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.
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.
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!
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!
Special Collections librarians and other curators reading this may remember a recent survey by OCLC Research and Research Libraries UK asking for details about Special Collections funding, collections, staff etc. As you might imagine, the survey is closely linked with this project: both are part of the “promoting unique and distinctive collections” strand, one of RLUK’s five strategic aims for 2011-2014. The survey will provide masses of data about UK collections which will be essential for this project and useful for many other purposes. I’m looking forward to working with the OCLC people on bringing the survey to you soon.
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.