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.
I’m now writing up the final report of the project. The first draft is due with the Board next week. This will survey what is going on, and most importantly look at what can be done, by individuals, institutions, groups and the sector. It’s a major task as you can imagine. It is good to start writing up because it highlights gaps in evidence or knowledge very clearly.
Can you help with any gaps?
I currently lack evidence on:
- national libraries – challenges, where these differ from other libraries.
- collections that are not managed as part of “special collections”.
- projects and activities using collections in subjects outside the humanities.
I also need more on the IMPACT of projects and activities using collections – how these help with mission and what difference they make. The Board and the Advisory Group will help, of course, and please get in touch if you have any suggestions.
The presentations from the RLUK Aberdeen meeting on 29 and 30 March are now online. They include my talk on the project at half-time and Jackie Dooley of OCLC on the last stages of the Survey. I didn’t catch them all myself; I did hear and would recommend Chris Banks on the story of the amazing new Aberdeen University library and John MacColl for making sense of the many organisations with whom RLUK can work.
Just returned from a very productive RLUK conference in sunny (yes, really!) Aberdeen. The Thursday afternoon featured a session about the Unique and Distinctive strand. I discussed progress so far; the OCLC and UK folks working on the Survey outlined some possible recommendations to be made in the Survey report. We then had fun with stickers, choosing the recommendations that we thought most important and discussing them. This led to lots of thought-provoking debate.
I’ll try to blog about some of the issues that cropped up over the coming weeks. I also had many conversations with other delegates which helped inform this project.
Very grateful to all who took part and to Chris Banks, Siobhan Convery and their colleagues for wonderful hospitality and tours of their stunning new library.
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?
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.
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.
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
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!