These themes point to next steps the research library community must take
to strategically address the needs of 21st-century researchers—students, faculty,
and life-long learners—and connect them to our most unique collections.
Use Drives Special Collections Activity
Use as the driving force in the value proposition of collecting, maintaining, and
providing access to special collections surfaced early in the forum and was
reinforced repeatedly throughout. From that positioning, speakers articulated
the impact that unique, rare, and primary resources are having on learners of
every scholarly level by sharing innovative projects and examples from
collections. Using engrossing examples as diverse as brilliant illuminated
manuscripts, heart-wrenching human rights Web sites, fragmented Buddhist
scrolls, and newly revealed Archimedes drawings, presenters addressed the
critical matter of getting materials into the hands of users more quickly and in
ways that promote dynamic and meaningful advancement of knowledge.
Speakers advocated rethinking strategies for resource allocation, processing
and digitization workflows, and promoting special collections in the context of
use. Mark Greene urged against “protective thinking” that leads to inefficient
processing, highly selective digitization, and delays in expeditious
discoverability by the widest audience, including K–12 and undergraduate
students alongside “qualified” researchers. G. Wayne Clough shared the
Smithsonian’s work to support a learning journey that starts before a visit to a
collection, creates tangible memories during, and continues long after,
suggesting that collections want to be “petted.” Don Waters promoted framing
the investment in special collections and archives in the context of scholarly
objectives and improving the efficiency of research.
Several speakers provided evidence of how use is changing with the
advancement of digital technologies. Now that digital delivery is an expectation,
metadata must facilitate deep discovery and user contribution should be
harnessed to enrich future research. In a Web 2.0 environment, special
collections need to be findable at the surface of the Web, open for creative reuse
and placed well within users’ fluid virtual work spaces. Clough encouraged
libraries to expose collections for the challenging, organic aggregations of
knowledge that they are.
Increasingly, use can be leveraged to increase future research. Jacqueline
Goldsby discussed her success with graduate student scholars working on the
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Moving Special Collections Forward in an Age of Discovery: Themes from the ARL-CNI Forum
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DECEMBER 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
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