Hullo COPAC! The Collections Management Project

How do we KNOW which of our collections are unique or distinctive?  While archives in general by definition are unique, it is much harder to identify distinctiveness in collections of published works.  The COPAC Collections Management project, based at the University of Leeds, and supported by the RLUK and MIMAS, aims to help.

Cover of Hullo Villars! Souvenir of annual ski-ing revue, Maurice Reckitt

Cover of Hullo Villars! Souvenir of annual ski-ing revue, by Maurice Reckitt, Peart-Binns Collections, University of Bradford. A personal favourite, this 20th century work does not appear to be held by any other COPAC library!

Unique and distinctive works within the main stock of a research library are a particular concern.  For instance, late 19th century and early 20th century books and pamphlets would not necessarily be automatically transferred to Special Collections services, but are often far more physically vulnerable than early printed books and may be very rare.  Most Special Collections automatically take all hand-press era printed books, with a cut-off date somewhere between 1800 and 1850.  Moving this to 1900 say would safeguard many vulnerable works, but the Special Collections service may simply not have the capacity to take them.

What is needed is a way to know which materials in main stock really are unique or distinctive, so they can either be transferred to Special Collections or otherwise managed in a way that recognises their qualities.  COPAC is already a vital resource for librarians in assessing rarity, but the COPAC CM Project takes this to new levels by developing tools to identify locations of holdings of batches of items and, crucially, to present the results in visually appealing and understandable ways.

Hullo Villars! is one of the 100 Objects from the University of Bradford: here is its story.  And I must share one of my favourite blogs, full of wonderful and distinctive 1910s books: the Tower Project at Cambridge University Library, which recently featured Jane Austen and synchronised swimming (not in the same piece, unfortunately).

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2 responses to “Hullo COPAC! The Collections Management Project

  1. The concepts of “distinction” are interesting, but don’t get us at the value of a collection. We can say that a collection is distinctive, but an assessment of value is not as easy as that, because value relies on context — a collection may be unique and distinctive but may not deliver value in a particular environment (a very deep collection of Russian literature at an institution with no related research or teaching programs). I think we have to start connecting both of these things together, or we’re missing an opportunity to make investments that count. Thanks for tackling this tough topic!

  2. Thanks Merrilee, that’s so true. Without the right environment, a distinctive collection isn’t achieving its potential. Funnily enough I have a follow up post in mind about this next step …

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