SPEC Kit 307: Manuscript Collections on the Web · 11
Executive Summary
There is growing demand from users, administrators,
and donors to have manuscript collection information
available on the Web. In their OCLC Programs and
Research report “Shifting Gears: Gearing Up to Get
into the Flow,” Ricky Erway and Jennifer Schaffner
state, “In a world where it is increasingly felt that if it’s
not online it doesn’t exist, we need to make sure that
our users are exposed to the wealth of information in
special collections.”1 Their report speaks specifically
to digitizing collections, but the philosophy holds
true for information about manuscript collections as
well as digital facsimiles of them. This study explores
Web resources that provide information about these
collections, rather than the facsimiles.
Many of those who are responsible for the arrange-
ment and description of manuscript and archival ma-
terials suffer from chronic backlogs and often lament
the lack of resources (staff and time) to deal with their
workloads. How do libraries accomplish the task of
getting information about their valuable resources
online? This survey investigated how many manu-
script collections are held in ARL member libraries
what percentage of these collections are represented
on the Web what types of information about the col-
lections are available in finding aids and on the Web
what formats are used for finding aids on the Web
how many library staff are working on manuscript
collections, the challenges and benefits of migrat-
ing collection information to the Web, and whether
and how usage of manuscript collection information
is tracked. It was distributed to the 123 ARL mem-
ber libraries in February 2008. Seventy-two libraries
completed the survey by the March 31 deadline for a
response rate of 59%.
Using the Society of American Archivists’ (SAA) defi-
nition of a manuscript collection as a “collection of
personal or family papers”2, the survey first asked
whether the library held manuscript collections. The
majority of respondents (69 or 97%) answered, “Yes.”
Many of the respondents clarified how their answers
may not reflect all of the manuscripts held at their
institution since these collections are dispersed across
several units.
All 69 respondents identified the unit, department, or
library that is responsible for arranging and describ-
ing manuscript collections in some cases, there is
more than one. Typically, it is an archive, special col-
lections, and/or rare books department or library.
Sixty-seven respondents answered basic questions
about the number and types of staff (including archi-
vists, librarians, other professional staff, support staff,
and students) in the unit. They reported a total of 1297
individuals: 584 student assistants, 265 support staff,
218 archivists, 152 librarians, 47 other professionals,
and 31 other staff, such as volunteers. The FTE totals
indicate that permanent staff largely work full-time
and that there are about three students per FTE.
The total number of individuals per unit ranges
from 4 to 95, with an average of 19.36. The number
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