Meet Andrea Kohashi, new teaching librarian focused on primary sources
August 25, 2017
New to VCU in fall, 2017, Andrea Kohashi is in a new position. As teaching librarian in Special Collections and Archives, SHE works with faculty to develop instructional sessions working primarily with artists’ books, rare books, and other primary source materials. She is interested in book art production, research, and scholarship and exploring innovative ways to engage with primary source materials. Kohashi holds an M.A. in Library and Information Science and an M.F.A. in Book Arts from the University of Iowa. She received a B.A. with a major in architecture from Washington University in St. Louis.
Would you tell us about your background and new position at VCU Libraries?
I’ll be focusing on strengthening and growing our instructional program. I’ll be working with visiting classes and researchers and potentially collaborating with different departments across campus to encourage students and faculty to explore and use our collections. I’m originally from Virginia, but I kicked around the Midwest for awhile prior to coming to Richmond. As an undergraduate I studied architecture in St. Louis and then received an MFA in Book Arts and an MA in Library and Information Science concurrently at the University of Iowa. As a graduate student I had assistantships in UI’s Special Collections, the Iowa Women’s Archives, and in a letterpress printing studio, which exposed me to working with a wide range of student, faculty, and community interests and abilities. As an artist I make books that use a range of techniques from hand-binding to letterpress printing to paper engineering.
What kind of collections are available for faculty and students in Special Collections and Archives?
VCU Librarieshas manuscript collection strengths in Richmond history, architecture, minority communities and Virginia literary figures. We have an incredible Comic Arts Collection and a strong and growing Book Art Collection. In many ways, with a background in architecture, working with women’s archives, and earning a degree in Book Arts, my path to this current position took seemingly sharp turns but appears to have foretold what collections I’d be working with today.
I’m particularly excited about working with the Book Art Collection because I think it offers great opportunities for faculty and student research. We have well established artists, like Ed Ruscha and Yoko Ono represented in the collection, but I’m also looking forward to working with faculty members to craft classes pulling together different materials from the collections that have been overlooked or underused. Each piece is a work of art with a conceptual axis ready to be be examined. Beyond exposing students to these works, with each class I reciprocally gain a new and expanded perspective on the more than 4,000 pieces we have.
Would you share information about your approach to teaching using materials in Special Collections and Archives?
It’s important to me that students and faculty build meaningful relationships with the materials. This can take form in a planned but open introductory session or be an incisive deep dive into a particular collection. I want students and faculty to feel comfortable using our materials and confident in doing archival and special collections research.
What should faculty know about planning a class visit?
It takes time to plan a class visit because our collections are not browsable and each class is seeking something different. Additionally, the logistics of pulling materials and booking the classroom space require advanced notice. I recommend contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 827-3573 as soon as you know when you want to visit the collection. We require at least one week advanced notice, but I would recommend at least two weeks or more to ensure the best experience for your students and a greater likelihood of being able to schedule your preferred time.
As a librarian and artist, what inspires you?
As a librarian I want to make the processes of researching materials clear and accessing those materials straightforward, but what inspires me is in the complexity of how students and faculty interpret and use those materials. Assisting in and witnessing the outcome of the process of research is a joy and almost always surprising. My job title is Teaching and Learning Librarian and it’s as much about others’ education as it is about my own.
As a book artist, perhaps not coincidentally, library research is usually a large part of the creative process. If I’m actively working on a project I usually have a rotating stack of library materials in the studio with me. I gravitate toward outdated or obsolete manuals, instruction texts and nonfiction works to inspire imagery and text. Additionally, the process of making each piece (or edition) by hand is in itself an inspiration to me: the artifact of what is produced is as important as how it was produced.
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Special Collections and Archives at James Branch Cabell Library works with students and faculty members from all disciplines and with a variety of community groups. The department’s staff collaborates with instructors to incorporate materials tied to course objectives or to inspire innovation, creativity or raise cultural awareness. Contact: Andrea Kohashi, Special Collections and Archives, (804) 827-3573 or email@example.com.