A Special Issue on Distinctive Collections Introduction I n spring 2009, the ARL Working Group on Special Collections released a discussion report that identified key issues in the management and exposure of special collections material in the 21st century. The report adopted a broad definition of “special collections,” encompassing distinctive material in all media and attendant library services. The main focus was on 19th- and 20th-century materials, including emerging digital materials and media, but most of the report applies with equal force to collecting and caring for materials from previous centuries. While the report focused on special collections in North American research libraries, it has potential application more broadly. The report provides overviews of and makes recommendations in three areas: Collecting Carefully, with Regard to Costs, and Ethical and Legal Concerns Ensuring Discovery and Access The Challenge of Born-Digital Collections Overall the report highlights the need for research library leadership to support actions that will increase the visibility and use of special collections and promote both existing and developing best practices in the stewardship of special collections. In releasing the report, the working group invited discussion among the many professionals who are charged with the perplexing challenges of handling rare, unique, or unusual material about the extraordinary challenges they face as collectors and stewards of special collections in libraries and archives in the 21st century. To stimulate these discussions, ARL hosted a Web conference, a blog, and—in partnership with the Coalition for Networked Information—held a forum in which some 200 people participated.1 To sustain the growing momentum of community interest in rethinking the roles of distinctive collections, this issue of Research Library Issues is devoted to the topic. Included are a few of the outstanding papers delivered at the forum along with pointers to the forum proceedings available on the ARL Web site and other RLI 267 1 DECEMBER 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
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