The Collaborative Imperative: Special Collections in the Digital Age Anne R. Kenney, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian, Cornell University T he recent ARL-CNI Fall Forum, “An Age of Discovery: Distinctive Collections in the Digital Age,” offered a wonderful venue to reconsider the role of special collections—both physical and digital— in an age that places emphasis on ubiquitous access, social networking, and the promise of Web 2.0. The forum included presentations by scholars, librarians, curators, and technologists, and the place was packed. A number of themes emerged during presentations and the ensuing Q&A sessions, including calls for greater collaboration across institutional boundaries as well as with content creators and users. It was not lost on most attendees that the kinds of issues being discussed would not have been seriously considered by many even five years ago. Much has changed, but one thing is clear: as special collections face a new renaissance in the Digital Age, research libraries are challenged to reconsider institutional practice, and especially the collaborative imperative that connects institutions, digital communities, and the users we serve. Digitizing Special Collections “…large-scale digitization is an exciting option that will almost certainly become a fact of life for a significant number of special collections librarians and archivists in the near future.”1 The recent report on special collections in ARL libraries noted that the focus of large-scale digitization increasingly will be on special collections materials as the sweep to digitize general stack collections comes to an end. Certainly special collections have been digitized over the past two decades, but the scope and expense associated with mass digitization is out of reach for most research libraries without external funding or external partners. The collaborative imperative should bind research libraries together as we move into the era of mass digitization of special collections and permeate our relations with RLI 267 20 DECEMBER 2009 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
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