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      Connected | July 19, 2019

      New librarian comes to town

      Dinah Cardin

      Written by

      Dinah Cardin


      The filmmaker Michael Moore once declared that librarians are a "subversive" bunch.

      "You think they're just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They're like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn't mess with them," he said. The same can be said for our newly hired Head Librarian at the museum’s Phillips Library, Dan Lipcan.

      Dan Lipcan
      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      Lipcan comes across as funny, social and full of interests beyond books. Though, he does apply his library skills to his colorful sock drawer. On the day we meet up, he’s wearing not just striped socks, but diagonal stripes, he points out, in mint green, forest green and turquoise.

      "I don’t judge how other people organize their stuff,” he says. “But the collections I have control over, I want them organized."

      The same goes for the vinyl collection he and his wife Elaine share in the Beverly apartment where they just moved. A stint hosting a jazz show on his college radio station led Lipcan to owning upwards of 750 albums...and you can rest assured that they are in neat order. The “deep classical stuff” is still back in Queens, where Lipcan and his wife still own their home after a distinguished 16-year tenure at the Thomas J. Watson Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Lipcan held the position of Associate Museum Librarian. Meanwhile, Elaine is a performing arts promoter and event planner.

      Dan Lipcan. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.
      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.
      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      The couple’s priorities upon moving to the North Shore were as follows:

      1. Search for a place to live
      2. Find a bowling alley

      Avid bowlers, they’ve found a new home at Metro Bowl in Peabody, where they are in a league of candlepin bowlers. “That’s the real bowling,” says the Cape Cod native, of this New England tradition that uses thinner pins and delicately sized bowling balls.

      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      Perhaps librarians have benefitted from a more recent trend of Nerd-Cool, but Lipcan says that as far he’s concerned being curious, friendly and into helping people has always been trendy.

      Look at the Instagram accounts of various libraries, for instance, full of rare collections and images of decorative bindings. “These accounts have a lot of followers,” he says.


      dan lipcan
      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

      Conversation with Lipcan flows easily from talking about his favorite new breweries in Salem and Beverly to the digitization efforts he led at The Met. At PEM, he will lead ongoing digitization projects and help transform the highly-respected research library—with its rich and varied global collections—into an innovative and active intellectual hub that supports the overall mission of the museum.

      “Digitization takes a lot of work if you do it right,” says Lipcan. Challenges are figuring out workflow and changing technology. But, it benefits both the institution and the public, he says, enabling scholarship and promoting PEM’s vast collection, while eliminating economic barriers and geographical distance. Libraries do an exceptional job, he says, of bridging the analog – such as decorative bookbinding, fonts, type and paper – with the digital world.

      Page from Album de la Compagnie transatlantique
      Page from Album de la Compagnie transatlantique, recently digitized and placed on the Internet Archive.

      Lipcan’s arrival around Memorial Day coincided with the announcement of recent digitization efforts at the Phillips Library. Since 2014, the library has been enhancing digital access, enabling researchers around the globe to better access its vast and diverse collection. In the last year, another digitization initiative made high-priority material widely available. Working with the Internet Archive, a digital library that partners with the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, The Getty Research Institute and Harvard University to provide “Universal Access to All Knowledge,” more than 170 publications from PEM’s Phillips Library collection are now available online. The library also recently acquired digitization equipment to allow fragile and oversized materials to be safely processed in-house and shared with a global audience.

      digitizing the collection
      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

      Lipcan is excited to dig into the collection, which includes several hundred thousand printed volumes and a linear mile of manuscript collections. He finds “remarkable” the sheer size of the Essex County family and business papers, deeds and census records. “The depth is astonishing,” he says. Beyond that, the logbooks, ship voyages and maritime journals are the very foundation of the museum, he says. Still, he adds, new things come in, supporting global and contemporary interests, including recently acquired material from South Asia.

      Jumping right in, Lipcan has been going to curatorial meetings, reaching out to further integrate the library collection into museum exhibitions. “We have the opportunity to tell a lot of stories,” he says. “We may not have paintings or sculpture on a subject, but we may have library materials.”

      One of the things that attracted him to the job is the Folger Gallery in the new wing, dedicated to showcasing works from the library collection. The first exhibition, The Creative Legacy of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Selections from the Phillips Library Collection, features some of the library’s 3,000 works by Salem’s literary son. Focusing on the visual artistry of bookmaking and printing, from cover designs to typography, the exhibition highlights the full creativity present in books as literature and art objects.

      Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, ca. 1850
      Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, ca. 1850. Paper; book. Library call number Clark A16.1. © Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Walter Silver/PEM.

      From his busy New York life, Lipcan is excited about the backroad drive he makes to the library collection in Rowley every day, as well as the fact that there’s a farm stand and strawberry picking down the road. When it comes to the new job, Lipcan says that’s about talking to people, listening and figuring out the priorities. While we sip iced tea, he’s preparing to further his mission to engage visitors and patrons by heading off to lunch with two members of the Salem community.

      “I’m thrilled that people care about the library,” says Lipcan. “That is an opportunity to have a discussion. The Phillips Library is poised to do some interesting and fun things that have meaning and impact people.”

      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.
      © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Bob Packert/PEM.

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