A Special Issue
on Distinctive Collections
Introduction
Iofspring
n 2009, the ARL Working Group on Special Collections released a
discussion report that identified key issues in the management and exposure
special collections material in the 21st century. The report adopted a broad
definition of “special collections,” encompassing distinctive material in all media
and attendant library services. The main focus was on 19th- and 20th-century
materials, including emerging digital materials and media, but most of the report
applies with equal force to collecting and caring for materials from previous
centuries. While the report focused on special collections in North American
research libraries, it has potential application more broadly.
The report provides overviews of and makes recommendations in three areas:
Collecting Carefully, with Regard to Costs,
and Ethical and Legal Concerns
Ensuring Discovery and Access
The Challenge of Born-Digital Collections
Overall the report highlights the need for research library leadership to
support actions that will increase the visibility and use of special collections and
promote both existing and developing best practices in the stewardship of special
collections.
In releasing the report, the working group invited discussion among the many
professionals who are charged with the perplexing challenges of handling rare,
unique, or unusual material about the extraordinary challenges they face as
collectors and stewards of special collections in libraries and archives in the 21st
century. To stimulate these discussions, ARL hosted a Web conference, a blog,
and—in partnership with the Coalition for Networked Information—held a forum
in which some 200 people participated.1
To sustain the growing momentum of community interest in rethinking the
roles of distinctive collections, this issue of Research Library Issues is devoted to the
topic. Included are a few of the outstanding papers delivered at the forum along
with pointers to the forum proceedings available on the ARL Web site and other
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DECEMBER 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC