Association of Research Libraries
Research Library Issues 291 — 2017
database licensed. And I will add here that, surprisingly, it is not just
our archivists and special collections librarians who have trouble
stepping across dividing lines.”2 Given the historical context of the
special collections repository, the need to protect and preserve items,
and the imposed physical limitations based on archival principles
and practices, it is not surprising that both liaison librarians and
special collections librarians and archivists find it difficult to promote
each other’s expertise. Further, they may find, even when it is most
relevant, that it is difficult or impossible to work collaboratively.
There are numerous challenges that create and perpetuate a divide
between liaison and special collections librarian work, such as:
• By emphasizing differences and distinctive needs,
the commonalities that bind special collections and
other areas of the library tend to be minimized.
• Distinct hours, access policies, technical processing, resource
discovery approaches, and physical locations represent exceptions
that require workarounds from mainstreamed operations.
• “Special” can convey a sense of superiority giving rise
to misperceptions, distrust, rivalry, and jealousy.
• Different administrative reporting structures can exacerbate
rather than minimize organizational divides. Senior leadership
must signal the importance of working closely together.
• Emphasis on the physicality of special collections is
increasingly contrasted with general collections as they become
disembodied digital objects more valued for their informational
content and ease of use rather than their materiality.
• The rise of liaison programs can lead to turf wars over areas
of responsibility and the primacy of contacts with faculty.3
Acknowledging these challenges, and stepping back from them
for a moment, it is useful to ask questions: What would a more
synthesized style of working together look like? What means are
necessary for moving this process forward, taking away constructs