Welcome and Access to the John Carter Brown Library, 2024

In late 2021, the JCB inaugurated a Welcome and Access Plan. It would, then-JCB Board Chair Bill Twaddell and I announced, include a “renovation of the building, a renovation of our digital real estate, and a coordinated plan for staffing and programs.” 

Then, in May of 2023, we celebrated “Open Doors” with the completion of a gentle and meaningful renovation of the building’s historic west entrance to include both a curving walkway and glass doors.  We also opened up interior windows; bringing light into the building has been consonant with its original architecture but also with our goal of transparency about the library.  At the same time we marked the launch of Americana, our platform for digital access to the collections but most meaningfully a full commitment to our digital as well as physical infrastructure.  We welcomed new staff, ready to implement a set of revised programs for the Library's use and role, and opened a new exhibit on our own history in a refreshed space. 

The commitment to this vision–from the JCB’s Board of Governors, led by Brown University President Christina Paxson and Bill Twaddell, and the full JCB staff and community–has made all the difference.

Now, here in the opening months of 2024, I wanted to return to a fuller explication of what Welcome and Access means, not only in terms of the steps we have taken, but as a set of guiding principles that keep us on course into the JCB’s future.

A key point is one we made in that earliest statement, that the renovations to the building are only a physical manifestation of our broader set of goals.  But the most important point is that facilitating access– to the building, the collections, and our programs– must always be accompanied by, indeed preceded by, welcome.

Access is a core practice and value across all kinds of libraries; by collecting, describing, and then making materials available, libraries provide collections access in a myriad of ways. We can facilitate access at our library by making the building more physically approachable via the new walkway, including for folks with mobility challenges, and by making our collections available digitally with the goal of full color, page by page access with helpful descriptions and built in elements that allow for connections across and between resources. We can also facilitate access for students through our instructional support, and for communities locally and globally through our programs, including classes, exhibits, lectures and seminars, and more.  The JCB staff is constantly working to refine and expand how we share the collections through the essential, expert library work of acquisitions, cataloging and finding aids.  And we are committed to offering many of our fellowship opportunities and to holding our programs in a hybrid format with remote, online access. Our curators are always making connections across materials for classes and for exhibits, more of which will start to appear in Americana for wide use.  And Americana itself is outfitted with a capacity for expansion in how it serves researchers and learning communities of all kinds.

While access is a multi-dimensional challenge, welcome can be harder. People may never access the JCB if they don’t feel welcome to do so. What can welcome mean in the context of our library? Most immediately, it means more understanding and more transparency about our history as an institution; exploring ways to acknowledge the exclusions that may continue to make the library a difficult place for some to enter and to work; and instituting practices that prioritize openness and flexibility, particularly with regard to folks who may be new to the library’s community. Within the building and in our digital spaces, as individual members of the JCB staff and community, we can all be welcoming. As an institution, we need to be intentional about welcome.  

Some of our welcome and access efforts will remain quieter, through outreach to individuals and communities, and others will be shared on our website and elsewhere.

And our practices of welcome and access will of course continue to develop.  But our commitment to both, together, will remain central to the library’s mission.

The JCB has a critical role to play in supporting and sharing the broadest, deepest, and fullest understanding of the early Americas. These are the histories that sit at the foundation of the world we live in now, and understanding those histories better allows for a better understanding of our present, too.  This library has many legacies, and we can be proudest of those which have helped to support creative, expansive, and serious engagement with that urgent work.  Thank you for joining us in our commitment to welcome and access.

Karin Wulf

Beatrice and Julio Mario Santo Domingo Director and Librarian