The Changing Role of
Special Collections in
Scholarly Communications
Donald J. Waters, Senior Program Officer, Scholarly Communications,
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Presented at the ARL-CNI Fall Forum on “An Age of Discovery: Distinctive
Collections in the Digital Age,” Washington DC, October 14, 2009
n October 1995, I was co-chair of the Task Force on the Archiving of Digital
Information. I stood before the assembled membership of ARL and
dutifully on the progress of the task force.1 I noted in my talk then
that William Safire had recently devoted his wonderful “On Language” column
in the New York Times Magazine to the topic of kids’ slang. He advised that “if
you want to stay on the generational offensive, when your offspring use the
clichéd ‘gimme a break,’ you can top that expression of sympathetic disbelief
with ‘jump back’ and the ever-popular riposte ‘whatever.’” However, he also
noted that some expressions, such as “I’m outta here” or “I’m history,” had
become very much dated. Quoting from a study of slang, Safire pointed out
that “I’m history,” is “a parting phrase modeled on an underworld expression
referring to death, and it has both inspired and been replaced by the more
trendy expression, ‘I’m archives.’”2
Today, according to a recent article in the “Sunday Styles” section of the
New York Times, the trendy have taken their slang to an even higher level of
sophistication. They are now studiously avoiding being associated with
mundane activities such as “hosting” or “selecting,” and are instead opting to
engage in the more up-to-the-minute and stylish activity of “curating.” The
Oxford dictionary defines the standard meaning of “to curate” as “to look after
and preserve.” However, this sense of the word has been supplemented with a
variety of non-traditional uses. The Times reported that “The Tipping Point, a
store in Houston that calls itself a sneaker lifestyle shop, does not just sell a
collection of differently colored rubber soles….No, its Web site declares, the store
‘curates’ its merchandise.” Similarly, “Etsy, the shopping Web site devoted to
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