many manuscripts of the Rose as possible (it expects to have about 150 by the end
of 2010); this corpus will allow scholars to trace the evolution and transmission of
this key medieval text in new ways, although, interestingly, it will require the
development of new tools to permit the parallel examination and analysis of
large numbers of variant editions. The re-patriation and re-unification of
geographically dispersed special collections is not only possible but increasingly
straightforward, and combines cultural diplomacy with new scholarship.8 A
stunning recent example of the possibilities here is the Codex Sinaiticus, which
includes the oldest complete New Testament; pages from this work had been
scattered across the British Library, the National Library of Russia, St. Catherine’s
Monastery, and the Leipzig University Library. The pages of the codex, now re-
united from all these sources, became available online in 2009.9
There are other opportunities to combine stewardship and cultural diplomacy.
The British Library, with funding from the Arcadia Foundation, provides an excel-
lent example with the Endangered Archives program. Under this program, the
British Library captures digital representations of endangered collections around
the world; the library accessions a copy of the representations into its own special
collections, while returning another copy to the institution that has responsibility
for the endangered (physical) collection.10 We are seeing efforts to re-create the
holdings of national libraries that have been largely destroyed in nations such as
Afghanistan.11 We have the potential to redefine relationships between private col-
lectors, scholars, and public collections by digitizing these often-invisible treasures
under a wide range of circumstances, either by private agreement or legal man-
date (imagine extensions or variations of laws already in place in some nations,
notably in Europe, to facilitate the ability of national cultural heritage organiza-
tions to retain cultural patrimony being offered for sale by private collectors).
Newly acquired special collections will include more and more digital
materials (one prominent recent example is the “papers” of Salman Rushdie,
acquired by Emory University, which includes a vast trove of electronic mail).12
At least at first, the typical case will be digital materials on various portable
storage media (floppy disks, tape, hard drives) or even entire personal computer
systems, intermixed with printed or other physical materials. The Digital Lives
program at the British Library offers a look at the broader range of future
complications as, for example, major parts of one’s digital life-records move
from local storage into cloud-hosted applications or social networking systems.13
But while these are an extension of the traditional humanistically focused
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Special Collections at the Cusp of the Digital Age: A Credo
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DECEMBER 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
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