SPEC Kit 333: Art &Artifact Management · 11
Executive Summary
In June of 2005, OCLC conducted an international
survey on people’s perceptions of libraries. When
asked the question, “What is the first thing you think
of when you think of a library?” roughly 70% of the
3,300 respondents answered “books.”1 However, those
who work in libraries, especially research libraries,
know that they contain a wide variety of types of ma-
terials, including large numbers of works of art and
artifacts. Increasingly, the convergence of the missions
of cultural heritage institutions such as museums, li-
braries, and archives, and the overlap in the materials
they collect, is being widely discussed and debated by
professionals in the field.
In 2006, the Rare Books and Manuscripts
Section of the Association of College and Research
Libraries chose “Libraries, Archives, and Museums
in the Twenty-First Century: Intersecting Missions,
Converging Futures?” as its preconference theme.
One participant stated: “[A]s the conference pro-
gressed it became abundantly clear that collection-
based definitions of libraries, archives, and museums
are not valid, have never been valid, and never will
be valid. Everyone collects everything. Yet each has
a unique method of classifying and working with
each thing.”2
In his essay based on a presentation at that con-
ference, Bruce Whiteman writes, “…each of the
three types of institutions normally owns many, if
not thousands, of the objects-in-trade that are more
characteristically associated with the others. What
major library does not include paintings, drawings,
prints, and archival collections?”3 At that same con-
ference, Robert Martin, the Director of the Institute of
Museum and Library Services, argued that all of these
materials, are, in fact, documents, and that the bound-
aries between them—whether in the way they are
collected, managed, or made available—are bound-
aries we have drawn and that we can also change.4
The digital environment, in particular, provides op-
portunities for a convergence in the way we process
and present our collections to our audience.
Within this context, the library community has
also emphasized the importance of exposing our
“hidden collections.”5 The significance of special col-
lections as a major source of the richness of research
library collections has great visibility in the recent dia-
log about the future of research libraries. Recognizing
that there are many collections of significant research,
cultural, and monetary value that are currently un-
discoverable to researchers, efforts such as the CLIR
hidden collections grant program6 and individual
library prioritization have focused on this problem.
The imperative to provide access to all special col-
lections, including art and artifact materials, in our
institutions raises questions about the current state
of description and access.
In this survey, the designers were interested in
exploring these issues, focusing on three major areas
of interest. First, the survey was intended to explore
the scale and scope of art and artifact materials held
by ARL member libraries. A second goal was to deter-
mine which tools and techniques they currently use
to manage these collections, including those used by
library staff only and those used to make informa-
tion about these collections available to the public.
Finally, the survey attempted to determine if there
is evidence of a convergence of library, archive, and
museum practices in the management of these collec-
tions. Outcomes from the survey will inform strategy
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