16 · Survey Results: Executive Summary
responses reflect only a portion of that institution’s
special collections structure. In addition, some re-
spondents emphasized that they try to reach as wide
an audience as possible, including the non-university
community around them. A few institutions are fo-
cusing some of their engagement efforts on students
at local high schools.
This survey focuses primarily on outreach efforts to
on-campus constituencies (including students, faculty,
and other researchers affiliated with the institution),
while recognizing that a majority of respondents (82%)
also direct outreach efforts to non-affiliated research-
ers. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that the
results of this survey largely do not address outreach
efforts directed to off-campus audiences, and a future
survey will be needed to explore efforts targeted to
external constituencies in more depth.
A genuine commitment to outreach activities in
special collections is evident throughout the respons-
es to this survey. Over 95% of respondents are staging
exhibits, holding events, and engaging students and
faculty in the use of collections most institutions are
participating in all of these activities, as well as in
many others not specifically addressed in the survey.
At the heart of all outreach activities are the collec-
tions. Libraries are going to great lengths to promote
their unique and specialized collection strengths,
employing many creative outreach and engagement
approaches. While the traditional methods of exhibits,
events, and curricular instruction continue to be the
emphasis of special collections’ outreach programs,
institutions are also embracing opportunities to be ac-
tive physically beyond the borders of their campuses
and virtually through blogs, social networking sites,
and other Web 2.0 technologies.
The involvement of staff members in outreach ac-
tivities is more often determined by a subject knowl-
edge, background, or specialty than by position titles.
Responses also show that special collections are or-
ganized in a variety of structures, both within the
department and as members of their larger institu-
tions, furthering the reality that outreach activities
are rarely the responsibility of a single staff member.
Because the responsibilities for outreach are frequent-
ly distributed among a number of staff members,
it can be difficult for institutions to approach their
outreach programming in a cohesive and coordinated
manner. Activities such as exhibits and events are
often handled by a committee with a finite deadline,
making them easier to manage curricular engage-
ment is an ongoing effort that is likely to be assigned
to the staff persons whose backgrounds are topically
applicable, decreasing the likelihood of special collec-
tions having a structured approach and a single staff
member responsible for coordinating this activity.
One-on-one approaches to curricular engagement are
largely reported as being the most successful, but this
method can strain departments that are already short
staffed. In general, most institutions report that a gap
exists between the number of staff they have available
to conduct outreach activities and the number they
would like to have.
Another theme shared by responding institutions
is the lack of formal plans or documentation related
to outreach activities. Many respondents noted that
they would like to have documentation in place (and
some were in the process of assembling these docu-
ments at the time of answering the survey), but most
special collections continue to engage in outreach
activities without having formal documentation of
their program.
Lack of a formal outreach plan contributes to un-
structured assessment, another theme of the survey
results. Most institutions rely on patron or item counts
and anecdotal feedback to assess the effectiveness
of their outreach. Respondents, however, clearly ex-
pressed a desire to move beyond this to a more sys-
tematic approach. Due to the wide variety of outreach
activities in which special collections are involved, a
pertinent question naturally arises: what is the best
way to approach outreach assessment? This uncer-
tainty underscores a general caveat that applies to all
outreach activities. Assessment is rarely easy, and the
varied activities and staff shortages in the area of out-
reach exacerbate the situation. Institutions feel they
are not able to quantify the success of their efforts,
and this in turn limits the ability to compare activities
within the institution or across institutions, to plan
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