at Black achievement in the African Diaspora including Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela has put the Schomberg at the forefront of new trends in the field and made the collection stronger. Dodson also made it a priority to increase educational and cultural programming at the Schomberg. One example of Dodson using the subject strengths of the collection to support itself is a five year grant that was acquired to document the black religious experience. Another one of his strategies for success is to identify a theme like Black Power, Religion or the Americas, which encompass multiple collections and use the materials for research and exhibitions. They plan to build a collection around the research and the findings on black religion.

Fundraising Efforts
In his twenty seven years at the Schomberg took the collection from five million items to ten million items. He made a goal of finding money to organize, catalog, and make all of these collections accessible to the public. Dodson initiated two capital campaigns in his tenure at the Schomberg; the first resulted in 15.7 million dollars, the second in 26.2 million dollars. Although the capital campaigns built the endowment of the library, the staff still has to fundraise as well as use city and state funding for programs, and collection processing. Dodson shared that raising that amount of money was extremely hard work; he is proud that it will used to support scholars in residence programs and processing the collections with the most pressing concerns.

Moorland-Spingarn Research Center
Mr. Dodson arrived at Howard University at one of the most critical moments for the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. In summary, the leaders of the institution have retired and the budgets have been cut. In 1985, the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center was in the top 25% of top tier research libraries with a staff of fifty people; in 2010 they are at the bottom of that list, with a staff of less than ten people. Dodson plans to spearhead the effort to return this institution to its former glory. His priorities include a reduction of the processing backlog, hiring archivists and manuscript librarians, getting the card catalog online, hiring subject specialists to help with acquisitions, developing an institutional repository and aligning the collection strengths with faculty research. Dodson wants to turn the Moorland-Spingarn into a successful library by making it a dynamic and vibrant center for learning.   

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