I’m delighted to share the news that the report of the 2010 RLUK/London Library Hidden Collections survey is now available online. Helping to prepare the report for publication has been part of my work on this project. Looking at the detailed replies from librarians has given me a real sense of the scale of the problem. I hope the report will help raise awareness of the concerns and help us jointly find ways forward.
“Hidden collections” are one of the greatest challenges in making the most of unique and distinctive collections: collections which are not catalogued, and which therefore are not visible to people who might wish to use them. Nowadays, collections which are catalogued but not online are becoming hidden as users expect everything to be online and do not seek out paper or card catalogues.
Hidden collections used to be called backlogs, but this term is misleading, as it implies a failure of current systems. The problem is older and larger than this. Hidden collections absorb resources, space, and staff energy without benefit.
This project takes particular interest in such collections because unique and distinctive materials are more likely to be hidden. Lacking scope for pulling down catalogue records from other sources, UDCs require special skills such as archive description or languages to catalogue from scratch.
As part of my work, I have helped prepare for publication the 2010 RLUK and London Library survey of hidden collections. This survey attracted many responses from all kinds of libraries, who answered almost 100 questions about collections and cataloguing. The data was not released immediately as it was felt that coverage of archives and manuscripts could be improved, perhaps by a further survey. However, it was decided to release the data in an interim publication as part of this project, so that it could be used in the final report and made available to the library and archive community. It makes fascinating reading. The survey data should be available later this year.
Librarians overwhelmed by hidden collections should not despair (I have been in that situation! You are not alone!). There are ways forward; I’ll be discussing these further in the project report. I was interested this morning to read about Lighting the Past, a new initiative at St Andrews University Library, which will catalogue 150,000 rare books: University students will produce basic records to be upgraded by specialist staff. It will be intriguing to see how this develops as a model for the many other universities who have large hidden collections of rare books.
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.
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.