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.