Former OU Dean of Libraries Carl Grant Shifts Gears, Leads Revs Institute

Carl Grant, former president of Ex Libris North America and interim dean of the University of Oklahoma Libraries, this summer became managing director of The Revs Institute, a Naples, FL–based not-for-profit dedicated to the research and historical study of automobiles.

Carl Grant with the cars of the Revs InstituteCarl Grant, former president of Ex Libris North America and interim dean of the University of Oklahoma (OU) Libraries, this summer became managing director of The Revs Institute, a Naples, FL–based not-for-profit dedicated to the research and historical study of automobiles. In his new gig, Grant is overseeing 100 archival collections, 24,000 books, 200,000 magazines and journals, and a digital library with over 500,000 online images. The Institute is also home to the Miles Collier Collections, a “working museum” of over 100 meticulously restored rare cars manufactured between 1896 and 1995, collected by Collier, whose father and uncle Miles and Sam pioneered auto racing in the United States. The Institute describes the collection as a “purposefully curated assemblage of the most profound and rare automotive innovations of our time.”

LJ recently caught up with Grant, who describes himself as a “car guy since I was a little kid,” to see how the new job was going and discuss his plans.

Library Journal:  What is the Revs Institute?

Carl Grant:  Most people think of us as a museum, but really what we are is an Institute focused on studying the automobile as a technologically sophisticated and significant artifact. We’re trying to teach people how the car shapes the society that we live in, how these cars were built, and the artisan skills that went into them. These guys working [in the Institute’s garage] are bringing cars back to exactly the way they were created. We have to emulate a lot of the skills and the materials and tools of the time in order to restore them.

We have automotive literature books, magazines, serials, artifacts—hood ornaments, racing trophies, race programs, really a unique collection. And there are 100 of what we call the most meaningful cars ever built—these are cars that really reflect a certain point in time, as achievements in science or society or styling or culture. Each one [has] a really unique story, and represents a significant milestone.

One of the reasons that brought me here was the kind of work that I had done at the University of Oklahoma Libraries, focusing on bringing new technology and young people back into the library and re-engaging them with the collections. We're working on a lot of educational programming, and I'm redoing our website and [creating] a number of apps that will allow people—particularly in this COVID environment—to be able to actually [engage with] the whole car collection remotely.

It’s been an amazing experience, because [the Institute] brings the top automobile collectors in the world together and talks about Miles [Collier’s] vision of these cars as technological artifacts of the 20th century, and how we can promote that idea.

LJ:  So what has it been like transitioning from an academic library to something completely different?

I was fighting over budget cuts related to the impact of COVID-19, so when [the Institute] made the offer and said, basically, whatever you need [for these initiatives] we can get it for you, it was a fairly easy decision to go, “I'll take you up on that offer rather than beating my brains out trying to deal with all the all the current hassles in higher ed.”

I've got years and years of experience putting technology to work in ways that help people engage with [content], and I really didn’t want to leave that behind. I wanted to carry that forward. So [the Revs Institute] gave me an environment where I had an opportunity to do what I've always done.

We're talking to several universities right now about how we can support their programs. The thing I learned [in academic libraries] is that you had to sit down with [faculty and instructors] and ask what are their course objectives. What were they trying to do? And then sit down and think, “How can we support that? How can we make it more engaging for students?” And then go back to them with a plan that says, “Here’s what we can do for you and here's the ways we can help.”

Right now, we are trying to schedule appointments for [colleges and universities] to bring in professors—not just from automotive studies but from their culture, sociology, and science departments—and illustrate [what is possible] with this magnificent collection of artifacts. When you do that, you know you're doing the work for them, but that's okay because they're all under so much pressure—even more so now. You have to really give them a glide path [to incorporate new content], but it's really a benefit. It's going to engage more people and make their courses different than everybody else’s.

Cars reflect culture, style, sociology. They impact city planning…. You saw many car manufacturers in the early stages of the pandemic repurposing [manufacturing plants] and helping create respirators. I’m [also] thinking of makerspace technologies in libraries. Step back and take a look at what the [car designing] artisans did creating automobiles. The operations that went on to create race cars incorporated the latest technologies and tested them out…. At OU, entrepreneurs could use our makerspace to go from having a prototype to building a company. And that's exactly what these old cars represent. Many were one-offs that somebody did in their garage, but the lessons they learned were picked up [and applied within the automotive industry].

LJ:  Could you describe the collection?

Miles Collier put this collection together along with his wife. He is writing a book, and it really encapsulates a lot of his thinking. There were times where he took cars and restored them to their current newest capabilities, and then at a certain point time you can see he stopped [restoring to mint condition] and started capturing the cars as they were at a certain point in time—maybe it was the point of manufacture if it was a car [commercially available] for sale.

But in many cases—for instance, the race cars went through numerous races, and he would restore to what they looked like when he entered them in a race. And right now, he's working hard on capturing them just as they were at the point that they retired from racing. Many times they have dents and cracks, and details and the stories behind them. Each is related to an event and the story of the driver. If you saw Ford vs Ferrari, that's a wonderful movie that really shows what it was like to go through a race and the people involved and the stories behind it.

A lot of these photos we have [in the archives] we’ve been able to pull out as we've tried to take a car and restore it to a certain point in time…so we can continue to tell the story of a race and what happened in it. It takes an amazing artisan to be able to do that. That's what happens out in our garage. These guys do incredible detective work.

LJ:  How can people access the Institute’s content?

It’s all by appointment at the moment [due to the COVID-19 pandemic], but generally speaking, these are not materials you can check out. In support of some educational institutions that we’re working with—McPherson College in Kansas runs a really amazing automotive restoration program—we’re working with them on doing some limited interlibrary loans. But we’re putting our fingers in the water to really work with educational institutions that really want to explore this. There's [also] a huge digital library on the website right now that you can use. What we want to do is get the archive of automobiles out there [to institutions and the public]. In the past, the only way you could see that collection was either on the website or to come and visit the Revs Institute.

LJ:  Any thoughts on the current state of academic libraries?

I know a lot of people in a library land wonder whether they should ever move out of library land, and is there life beyond libraries? I think this is a pretty amazing example of “yes there is.” There are ways that you can do what you've done in different environments and in different ways, and yet still drive towards the same kind of amazing goals. [Librarians] want to give people an opportunity to take in information and use it to create knowledge. You can do that, and you can do it in different places than the library. I was incredibly fortunate I was given this incredible offer, but when you get those kinds of offers you can't be shy about it. I didn't waste any time saying yes.

This interview was edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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Matt Enis


Matt Enis ( is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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Marsha Meyer

Great choice for the position. Carl's love for automobiles, especially the classics, and library technology make him a perfect match.

Posted : Nov 09, 2020 02:25



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