On 21 March I presented a Quickfire Poster Session about the Project to the Archives Discovery Forum at the National Archives. The Forum enables archivists to catch up on exciting new projects and developments in online access to archives and archival data and is always well attended, so it was a great way to bring the Project to lots of archivists.
The important work of the UK Archives Discovery Network is of course a key area for the Project to consider. Archives are by definition unique and (usually) distinctive and discovery is about making more of them by exploiting new technologies, for the benefit of users and parent organisations.
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, 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).
A week or so ago (24/25 November) I was in London for the Research Libraries UK Members’ Meeting. This offered great opportunities:
- to talk to members and find out about the challenges they are facing.
- to introduce the project to the members.
- to have project meetings while we were all together.
"Queen's Tower" part of Imperial College London, from SteveCadman's flickr photostream. Imperial kindly hosted the excellent Meeting Dinner!
On the Thursday afternoon, I met our OCLC colleagues and the UK librarians who helped make the survey instrument UK-friendly. The plan is for Jackie Dooley of OCLC to produce a basic framework based on the results, which will then be interpreted for our local situation by the UK librarians and me. I’m looking forward to working with them all on this great project and it was fantastic actually to meet Jackie after many emails and speaking on the phone (which involves pre-planning to get the time zones right!).
Jackie shared initial findings with the members at the meeting proper on Friday and I introduced the work I’m doing on the wider project. This meeting also covered other activities which intersect with the project, particularly the COPAC Collections Management Project. This offers a way to use the extensive metadata already available on COPAC to establish which book collections actually are unique and distinctive. This is easy with archives which would usually be by definition unique, but hard to do on any scale with printed books. I’ll be meeting the Project staff for further discussion (handily it’s based in Yorkshire).
PS Good news from RLUK’s work on journal pricing (press release). £20 million freed up is exciting and shows that united action by the sector can tackle problems we all face.
And talking of the OCLC/RLUK survey, there’s a handy article by Jackie Dooley in the latest issue of LIBER Quarterly (vol 21 no 1). It’s a useful summary of the findings of the original North American survey and introduces the UK version and this project at the end. Jackie also wonders whether LIBER libraries would be interested in using the survey …
(LIBER is the Association of European research libraries, and naturally has close links with RLUK. Another project partner!).
Time for a cuppa! A family surveyed as part of Social Survey in Stepney, 1946, by LSE students. From LSE Library flickr commons stream
I recently had a sneak preview of the data from the RLUK/OCLC survey. Can’t share just yet, as there is much yet to be done to it, but here’s some points that stand out:
- The response rate was impressive: all RLUK libraries replied and an excellent proportion of others. Thanks to all who took the trouble!
- Linking with OCLC brings the great benefit of their experience of running the North American survey, in terms of timing, questions, writing up etc. It also enables lots of direct comparisons between the results of the two surveys.
- I can see already how the survey results will help individual libraries to benchmark the resources they put into collections against country and sector norms (this will be so useful! Something we really haven’t had before). It will also be invaluable making the wider case for collections.
I’ll be offering whatever help I can in producing the results of the survey to the OCLC folk and the UK Special Collections librarians who have helped adapt the survey. We meet to discuss further on 24 November and aim to publish the results in April.