Bill Musser: Following Your Passion and Finding Your Niche in a Small Research Library

Bill Musser: Following Your Passion and Finding Your Niche in a Small Research Library


[ Silence ]>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons: All right. I am so happy to be here. I am Michelle Holschuh Simmons. From the participants’ window, I
can see that I know lots of you. And I’m totally delighted
to have all of you here, and I’m also delighted to have Bill Musser here. Bill and I actually went to library school
together in, let’s see, 1999 and 2000, and then he and I worked together at
Cornell College while I was a librarian in Cornell College and he
was working in tech services. So then afterwards, he also worked at Luther
College in Iowa, and now he is the librarian at Seed Savers Exchange, which is a
nongovernmental organization dedicated to the preservation of heirloom seeds. And I know that Bill has lots of fabulous
information to share with all of you, and so if we can all welcome Bill with a very
quiet but rousing round of applause, please. And without further ado, I think I’m
going to turn the mike over to Bill. Bill, welcome.>>Bill Musser: Thank you very much,
Michelle, and it’s very nice for me to be here sharing with you today. So thank you. Thank you, Michelle, and thanks to, also to
Bill Fisher and Lori Bell and Randy Cheng, the mastermind of technology there, for both
extending the invitation and helping me prepare for today’s colloquium presentation. This morning, I received a message from the head of the Seed Savers Exchange
membership department. He is an SJSU alum who heard I was presenting
for SJSU today, and he instructed me to relay a message, although he
asked me not to mention his name since he might still have a
restraining order involving the mascot and a missing article, he said. The message is this: Go, Spartans! So there it is. I feel like [inaudible] and the alum’s
name, by the way, is Abe Mendez. I’m sure he deserves whatever he gets. In any case, thank you, SJSU, for having me. Librarianship is a natural profession
for people who are lifelong learners, passionate about knowledge, period. They may have very specific
passions about certain subjects, and that might make the prospect of work
in a small research library attractive, especially if it relates
to one of those subjects. What I’ve discovered, however, is
that anyone who gets passionate about learning can acquire both an
interest and a good facility in a subject and find a professional niche
in a small research library where you might do what you
love, learn to love what you do, and always be learning from
the context of your work. I’ve worked professionally in both public
and academic libraries, and I’ve now settled into the world of a special
library, one I’ll be sharing with you more in this next half hour or so. The American Library Directory includes
listings for 3,537 special libraries, and those libraries are affiliated with diverser
organizations ranging from AARP at the A’s to the Zoological Society of San Diego
in the Z’s and from very small libraries, like the Norwegian-American Museum library
here in Decorah, Iowa, where I live, to the well-known, like the
Huntington Library in California and the Metropolitan Opera Archives in New York. Many of the libraries listed serve nonprofit
organizations, associations, clubs, foundations, institutes, societies, and they
all have missions of some sort, an intention to save a piece of the
world in some small or grand way. Some of those missions might
parallel your own passion. Others might inspire you to become passionate
about something you weren’t previously aware of. Working in the context of a special research
library gives me the satisfaction of knowing that I’m participating in something I care about
and a lot of other people care about, as well. Libraries are good places to do that in general. Working in a special library, especially
as a solo librarian, demands a lot of tools that you need to assemble in your years of
LIS professional training and supplement with experience in different
realms of librarianship. My other duties as assigned have included grant
writing and marketing, as well as trademark and copyright registration for the organization. The more varied your experience,
the more flexible you can be, the more you gain credibility and
facility in managing the library. In a small special library,
particularly as a solo librarian, again, my position might best be described by
this wonderful Latin word “factotum.” One of my undergraduate majors was in classics,
and when I discovered that word “factotum,” I thought it would be worth putting in my
back pocket, figuring it would come in handy. And I’ve actually even included
it in resumes from time to time. It describes in a word a position
in which you do a little bit or sometimes a lot of everything. And that is certainly the case for a solo
librarian in a small research library. [ Pause ] I like to think of information
work as reflective of how we are historically wired
to fulfill basic human needs. As a librarian in a research setting, I
often assume the role of a hunter looking for a specific answer to a specific question
driven by a goal of getting that answer, and at the same time I work with diverse
resources every day, gathering little tidbits of information that feed us, that
give us a stronger sense of the web of information connections that hold together
the subject area in which I especially work. On a little higher level and functioning
in a more deliberate, formal way, I’m an information farmer growing a
knowledgebase of documents and reference files from working with staff and researchers. I draw from those resources to produce an
article, an exhibition, a publication, or, on a smaller scale, a Facebook page entry
for both my library and city organization. To farm, you have to stay in one place,
you have to learn the lay of the land, figure out which crops work and which don’t,
know something of the history of the place, know what techniques work
best in your local setting. For me to be successful as a research
librarian in a special library, I have needed to really get to know
the context of the parent organization. Whether I’m information hunting,
gathering, or farming, context is the key. And that brings me to my own
workplace, a case study, as it were. A relatively small research library
that is part of an organization called “Seed Savers Exchange” located
near Decorah, Iowa. The story of Seed Savers begins with a
gift of seeds given to Diane Ott Whealy. She was a farm girl from northeast Iowa. And those seeds were given to her by
her grandfather, Baptist John Ott, who was terminally ill at the time
and shortly thereafter passed away. These seeds have been passed on to —
had been passed on to him by his parents, German immigrants from Bavaria
who settled not far from Decorah in St. Lucas, Iowa in the 1870s. The seeds were for a German pink
tomato and a morning glory that came to be known as Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory. This precious gift of heirloom seeds prompted
Diane Ott Whealy and her husband, Kent, to create a network for gardeners
in 1975 to save and share their heirloom varieties
of open-pollinated garden seeds. And at first, this organization called itself
the “True Seed Exchange” and was incorporated in Missouri, where they were living at the time. Four years later, the name was
changed to “Seed Savers Exchange.” Now, I’m going to stop right here and offer you
a little bit of a botany lesson before going on. There are a couple of definitions you should
know in order to understand what we’re doing at Seed Savers Exchange, and practically
all my research relates to these two terms. You all probably have a sense
for what the word “hybrid” means, a mixing of two different
kinds of something or other. Hybrid plants have been cross-pollinated,
either naturally or manually, to produce certain desirable
characteristics in the offspring. But that only goes for one
generation of the plants. You can’t take the seed from the
offspring of a hybrid and be sure of getting those same characteristics
in another generation. Open-pollinated varieties produce what
we call “true seed,” and that is seed that will reliably produce the same
characteristics as the parent plant. And then there’s the term “heirloom.” What constitutes an heirloom variety? Some would say that a variety has
to have been passed down for 50 to a 100 years to be considered an heirloom. We don’t have an official
standard yet for determining that here at SSE, at Seed Savers Exchange. And I’ll say “SSE,” I guess,
once in a while here. So SSE stands for Seed Savers Exchange. We’re working on that, but Seed
Savers defines an heirloom variety as simply having a long history of
being passed down in a group or family, no numbers attached to that long history. I was able to document the first use in
print of the word “heirloom” in connection with a plant variety in a 1947 seed
catalog I’ll share with you a little later. And the joy of that discovery for
me was being able to send an e-mail to the Oxford English Dictionary editors
to correct their citation of first use, which was listed significantly
later than this one. And there’s nothing like correcting the OED to
make a librarian smile in self-righteous glee. So back to the story of Seed Savers. In 1986, the Whealys began seeking
a new home for the organization. They went looking for paradise and
found it in the scenic, wooded, bluff country of northeast Iowa,
not far from where Diane grew up. With some financial help from friends of the
organization, they were able to purchase a total of 890 acres for what became known as Heritage
Farm, considered today to hold one of the most, if not the most, diverse garden
variety collections in the nation. Seed Savers’ formal mission statement
is to save North America’s diverse but endangered garden heritage
for future generations. The organization has an international membership
of about 13,000 members and has served as a model for seed-saving
networks that have sprung up around [brief break in recording] the world. Seed Savers backs up its collections at both the
USDA Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins and also in
the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Some of you may have heard of the Seed
Vault called the “Doomsday Vault.” It can probably be considered the ultimate
insurance policy for the world’s food supply. It will secure for centuries millions of seeds representing every important
crop variety available in the world today. [ Pause ] Seed Savers doesn’t just preserve plant
germplasm, although it does that mostly in the form of seeds, but also the human
stories surrounding the origins and history of an heirloom variety, like, for
example, the Moon & Stars Watermelon, once thought to be extinct, found to be growing
just a hundred miles from the original location of Seed Savers Exchange when it was located in
Missouri, and it had been saved as an heirloom by a man whose farm had always grown it, whose
father had always grown it, in Tennessee. Or there’s also Lina Sisco’s Bird Egg Beans,
grown for years by the family of the Lina Sisco, this woman who’s pictured here, and her grandmother had brought this
variety to Missouri in the 1880s. The photo on the other side is Kent Whealy, if you didn’t associate that
with the other picture. These intimate stories are
about the efforts of individuals to preserve agriculture biodiversity,
the genetic spectrum so necessary to safeguard our food supply from climate
change, habitat loss, exploitation. They, of course, weren’t — were
just interested in the tradition and the taste of what they were growing. They were probably not aware of the loftier, the
broader significance of what they were doing. To a lesser degree, Seed
Savers maintains rare breeds of farm animals on Heritage Farm, as well. Ancient White Park cattle, originally found
in Great Britain, were all but extinct until efforts to save the breed
brought them back from the brink. We can’t know what genetic traits will be
most needed in potential emergency situations, so the whole objective is to
preserve as many options as possible in both plant and animal genetics. It’s all about maintaining genetic diversity. Seed Savers has a staff of about 55 people,
including some seasonal help with gardens in the summer and then phone banks
for catalog orders in the winter. The staff are the primary
users of the library here. I frequently work with staff
members in the departments of publications, education, and preservation. About 20,000 people visit Heritage Farm
every year, many coming for special events, such as the annual tomato tasting. Each of the plates on that table
— those tables, by the way, represent different varieties of
tomatoes that are being sampled. Every one of those is a different variety. I might mention that since we save
our garden seed here at Seed Savers, one of the lovely staff perks we have here is
free access to a lot of fruits and vegetables that have been grown out in both preservation
and commercial gardens to propagate seed. And I mentioned the commercial
gardens and should explain that the organization also has a commercial
branch doing catalog and seed rack sales of open-pollinated varieties that helps fund
everything else that happens at Seed Savers, really, with nearly $5 million
in seed and plant stock sales. Seed Savers seed packs can now be
found all over the United States, and our seed catalog provides a resource for
a customer base of about 50,000 gardeners. With the boom in popularity of heirloom
varieties over the past several years, Seed Savers’ commercial branch has
really continued to expand substantially. I live in this building, the
main house that houses — the [brief laughter] main office
that houses administrative offices, the collection department
and labs, and the library. And so we’re at the library, once again. Since I took — as a classics major in college,
I have to quote Cicero: “If you have a garden and a library, you lack nothing.” “Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, deerit nihil.” That has been used all over
libraries that are associated with gardens, horticultural libraries. Unfortunately, it’s often mistranslated. It’s often translated — translators
cheat a little bit and translate it “if you have a garden and a
library,” which really is not correct. In Cicero’s day, a garden was in an
open-air atrium, and the library was tucked around the roofed wall surrounding it. But, really, what Cicero is
suggesting is that libraries and gardens provide all the food
you need for both body and soul, which I think is a great concept. And so my library’s in a garden, rather
than the garden being in the library. The Robert Becker Memorial Library
occupies the top floor of an Amish-built, timber-frame-construction building. It is, frankly, a really
beautiful space to work in. I feel like I have the best
office anywhere at Heritage Farm, and a lot of visitors say that, too. Located as it is in the loft of the
building, though, I have to work hard to maintain appropriate humidity
and temperature levels. These days in Iowa, when
it’s cold and crisp and dry, I am running two humidifiers
around the clock in the library. And we do have plans for a
new facility which will — with appropriate HVAC system for the
library in the long-range plan that we have. The library at Seed Savers Exchange
has grown organically, no pun intended, over 36 years from the personal library
of Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy. Volumes have been donated, review
copies of books have been added, technical and historical works have
been acquired through time, as needed. When I took over the library in 2010, I began
examining what was already in the collection and compared it to the mission
of the organization. And in 2011, I proposed a collection policy that outlined specific areas I thought we should
be collecting, which was approved by our board. And so I’ve since been doing weeding and
further collection development in the areas that I’ve felt were appropriate for us. I should mention [inaudible] the legacy of
Robert Becker, after whom the library was named. Becker lived in New York, was an extension agent and an adjunct faculty member
at Cornell University. And he was also an avid gardener
and a friend of Seed Savers. He was an agricultural historian
and had an admirable collection of significant works in ag history. So when Becker died in 1995, the Becker family
donated his library to Seed Savers Exchange, and that contribution helped propel
the library into the research realm. A half-time librarian was hired in the
summer of 2009 to develop the library, but left shortly thereafter for a full-time
position in the local public school system. So the administration was looking for —
the Seed Savers’ administration was looking for a replacement, and I came on board
in January of 2010, still at half time but moving later that year to full time. And prior to hiring a librarian, the library
had been locked and the books had been placed on shelves in alphabetical
order by author’s name. Not especially accessible. So all that changed in a relatively short time. About a quarter of the collection of 4500 titles
is cataloged now, using LC classification, and the general collection is
circulated to staff, advisors, and board members of Seed Savers Exchange only. We don’t have public access for —
we don’t have public circulation. There is public access, and people may
visit the library and do research here who are not a staff, advisor, or
a board member of Seed Savers. For those that can check out items,
the circulation period is a month long. The loan period is a month long. Serials and periodicals have been collected
and shelved in the library previously, though they were rarely used, and I have
made the subscription list more selective, made sure our professional organizational
colleagues are represented in the collection, the publications from various
organizations that are, really, our peers. And also I allow patrons, those who I
mentioned could have circulating privileges, to check items out overnight. The first librarian who was at Seed Savers
for a brief time selected an inexpensive and practical online integrated library
system for Seed Savers called “Library World.” Maybe some of you are familiar
with Library World. It is customizable, and it’s easy to use. But it’s not connected to OCLC. So record downloads are limited to the Library
of Congress and a select group of libraries that have some agreement to share
[inaudible] records with this company. We call our online catalog
“Roscoe” after a favorite dog that lived on Heritage Farm for years. Roscoe didn’t like storms, but loved people. And I had a photo of Roscoe on this slide
to the right of the screen shot there, but he was uncomfortable with the electronic
nature of the presentation, so he disappeared. Sorry. He was black and white. In addition to the donation of the Robert
Becker collection, we have added about 1500 rare and special collection monographs on historical
agriculture that we were able to purchase from an East Coast collector
with a gift from our board chair. This has given the library
a tremendous boost in terms of historical agricultural research
capacity, and it has also upped the ante for the need for a new HVAC system. With all of these rare books and
special collection items in the library, I’m very aware of the responsibility
that I have as a preservation librarian. Historic seed catalogs provide Seed Savers
staff with important resources for identifying and describing heirloom and
open-pollinated varieties. Our specific interest in seed catalogs
dating pre-1940s has to do with the fact that after World War II, the focus in
agriculture shifted from open-pollinated to hybrid varieties and industrial agriculture. So we really do focus a lot
on the older seed catalogs. We recently received a gift of over 350
important historic catalogs from a donor in Israel, a retired American expatriate
seedsman named Dan Niedel [assumed spelling], a gift for which we were very thankful. Seed catalogs are — provides our publications
department with opportunities to draw upon some of the beautiful illustrations in early
catalogs that are out of copyright. They are resources, then, for
our own publications products. These two lovely catalogs from local
seed companies represent this — a boon in color catalog covers used by
seed companies in the early 20th century. Nineteen twenty-two seems to have
been a real big year for the coming out of color catalog covers, for some reason. Because they attracted customers, I guess. This is an especially important
seed catalog in our collection because it’s the first-known artifact
in print that includes the word “heirloom” to describe a plant type. I mentioned contacting the Oxford English
Dictionary editors about this earlier. Billy Hepler started his own seed company
at age 12, and he was the son of JR Hepler, a botany professor at the
University of New Hampshire. And he heard his father describe a gift
of bean seeds he received as “heirlooms.” Now, the issue I have of his catalog is the
1948 issue here because it has a picture of him. He started in 1947, and it was on his
first catalog that he included the term “heirloom” beans, as you can see
down below, his picture on the right. The oldest item in our special collections
in the rare monograph section is this work by a physician and a printer named
Charles Estienne entitled, in French — and please pardon my French —
“L’agriculture, et maison rustique.” “Agriculture in the Rural Home.” Estienne includes a lot of illustrations
of garden layouts for ornamental gardens in this book, which make it
really fun to look through. He was essentially forced to leave medicine
and take up printing, a family business, and ended up authoring several
books in Latin, as well as French. An interesting [inaudible] history. Here’s another special item
in the rare book collection. It’s a rebound edition of William
Lawson’s “A New Orchard and Garden,” which was a very popular
Renaissance work on gardening. This copy had a lot of hand painting added
to it at a later date, and the binding, as well as a name painted on the
title page, mistakenly ascribed this to another well-known writer of the era,
Gervase Markham, who was kind of a rowdy guy who introduced the Arab horse to the
British isles and died in a fight. This Anglican priest — Lawson was an
Anglican priest, the opposite of this Markham, and he also — Lawson also authored “The
Country Housewifes Garden” for herbs, the first horticultural book
ever written solely for women, which I thought was an interesting piece. This is a fun little book by a man
named Leonard Meager, and in this book, “The Mystery of Husbandry,” Meager advised
farmers and gardeners to taste the soil to determine if it would be too salty, too
acidic, or just sweet enough for growing. Interestingly, that practice
is still useful today, as long as you’re not eating too much dirt
that has chemicals in it, nasty chemicals. The name Jethro Tull is probably
best known in my generation as the moniker for a 1970s British rock band. Maybe some of you out there remember Jethro
Tull and the great flute player who was part of that, and I can’t remember his name. Was the only Jethro Tull
that I knew until I learned about this important 18th
century agriculturalist, inventor, and writer who developed a horse-pulled seed
drill that would plant in straight lines, as opposed to the traditional scattering
of seed used by farmers of the day. This was part of the British agricultural
revolution that spilled over into the colonies and into the early history of the United States. A lot of new techniques and new
inventions were being created at this time of Great Britain’s history. This book was widely published and republished,
important work about the time, and still so. And I should say that I wouldn’t have known
about the historical literature of this and some of the other things that I’ve shown you here
without the guidance of a man named Keith Crotz, who is an antiquarian who
specializes in agricultural history. Keith was a friend of Robert Becker. I don’t have a picture of
Keith to share with you here. But Keith was a friend of Robert Becker
and has been the primary advocate on the Seed Savers board for the
library and its research mission. He brokered the library donation
with the Becker family. He’s selected titles for
acquisition for me, and he’s guided me to the literature on agricultural history. And he is now chair of the
board, I’m quite happy to say. Lucky for me. Among the historic collections we hold are some
several monographs that actually represent some of the amazing cover art of the
late 19th and early 20th centuries. With the East Coast collection, we acquired most
of the major early periodical literature related to American agriculture, and,
thanks to a private donor, we have an almost complete
collection of organic gardening and some other significant periodicals related to the sustainable agricultural
movement to which Seed Savers belongs. And this extra little slide here is
for those who might look at this later and try to read what it says on
the American Agriculturist there. It won’t be easy, but it might be fun to try. We also have in our special collection
some significant manuscripts, like this note of thanks from Horace Greeley
on New York Tribune stationary addressed to a gentleman who had given him a box of
peaches and pears that he’d neglected to eat — that is, Greeley had neglected to
eat before some of them spoiled. We were surprised to find this. Our director found it by accident
as he was paging through the book, and next to Abe Lincoln, Greeley was probably
the most well-known figure in American social and political history of the 19th century. So we’re pretty happy about having that. [ Pause ] We have another collection that is contained
in 109 black binders sitting on the top shelf of the length of the library, and these
binders include documentation of thousands of vegetable varieties that appeared
in the seed trade over several decades. And this labor of love was performed by David
Thompson, the former CEO of a very large and well-known seed company,
Ferry-Morse Seed Company, and he donated his work to Seed Savers Exchange. One of the more popular collections we hold is
that of oversize fruit and vegetable postcards. The Wisconsin State Historical Society
has a site for collection like this, and they provide this explanation for the
phenomenon, which always befuddled me. I’ve seen this postcards many
places but didn’t know the story. And the story is “Tall-Tale
postcards emerged” — I’m quoting from the Wisconsin
State Historical Society — “Tall-Tale postcards emerged around the
turn of the 20th century when postcards came to function as surrogates for travel. Nowhere did these modified images become more
prevalent than in rural communities that hoped to forge an identity as places of agricultural
abundance to encourage settlement and growth.” I’ve — end of quote. I’ve included more samples of these and
other interesting special collections items on the Becker Library at Seed
Savers Exchange Facebook page. Again, I encourage you to take a look
at the Facebook page and maybe like it. It’s Becker, B-e-c-k-e-r, Becker
Library at Seed Savers Exchange, and I hope you will consider visiting the
page and scrolling through the content. There’s some fun stuff there, I think. The Robert Becker Memorial Library
includes archival collections, as well, in both digital and physical form. We’ve had our complete collection of
regular quarterly publications digitized, starting with the mimeograph pages of our first
so-called True Seed Exchange listings in 1976 and going all the way to the annual yearbook of
2011 that lists thousands of member offerings of seeds for exchange in the network. We’re also trying to keep
a collection of publicity about seeds — about Seed Savers Exchange. This slide shows some of the earliest
public exposure of Seed Savers Exchange in Mother Earth News and
organic gardening magazines. And on the far left is Kent Whealy’s
initial invitation to seed-saving gardeners to help him create the True Seed Exchange
network that eventually became, simply, Seed Savers Exchange way
back in 1975, July 1975. [ Pause ] Every seed tells a story, and
sometimes there are funny stories, the stories of how the seeds came
to us in packages that include — that are so varied and that
include such things as pantyhose. Yes, indeed, we have gotten
seeds in old pantyhose. Every seed tells a story, as I said, and
that’s kind of the slogan for Seed Savers. And we humans are hardwired
to learn from stories. That’s why an important part of Seed
Savers’ mission is doing research, gathering documentation, and collecting the back
stories of the seed varieties in our collection. We have begun a project we call “CORE,”
the Collection Origins Research Effort. It involves going through the 26,000 records
in our varietal database, scrubbing the data, making corrections, reading the correspondence,
and doing oral interviews with some of the donors of our seed varieties. We know this project will keep us
all busy for several years to come. We are, in essence, interpreting here at Seed
Savers an amazing collection that relates to our basic needs as humans — our passion
for food, sunlight, earth, water, community, and saving the world one seed,
one variety, one story at a time. I really love what I do here, and I do what
I love as a library professional in a small, very special library and encourage
you to follow or find your passion. I know it’s an old slogan, “bloom where you
are planted,” but you can find that to be true. And I thank you. May you love what you do and do what you
love, as well, and maybe the best place for you will be in a special library, as well. Thank you, and please feel free to
contact me with comments or questions. My contact information is on this
last slide here, as you can see and now [simultaneous speakers] –>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons:
Thank you so much, Bill. That was fabulous. I know that people have lots of responses. So first of all, let’s give Bill
a round of applause, a very quiet, but enthusiastic round of applause. And then I know that Marva
asked a question earlier. Marva, do you want to go
ahead and take the mike, or would you prefer that
I just read your question? What would you prefer? [ Pause ] Okay. She said for me to read it.>>Bill Musser: Yeah, read
[simultaneous speakers] –>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons: She was asking
about the collection, whether the materials are in English or in German and
other languages, as well.>>Bill Musser: Most of the collection
material we have is in English. We have gotten seeds from other locations. A lot of them are immigrant seeds, frankly. And some — a little bit of the documentation
may be in other languages, but very little. For a while, we were actually collecting
from the former Soviet Republics at a time when there was a fear that environmental
degradation would destroy a lot of the varietal, the varieties that existed of
various plants and vegetables. And so we had a big body of Russian stuff
with Russian information that we have decided to send back to the Soviet, well,
the Soviet Union — the former — what was the former Soviet Union, the Russian
Republics, to let the seed banks there, who are already preserving most of
those, anyway, take care of those. We didn’t feel that that was part of
our collection, really, or our mission. But in any case — I’m sorry. That’s a long answer to a short question. Some of our material is in other languages. German is — you know, it’s relatively common. Scandinavian and German languages are
probably the most common, other than English.>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons: Thank you, Bill. I see that Brittany has a question. Did you see? It’s in the chat window. She said, “Who has borrowing
privileges at the library?” Could you respond to that one, as well?>>Bill Musser: Yep, sure. I can see that there, and yes, the ones who have borrowing privileges
are Seed Savers staff members. It doesn’t matter if they
are temporary or permanent. I don’t discriminate in that regard. So Seed Savers staff members, board
members of Seed Savers Exchange. And we also have a group of
advisors to Seed Savers Exchange, who are kind of technical advisors
for our gardening here at Seed Savers. They all get — they all have
borrowing privileges for a month.>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons: All right. It looks like we have quite
a few questions being posted. Bill, can you see the questions? Marva posted one.>>Bill Musser: Yes.>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons: She
said, “Has anyone researched the origin of the seeds all the way
back to their wild roots? Were any actually hybrids naturally
created by farmers in the old age?”>>Bill Musser: Yes, to both of those questions. There’s a lot of interesting work that’s
been done, especially on the roots of — the wild roots of corn, for
example, and wheat and the grains. There has been some good research work done. And a Russian named Nikolai Vavilov,
who is kind of considered the father of genetic preservation, who died tragically, was one of those who went and
collected those wild roots. So if you’re interested in reading a
really fascinating story, read, let’s see, Peter Pringle’s biography of Nikolai Vavilov. V-a-v-i-l-o-v, Nikolai. But if you — yeah, I can’t think off the
top of my head specific other books that are about the wild roots, but certainly
a lot of information is there. Also, hybrids, yes, created
by farmers in old age. Hybrids can stabilize after a certain
point, and that is how we get new varieties, ultimately, when hybrids stabilize. But, generally speaking, hybrids are unstable. The kind of thing that we
get nowadays is hybridized and specifically meant for one year of planting. And I see some other questions.>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons: Yes. April has a question. How did Seed Savers Exchange
library settle on LC? Her organization is using
some kind of modified Dewey.>>Bill Musser: That’s a very good question. I pondered that myself when we were talking
about the classification of the library. We had a consultant come in from
the Chicago Botanic Garden library, and she recommended the Library
of Congress classification. Sometimes libraries have a more
idiosyncratic way, especially small, special libraries can do kind of an
idiosyncratic way of classification. But because I am the most familiar
with LC classification, also, and because the research community that
I’m wanting to approach or the audience that I’m trying to reach,
this research community, historical agriculture research community,
would be used to using university libraries, and university libraries generally use LC.>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons: Thank you, Bill. And Chanel [assumed spelling] asked, “Were
you a gardener or did you have an interest in gardening prior to your job
with Seed Savers Exchange?”>>Bill Musser: I was going to say
something about that and then I thought oh, I can do that in the question and answer. So this is a great opportunity, thank you. I grew up on a farm, and we gardened
all the time when I was growing up. And then when I went away to
school and seemed to move a lot, I didn’t really have a place to garden. I didn’t own property. And now we have a garden in our home. We have property. We own property, and so we
are gardening now at our home. And, I guess, my gardening interest has grown
tremendously since I have started working with Seed Savers because I’m not only getting
the richness of the agricultural history that I’m around and learning about, but
also the knowledge gained of the variety, the vast variety and beauty of all
of the vegetable and fruit varieties that are here at Seed Savers Exchange. So that has just really piqued
my interest more so. And now that I have opportunities to garden, we
are using Seed Savers seeds and saving seeds.>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons:
[brief laughter] That’s fabulous. Shiloh [assumed spelling] mentioned that she
found an article from the National Geographic that mentioned Seed Savers Exchange. She has a link there for those of
you who might want to click on that. Lauren asked, “Has the organization also
been pulled into policy work dealing with agricultural diversity, and, if
so, has this influenced your work?”>>Bill Musser: Seed Savers has tried to, well, Seed Savers has certainly
spoken out about diversity. But we, as a nonprofit, have to be
careful about becoming too political. And yet I think our influence, if we have —
we have something called the Safe Seed Pledge that we use organic and non-GMO seed and
produce, you know, produce it that way. And I think that our statements
are through what we do. What we believe in is conveyed through our
catalogs and through just our mission here, and a lot of people have
taken notice of that mission, and I think that mission speaks
volumes, frankly, to policymakers. But individuals on the board
have been very active. But Seed Savers as an organization
hasn’t done any specific work as an organization that way with policy.>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons: Thank you. Jennifer is actually joining us from [brief
break in recording] Shanghai, and she is asking, “Is there a program for acquiring the genetic
sequence of the seeds at Seed Savers?”>>Bill Musser: No. We don’t have the technology for that. The — you know, the USDA laboratories
would have that, but we don’t. Our laboratory is relatively small.>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons:
Okay [simultaneous speakers].>>Bill Musser: So I guess the answer is no.>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons:
[brief laughter] And Marva asked, “Is there a European organization
that does the same work? If so, is there cross-continent collaboration?”>>Bill Musser: Yes. In fact, there’s an Irish Seed Savers. There is a Swiss — no, an Austrian Seed Savers. There’s a Danish Seed Savers organization. There are Seed Savers organizations, small and
large, in all sorts of countries in Europe. We collaborate with — in
fact, we just had the President of the Danish Seed Savers
come to Decorah for a visit. I guess it’s sort of like coming to Mecca
for a lot of the people who are involved in seed-saving work because Seed Savers
really was the first organization to do this kind of thing. But yes, we collaborate with them. We’re helping the Danish Seed Savers try to find
seeds that came with immigrants from Denmark and to repatriate them in Denmark.>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons: Okay. That’s great. And then I believe that’s Randy, who is signed
in as “IT,” asked, “What are the differences between hybrid seeds and GMO seeds?” Can you tackle that one?>>Bill Musser: Hybrid seeds generally are
made from a natural cross between, you know, a natural cross-pollination between
different varieties of the same basic plant. GMO seeds usually incorporate a genetic
element that is from something not necessarily of that same plant or it could be
from something entirely different. Its genetic piece that goes into GMO seeds
is not naturally part of that variety or that, even that species, sometimes. Things are pulled from all sorts of places. Genetic material is pulled from all sorts
of places to incorporate into GMO seeds. That’s my understanding. I hope that answers the question.>>Michelle Holschuh Simmons: Please,
let’s give Bill another round of applause. And thank you so much, Bill, for
sharing all of this information. I feel totally privileged to have
learned all of this from you. I am delighted to have a
little view of your world in your current library,
and so thank you so much. And please like his library page on Facebook. And if you have other questions, Bill
posted his e-mail address earlier, and I’m sure he would be happy to respond to a
question by e-mail if you need to e-mail him. Thank you so much. And — oh, he has it up the screen,
so note it there at the bottom.>>Bill Musser: There you go. [ Silence ]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *