SPEC Kit 317: Special Collections Engagement · 15
Scholars/Researchers Not Affiliated with the
Institutions approach outreach to unaffiliated schol-
ars/researchers in much the same way as they ap-
proach outreach to affiliated scholars/researchers,
and many of the same methods are judged to be suc-
cessful. Exhibits, events, and instruction are impor-
tant components of outreach to unaffiliated scholars/
researchers. In addition, some institutions are using
activities such as participation in conferences, social
networking, and travel grants to bring researchers to
the collection.
While respondents considered one-on-one contact
to be the most successful method for engaging affili-
ated scholars/researchers, they rated online promo-
tion as the most successful for unaffiliated scholars/
researchers. This is entirely logical, given the fact that
unaffiliated scholars/researchers are less likely to
have a physical presence on the campus.
Outreach and Engagement Policy
The majority of respondents (66 or 87%) have no formal
plan or policy document addressing outreach and
engagement. Two respondents commented that they
are in the process of drawing up plans, one respon-
dent has incorporated outreach parameters into their
mission statement, and another respondent includes
outreach in annual goals and initiative documents.
Certain topics are covered by most of the ten in-
stitutions that do have formal engagement plans:
instruction (90%), events (80%), exhibits (70%), and
targeted user groups (70%). Other policy components
in these plans include the distribution of outreach per-
sonnel responsibilities, promotion, and assessment.
One policy includes use of space, digital initiatives,
collection management, training, and processing.
Engagement Barriers
Most of the respondents (51 or 67%) have encountered
barriers in providing effective outreach to faculty,
students, and other scholars/researchers affiliated
with their institutions. Of these, about half cite insuf-
ficient staffing as a major impediment, in particular
the lack of dedicated outreach staff. “Although we
have an active public relations department in the li-
brary, we would greatly benefit from an exhibits and
publications coordinator.” In some cases the lack of
institutional support for outreach is perceived as a
problem. “Library support for outreach is limited.
Staff are few and occupied with priorities other than
promotion or publicity for a specific special collections
exhibit or event.” Multiple respondents expressed the
desire to have a single individual responsible for co-
ordinating outreach efforts.
Funding, limited hours, and space are often noted
together as impediments to outreach efforts. “Due
to the departure of staff, budget cuts, and a hiring
freeze, we have a limited number of staff. The limited
hours and staffing are barriers to providing effective
outreach.” For others, the decentralized environment
of a large university campus or a special collections
location that is remote from the main library can be a
significant barrier.
Several respondents mention faculty awareness
and disinterest as issues. “The biggest barrier we face
is engaging with our faculty. If they tend not to be
interested in what we have or don’t know about us,
they tend not to emphasize our resources to their stu-
dents.” The sheer number of activities on campus can
be a barrier, although one respondent is attempting
to mitigate this by reaching out to other departments
to reduce scheduling conflicts.
Additional Comments
Twenty-nine institutions included additional com-
ments to explain further their local situations or to
offer general thoughts about the topic of outreach in
special collections. The major themes that emerged in
this section reflect realities inherent to special collec-
tions departments from coast to coast. A predominant
concern is the lack of personnel to carry out all of the
desired outreach activities of the department. Several
institutions report that positions involved in outreach
have been recently cut or otherwise lost, and other
comments focus on the general overall shortage of
staff to pursue these efforts. A few institutions have
considered or are starting to use social networking
and other Web 2.0 technologies to compensate for
the lack of staff, but at this point none can confirm
whether this strategy is having the desired effect.
Several institutions note that their special collec-
tions units are physically dispersed and that their
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