Category Archives: About the Project

A Year Already!

Here’s a quick update on project progress!   It’s a year since I started work on this project.  It has been incredibly interesting – I’ve learned so much and I hope that I can pass some of this on.  I’ll reflect more on this things later on.

We have a Board meeting tomorrow, which will discuss draft seven to see how much more work is needed. The meeting will also focus on the recommendations in the report and on ways to take the project forward beyond its publication.

I spoke about the project at a recent conference: the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group annual study conference.  This year’s event, Speaking Truth to Power, was all about advocacy – perhaps the greatest challenge facing special collections curators in these difficult times.  This project is also all about advocacy: making the case for collections to library directors, and in turn helping them make the case to vice-chancellors and other key people.  My talk (which I will put online at some point) tried to share some of the most important findings of the project so far, along with more general reflections about advocacy and power in our sector.  I think I was able to highlight some new ideas for people to take away and ponder e.g. working with local creative industries.   More about the conference on my blog.




Write-up Round-up

I’m now busily writing up the Project Report.  Not alas in a Library as magnificent as the one in this lovely image from the Wellcome.   My final version is due with the Project Board on 22 August.

V0040734 A woman is sitting at a desk in a library, writing a letter.

A woman is sitting at a desk in a library, writing a letter.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Obviously there is so much that could be included in the Report, but making it too long and complicated makes it less likely to be useful.  The Board therefore are asking me for a short and strategic report aimed at the primary audience for this work: RLUK library directors.  It will make the case to them for investment and innovation in UDCs and therefore help them make their case to chief executives etc.  We’ll include compelling case studies and lots of examples and quotes to keep things interesting.

Useful evidence not included in the Report will be made available online e.g. extra case studies, full literature review.  We hope that the Report and the accompanying work will help librarians, archivists, their managers and of course collection users outside RLUK too.  As I can confirm, we face the same challenges and opportunities.

The Report is not an end, but a beginning.  It’s part of a wider strand of RLUK interest in making UDCs available which includes the forthcoming publication of the Hidden Collections and OCLC/RLUK surveys (I will let you know dates as soon as I have them).  Most importantly, the Report will include recommendations for further action by RLUK, such as creating toolkits on key topics.

Mind the Gaps

I’m now writing  up the final report of the project.  The first draft is due with the Board next week.  This will survey what is going on, and most importantly look at what can be done, by individuals, institutions, groups and the sector.  It’s a major task as you can imagine.  It is good to start writing up because it highlights gaps in evidence or knowledge very clearly.

Can you help with any gaps?

I currently lack evidence on:

  • national libraries – challenges, where these differ from other libraries.
  • collections that are not managed as part of “special collections”.
  • projects and activities using collections in subjects outside the humanities.

I also need more on the IMPACT of projects and activities using collections – how these help with mission and what difference they make.   The Board and the Advisory Group will help, of course, and please get in touch if you have any suggestions.

Studying with SCARLET

The SCARLET Project at the University of Manchester can help libraries explore the exciting potential of augmented reality in making the most of unique and distinctive collections.  As far as I can tell, most use of AR with collections has centred on the public experience, adding a new layer to exhibitions, historic buildings and the like.  This JISC-funded project looks in particular at its use in undergraduate teaching and learning, with encouraging and inspiring results.

See the Project blog for full details of the team’s work.  I reflect on a very useful SCARLET workshop in in this article on my blog.

Aberdeen Adventures Online

The presentations from the RLUK Aberdeen meeting on 29 and 30 March are now online.  They include my talk on the project at half-time and Jackie Dooley of OCLC on the last stages of the Survey.   I didn’t catch them all myself; I did hear and would recommend Chris Banks on the story of the amazing new Aberdeen University library and John MacColl for making sense of the many organisations with whom RLUK can work.

Aberdeen Adventures

Just returned from a very productive RLUK conference in sunny (yes, really!) Aberdeen.  The Thursday afternoon featured a session about the Unique and Distinctive strand.   I discussed progress so far; the OCLC and UK folks working on the Survey outlined some possible recommendations to be made in the Survey report.  We then had fun with stickers, choosing the recommendations that we thought most important and discussing them.  This led to lots of thought-provoking debate.

I’ll try to blog about some of the issues that cropped up over the coming weeks.  I also had many conversations with other delegates which helped inform this project.

Very grateful to all who took part and to Chris Banks, Siobhan Convery and their colleagues for wonderful hospitality and tours of their stunning new library.

The Advisory Group

And here’s the members of the advisory group, which is made up of Special Collections librarians from RLUK libraries.  They will be helping with their insight and expertise, suggesting case studies, examples and evidence and helping to make sure the project delivers its benefits to our organisations and our users.  Thanks to them, and to the many other people who have offered help and insight so far!

  • Rachel Beckett (Manchester)
  • Siobhan Convery (Aberdeen)
  • Sue Donnelly (LSE)
  • Adrian Edwards (British Library)
  • Sheila  Hingley (Durham)
  • Lesley Richmond (Glasgow)
  • Katie Sambrook  (KCL)
  • Chris Sheppard (Leeds)
  • Robin Smith (NLS)
  • Jill Whitelock (Cambridge)
  • Christine Wise (Senate House Libraries)
  • Melanie Wood (Newcastle)
  • Susan Worrall (Birmingham)

PS March 2012:  There is some swapping about of names by organisations deciding who is best suited to represent them, so the list is continuing to change.  I’m also still open to including more members, from RLUK libraries or partner groups which aren’t yet involved.

Re-skilling for Research

This project is part of a wider discussion: how libraries/librarians demonstrate their value to their parent organisations.  Being a nice thing or a good thing is no longer enough in times of spending cuts and “marketisation” of higher education: we need numbers, metrics, proof that we are relevant, communicated in the right way.

Like Special Collections services, subject specialist librarians in universities are under particular pressure now: their role could be seen as obsolete when so much can be found by students and staff just by googling.  Actually they are needed more than ever: users need help in making sense of the huge and complex variety of information available online free or paid-for and in continuing print collections too.

All of which introduces a new report from RLUK, Re-skilling for Researchers by Mary Auckland, which maps the changing needs of researchers and the skills and knowledge librarians will need to support them.  The report overlaps in many interesting ways with UDC and will be a useful source of evidence and ideas for our piece of work.

Advisors Wanted!

Postscript 6 February: There has been a fantastic response to this, and I now have a large group of RLUK librarians ready to act as the formal advisors, including some national library representation.  However, I’m really interested in hearing from anyone else who wishes to contribute more informally.

The Unique and Distinctive Collections project will be supported by an advisory group of RLUK special collections librarians.  I already have a good number of librarians who have offered and we nicely cover the spectrum of RLUK libraries.  However, if anyone else is keen to get involved, please let me know.   I would particularly welcome interest from national library staff who are not so far represented.

I’m trying to ensure that this will not be too demanding for those who are kind enough to offer help.  We would mostly be in touch by email as I call for case study ideas, bounce suggestions and so on, but meetings will be helpful later in the project.  Ideally these would be arranged to coincide with events many of us will be attending.

Input into the project is of course not limited to those in RLUK or on the advisory group: we are looking for insight and examples from as many sources as possible, all of which will inform the project even if it does not get specifically mentioned in the final report.   If you are doing something innovative with your collections, or if you have particular queries you want to share, please do get in touch.

Happy New Year: Building the Bibliography

Happy New Year: I’m looking forward to working on this project and sharing it via this blog in 2012 … and here’s a lovely New Year photo from 1956.

Man with New Year twin lambs

Man with New Year twin lambs, from National Library of Wales flickr stream

Just now, I’m putting together the  literature review.  It’s essential to know what has already been written, as background and to provide case studies and examples.  I’m not just looking at formal academic and published writing. Lots of fruitful discussion of professional issues now happens informally on blogs and other social media, not to mention at conferences, meetings etc.   So my net will be cast wide …

Of course, the task is  made easier by The Special Collections Handbook (now published!): I reviewed the literature of all aspects of Special Collections work so I could recommend the most useful books, journal articles and websites to readers.  Many will be relevant to the Unique and Distinctive project.  However, I need to bring the review up to date (most of the Handbook reading was done in Spring 2011) and make sure I haven’t missed anything vital!