Monday, January 2, 2012

Focusing on special collections

In the latest Research Libraries Issues put out by the ARL (issue 277) there is an opinion piece by H. Thomas Hickerson, from the University of Calgary ("Rebalancing the Investment in Collections"), discussing the importance of special collections to academic libraries, especially in this day and "age of abundance."  This was actually a presentation he made at the ARL-CNI Fall Forum on “21st-Century Collections and the Urgency of Collaborative Action,” in October.

His statement about the general and special collections is interesting point out (emphasis added):

Approval plans address most selection for undergraduate study in most fields, and they do it better and more economically than we can, and we all achieve similar results. Our archives and special collections remain our opportunity for playing a distinctive role in documenting culture, science, industry, government, and the human experience.
He goes on to state that special collections should "become a central element of our libraries", with primary resources promoted by liaisons as much as new databases. In addition, librarians and archivists should work together to support the acquisition and preservation of born-digital human record.

Finally, he suggests that the way the collections budgets are managed should be changed to incorporate more collaborative collection building, particularly digital collections.  He mentions the Hathi Trust, Google Books, Open Access, and other resources that deflect attention away from "purchases" and towards collection-sharing.

It is an interesting position to take and one I hope to learn more about as I investigate ways of assessing our digital collections.


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