would take more time to restore. She wrote to colleagues on several e-mail lists,
urging them to contact Cornell and “demand its restoration.” She added: “This
is really too important to take sitting down.” I’ll spare you my first reaction to
this e-mail, but it did raise the question of how many library resources should be
devoted to non-Cornellians. When MOA first launched, it was argued that, if we
are going to make material digitally available to the Cornell community anyway,
it was a marginal overhead to make it accessible to the world as well. As it turns
out, that’s not quite true. The vast majority of users of our digital content have
no Cornell relationship and, when they write with their concerns and their
questions, we devote IT and reference staff resources to them—on a fairly steady
basis. Most express gratitude to Cornell for making this material accessible.
What’s interesting about this current situation is the user’s sense of entitlement.
I might resent her tone, but she’s got a point. If we are going to offer up our
holdings to the world, we have an obligation to meet certain expectations.
Making material freely available does not make it free. Balancing our
commitments to open access and responsible stewardship of our institutional
resources in these hard economic times requires dedication, flexibility, and a
rethinking of business as usual.
Conclusion
Earlier this fall, Katherine Reagan spoke at a Grolier Club symposium on “Books
in Hard Times” and characterized two possible fates awaiting special collections:
1. The Special Collection Grave-Yard, where physical items go to reside
and are rarely used once they are digitized, and
2. The Special Collections Renaissance, in which digital access leads to
ever greater use of the originals.14
Whatever the future is along this spectrum, research libraries will need to
consider the changes that attend digital access on a grand scale. As we
transplant special collections to an online environment, we should avoid the
temptation to transplant traditional approaches that do not accommodate the
profound differences that await us, where institutional borders blur, where
digital communities thrive, where the unaffiliated seek to use our materials in
ways not fully imagined. Our success may well depend on our ability to seize
the collaborative imperative that links institutions to a participatory
information environment.
RLI 267
28
The Collaborative Imperative: Special Collections in the Digital Age
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C O N T I N U E D
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DECEMBER 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
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