SPEC Kit 317: Special Collections Engagement · 11
Executive Summary
Outreach—defined as activities provided by special
collections and archives that foster use of materials
and resources to enhance both education and re-
search—is increasingly becoming a core component
of special collections activities. Special collections and
archives have been actively seeking out and building
relevant primary-source collections for years, and they
have devoted significant staff time to the processing
(arrangement and description) of these items, helping
to make these resources coherent and accessible. The
implementation of encoded archival description has
allowed collection guides/finding aids to be displayed
on the Web, and this step has brought special collec-
tions holdings to a wider exposure than ever before—
both at the local institution and beyond. Nonetheless,
students, faculty, and other scholars/researchers affili-
ated with the institution may be unaware of available
special collections resources and the potential benefits
of these resources for supporting education and re-
search at all levels of the curriculum. The next logical
step in the outreach process for special collections is
targeted engagement.
This survey examines those aspects of outreach
that are specific to the use of special collections for
education and research by students, faculty, and other
scholars/researchers affiliated with the institution.
Although the survey focused on these three groups,
we recognize that many special collections target
audiences outside their institutions. While we briefly
touch upon scholars/researchers not affiliated with
the institution, a future survey will be needed to ex-
plore outreach activities directed to external constitu-
encies in more depth.
The survey was conducted between 8 February
and 18 March 2010. Seventy-nine of the 124 ARL mem-
ber institutions completed the survey for a response
rate of 64%.
Exhibits are ubiquitous as a form of outreach, with all
but one of 79 respondents reporting that they create
exhibits based on their collections. However, of those
78 respondents, only 15 (19%) have a person or position
charged with primary responsibility for exhibits. The
majority of respondents (51%) say that responsibility
varies depending on the exhibit. Comments suggest
that the format (i.e., rare books, archives, manuscripts)
and/or the subject of the exhibit determine the in-
volvement of appropriate specialist(s). In several insti-
tutions special collections are distributed throughout
multiple departments or programs, and responsibili-
ties for coordination of exhibits in these cases tend to
fall to a team or committee. As noted at one institution,
“Special Collections are in four different locations and
consist of 9 separate programs. There is an Exhibits
Committee that manages and coordinates exhibits at
our principle library.”
The data suggest that all respondents are creat-
ing physical and online exhibits. For both physical
exhibits and online exhibits, institutions evenly tar-
get undergraduate students, graduate students, and
faculty as primary audiences, with somewhat less
emphasis on other scholars/researchers affiliated with
the institution.
Given this widespread emphasis on exhibits, it is
not surprising that the majority of respondents have
a physical space within the library designated for this
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