Earlier this month, Tracy Bergstrom joined Ithaka S+R as a program manager focused on collections and infrastructure. Previously she worked at the University of Notre Dame as director of the specialized collection services program within the Hesburgh Libraries. In this interview, we asked Tracy about her career trajectory, the challenges facing academic libraries, and what types of projects she will be undertaking in her new role.

You worked at Notre Dame for a number of years. How did you get interested in libraries and what type of work did you oversee at Notre Dame?

My first job in a library was working for Yale University on the mass digitization of images that had been historically used for teaching in classics, the history of art, and related disciplines. I also worked with student groups on campus such as the Yale Glee Club to digitize and describe their photographic archives. This work coincided with Artstor’s initial push to work with institutional partners, including Yale, to develop content and infrastructure in support of teaching needs. This work was challenging and complex in new and engaging ways.

I continued to work with special collections at Notre Dame across a variety of roles that explored how technology can enhance our understanding of historical materials. Beginning in 2015, I served as the director of the specialized collection services program with oversight for the areas of rare books and special collections, analog and digital preservation, digital production, and university archives. Notre Dame has tremendous special collections, and it was a privilege to think about the contemporary challenges of stewardship of such compelling and broad collections within this role.

For many years I also served as the curator of Notre Dame’s extensive collection of early Italian printed books. This is one of the premier collections in North America on the history of Italian vernacular literature and sees research interest from individuals around the world. This position, and the daily access it gave me to such fabulous books and materials, was a tremendous pleasure for me.

What do you perceive as the major challenges facing libraries? And on the flip side, what are the opportunities?

We increasingly recognize special collections as not just traditional archival materials and rare books, but as a variety of formats that document the individual history of an institution or a community. As such, a special collection might constitute a group of flyers, photos, and other ephemeral materials chronicling a community action, or backups of an organization’s website showing how it evolved over time. As formats proliferate within our collections, however, so does the complexity and costs related to the description and preservation of these materials. And as Ithaka S+R’s most recent US Library Survey has shown, library directors have increasingly difficult decisions to make regarding their budgets, resulting in only a subset of institutions likely to increase spending on rare, special, or other distinctive collections within the next five years.

One opportunity, therefore, is to confront the challenges of administration and preservation of these collections at scale by maximizing resources across institutions. Addressing collection development and management as shared activities between institutions with similar areas of focus has the potential to better leverage the specialized staff necessary to support these materials. As many libraries face decreased staffing levels at present, rethinking how to combine our resources in support of these collections–and the infrastructure we need to better do so–helps us all.

While Ithaka S+R has worked on projects around collections and infrastructure over the years, this role represents greater investment and focus in these areas. What types of initiatives are you excited to take on?

Libraries, archives, and museums exist for the enrichment of the communities they serve, and free and open access to knowledge is a critical component of establishing a more equitable society. While this underlying mission remains constant, the tools we need to administer this vision are evolving rapidly.

I’m excited to have the opportunity at Ithaka S+R to engage with some of the most challenging issues for today’s cultural organizations including the evolution of models of academic research and publishing; an institution’s ethical responsibilities for the stewardship, discovery, and accessibility of its collections; the need to establish more sustainable and environmentally conscious models of collections management; and how cultural heritage organizations can better diversify our workforce. Within my previous library roles I was an avid reader of Ithaka S+R’s publications, so I know our work has the potential to incite change around these critical issues.