criteria of scholarly value, and for such assessments deep knowledge of the
research and curricular priorities in various disciplines is also needed. In their
forthcoming book from the Oxford University Press, Fran Blouin, Head of
Michigan’s Bentley Library, and Bill Rosenberg, a historian, analyze in detail the
causes and consequences of the gulf in understanding that now exists between
special collections librarians and scholars.24 I urge you to read it when it is
available. We urgently need creative solutions.
One way of gathering the deep scholarly knowledge needed to sort out
priorities for special collection activity is to bring scholars and students directly
into the special collections processing streams. Professor Jackie Goldsby is on the
program of this meeting and will be speaking about pioneering efforts that she
and her students have made with librarians and archivists at the University of
Chicago and in the archives of various other institutions in and around Chicago.
Mellon has funded similar initiatives at Columbia; Johns Hopkins; the
University of California, Los Angeles; and the Huntington Library. All the
results are not in yet, but what we do know is very promising, with benefits
all around for the scholars and students, the library, and the university.
Contribution Mechanisms
These programs illustrate one approach to the second fertile area of
development for special collections to which I would draw attention: namely,
finding efficient and productive ways to engage scholars and students in the
development of special collections as scholarly resources. We have all heard
about the Web 2.0 types of activities that try to draw readers in by adding tags
or other forms of annotation to library records and surrogates. These are
fascinating initiatives, but bringing scholars and students directly into the
cataloging process is both more risky, and potentially more rewarding because
of the deep engagement it can produce. Let me offer a few other examples to
stimulate your thinking about how scholars and students could be productively
engaged.
The Medici Granducal Archive in Florence, Italy, has a treasure trove of
information about the Italian Renaissance that is almost entirely unprocessed.
The Medici Archive Project (MAP), an organization based in New York,
regularly provides residential research fellowships for visiting scholars, and hit
on the idea in 1999 to develop a scholar-friendly data-entry system and require
its fellows to spend a portion of their time cataloging the files they were
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The Changing Role of Special Collections in Scholarly Communications
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DECEMBER 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
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