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.
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.
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.
The Unique and Distinctive Project has its own strand at the forthcoming RLUK Members’ Meeting. The venue? The amazing new University Library at Aberdeen (get a taste of the building from this Guardian article and, yes, there will be tours on offer!). The date? 2pm 29 March 2012 .
Wow! Shiny! University of Aberdeen's new library seen alongside the existing Queen Mother Library - from chrisabanks flickr stream (all rights reserved).
The session will be a chance for RLUK Members to find out where we are with the Project at the half-way point (eek!) and to feed in their own ideas and experiences. In particular, we will be sharing the fascinating findings of the OCLC/RLUK Survey: really high-quality data about the reality of our special collections.
I look forward to seeing and chatting to lots of interested people and to some exciting discussion about the futures for our fantastic collections. See you there?
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.
We’re aiming to publish the final report of this project next September. This will outline what’s been learned and make recommendations.
From now until next Spring, I will be gathering evidence from curators of collections, other interested people plus published and unpublished sources: desk research, meetings, social media conversations, mailing lists … I’m developing a communications plan to work out who we need to contact and how to get conversations started. This blog, and readers’ responses to it, will be vital in establishing these links.
Fortunately I have a bit of a head start. I did masses of desk research and other info gathering while working on the Special Collections Handbook (due from Facet Publishing in November), far more than made it into the finished work. This work will be a useful base for the new project.
Next Summer, I’ll be writing the report. After publication, I’ll be working with the Project Board to market the report, so that its recommendations help curators, parent organisations, and current and future users of collections.
Not at all.
The project is funded by Research Libraries UK, so its members must benefit from our work. However, to ensure this happens, the final report will need to be based on as much knowledge, innovation, experience as possible. So we will look beyond the RLUK member libraries to Special Collections held by other organisations. As I said in my forthcoming book, Special Collections are everywhere, held by cathedrals, museums, learned societies, historic houses and so many more. This project is a wonderful opportunity to bring all these organisations together to celebrate collections and find new ways to work together.
It is also worth emphasising that the project will not be limited to the study of issues and activities in UK libraries. We will be making links and researching collections worldwide.
Aren’t these just Special Collections?
Well, yes, mostly. But RLUK wanted to emphasise that universities often hold collections which fall outside the standard Special Collections remit e.g. other library collections, data sets, research outputs, or objects. These too may have qualities which mean that their parent organisations and wider society should value and support them. Not to mention that in some organisations, Special Collections includes archives, in others not, and sometimes they are the collections which are neither old books nor archives.
U & D (I find) are useful terms when discussing collections held in universities, whether traditional “Special Collections” or not. We’re not suggesting that universities start using them instead of “Special Collections”: too long for everyday use, U & D Collections would become UDCs and then we have UDC Librarians and the like, UDC Reading Room etc, not helpful for users!
I’ll be interested to find out what librarians, archivists, and all the other people who will be involved with this project make of the name.
This site will share progress on a new project from Research Libraries UK. The Unique and Distinctive Collections Project will review the situation of collections in UK academic libraries and explore ways in which they can maximise the potential of collections, to help their parent universities and society at large.
I’m Alison Cullingford, Special Collections Librarian at the University of Bradford and recently appointed Project Manager of this exciting and timely work. I’ll be spending about a day a week on the project for the next year. I look forward to working on it.