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.


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).

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!

FAQs: Do you want to know what collections we have?

Yes, for my own interest: I always like to know about special collections that are new to me. It never ceases to amaze and delight me that, after twenty-odd years of working with special collections, I keep hearing about new ones.   Also, of course, the more I know about the sector, the better the work I do on the project will be.

However, this project is not aiming to map or list everybody’s collections in any formal way.  This would be an IMMENSE task and would not actually take us nearer to the aims of this project.

We are less interested in the exact details of collections held by particular libraries and much more interested in helping libraries tackle the issues they face in making the most of those collections.

I hope this makes sense!

Meeting the Members

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.
The Imperial Institute Tower

"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!).

A Sneaky Survey Peek

Social Survey in Stepney Family Group, 1946

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.

Calling Collections Curators …

Over the last week or two, I’ve been publicising the project to librarians, archivists and other curators via mailing lists such as lis-rarebooks, archives-nra and lis-link, as well as social media.

Two soldiers in an observation balloon's basket, France, during World War I, from the National Library of Scotland flickr commons stream

Two soldiers in an observation balloon's basket, France, during World War I, from the National Library of Scotland flickr commons stream

The response has been very gratifying, lots of enthusiasm, and invitations to write and talk about the project.   Mailing lists still seem to be the best way to reach most curators, so will be at the heart of project communication.  The lovely WordPress blog statistics mean I can see exactly which mailings are attracting attention – nice!

I’m pleased that people seem to understand what the project is about.  It’s also good that the “unique and distinctive” name makes sense (I explained why we use this name in this earlier post).

Clearly curators feel the need for help in making the case for the value of these collections.  We know their value and potential, so do our users and friends, but how do we convert this knowledge into evidence that will convince those who don’t yet appreciate these things?   This project is going to try to find out …

Anyway, I’d be delighted to hear any suggestions for bringing the project to curators or other audiences.  Certainly not limited to the UK … Publications, blogs, conferences, events etc …  I’m also looking for great images for the blog and the project webpage, so if your library has a flickr commons presence or other website with lots of engaging out-of -copyright images, please let me know!