Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Moving Special Collections Forward

Presentations and reports from ARL’s October 2009 forum, “An Age of Discovery: Distinctive Collections in the Digital Age,” are available online. This forum “highlighted the opportunities special collections provide to engage users and realize the teaching, learning, and research missions of libraries and universities.”

The summary report identifies three major themes from the forum:

  1. Use Drives Special Collections Activity: Materials need to be findable, open for creative use, and “user contribution should be harnessed to enrich future research” (11).
  1. Special Collections Are Central to the Academic Enterprise: Special collections need to be aligned with the teaching, learning, and research missions of academic institutions—“integrated into ‘the fabric of the curriculum’” (12). Special collections are teaching spaces where primary materials can be used to support “inquiry-based learning, hands-on exploration of meaning, and inquisitive habits of mind” (13). When an institution archives student work (e.g., in an institutional repository), students become aware of the whole research cycle. To be aligned better with institutional goals, special collections need to be integrated “into the main information-management and discovery workflows in the research library” (14).
  1. Digital and Collaboration Are Necessary: “Digitization and digital curation are no longer specialized activities; they are a part of the life-cycle management of special collections.” Special collections thus depend on sustainable digital programs (not projects) and solid infrastructures. And these depend on collaboration “within and across institutions and between institutions and collections users” (15).
The report concludes: “The opportunity to engage the learning process via the raw materials of knowledge, rare objects, and primary sources, is greater than ever before” (16).