Special Collections in CILIP Update


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Very pleased that the latest issue of CILIP Update features a section all about the latest in Special Collections.  Special Collections is an incredibly dynamic and exciting area of library work, and it is good to see this feature in a title aimed at all librarians.  There’s a piece by Karen Attar about the new Directory and one by me about our innovative collections development policy at Bradford.  There’s some fantastic illustrations of materials from our collections too.

Sorry, CILIP Update is only available to CILIP members and libraries who subscribe to it.  If you don’t have access, following the links in the paragraph above will take you to other writing by Karen and me about our respective contributions.

PS I haven’t blogged much lately for which apologies.  NOT for lack of things to say though.  I’ve been putting all my writing energy into our application for archive accreditation, which should be going in today.  I’ll write about the experience of applying and many other things soon.

Updating The Special Collections Directory


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A Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, a definitive reference book, was last updated in 1997.  The world of special collections has changed a bit since then.  Many new collections have come to light (including ours at Bradford University – we don’t even have an entry in the 1997 edition!).

A mammoth new endeavour will map these changes to produce a comprehensive and up-to-date edition (thanks to CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group and Facet Publishing). The new editor is Karen Attar of Senate House Library, currently supported by the graduate trainees of Oxford.  You can keep in touch with their progress and find out how to get involved via the project blog.

BLPAC to close


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Bad news: the British Library’s Preservation Advisory Centre is to close at the end of March.  See the statement on their website.

If you’ve read the Handbook, you’ll know how much I value BLPAC’s work, especially the really useful free booklets and training courses.  They’ve also been an important cross-sector advocate for thinking strategically about preservation.  Despite the impact of digitisation and improved storage in many organisations, preservation remains a serious concern for special collections services.  So I hope the good work of BLPAC can be continued in some way!

The Broken Book


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From a Book of Hours to a Book of Bits.  This blog post by medievalist Elaine Treharne chronicles the shocking destruction of a Book of Hours.  Sold at auction in 2010, this unique volume has since been split up and sold in pieces, a practice known as book-breaking or biblioclasm.  A practice that goes on today and is facilitated by the ease of selling online.

This is what is at stake when organisations sell off foundation collections or other unique and distinctive treasures.  Alongside the loss of public access and the destruction of the integrity of the collection, the actual books may be broken up and scattered.  Atlases are particularly at risk, as is any work with plates or appealing illustrations which might fetch a good price sold individually.

I’ll have more to say about disposals and book-breaking in future posts …

Show, Tell + Play: sharing heritage projects and stuffed animals in Yorkshire


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On 24 October I went along to a great event offering “a playful space” for discussing heritage activities in Yorkshire: Heritage Show+Tell.  This uses a very effective format: 3 minutes, 3 slides per speaker.  No long presentations to write, no big commitment of time, a friendly and supportive atmosphere.


Grrrr!  Leeds tiger, courtesy www.leedsmuseum.co.uk

The projects all had some relevance to my work at Bradford: discovering the history of fashion and business, using a dyeing garden to help offenders, AR and sculpture, art gallery outreach, exploring Yorkshireness, and amazing use of audio-visual in historic theatres.  Find out more about the event and the speakers here.  The talks were followed of course by WINE AND SNACKY THINGS.

We also had a chance to see the stores at the venue, the Leeds Discovery Centre.  My knowledge of museum collections tends to focus on local and social history, so I was delighted that our hostess was on the natural science side as this museum has very strong collections in this area.  She showed us some very strange taxidermy* and loads of bird skins, eggs, shells, bones etc.  The space is available for school and family events; I can imagine that they have an amazing time, especially on Halloween when they creep in the dark among the things …

Which made me think: we shouldn’t underestimate the wow factor of collections on shelves even if they may not be quite as thrilling as museum collections.  Large libraries of early books, collections of rolls etc are outside many people’s experience and can be really impressive, especially in an historic library – the Hogwarts angle.  Like the collections they house, stores can be distinctive unique selling points. OK, it can be hard to do much about this if you have inadequate over-full premises, but the possibilities of organised visits and ways of glimpsing the stores can and should be a part of planning better premises.  Examples welcome …

*if you’ve met the Horniman Walrus, you’ll know what I mean.  And I will never forget the Half-monkey-skeleton/Half-furry-monkey (no picture, alas!) and the shelves crammed with grotesque toothed furry things …

To Have and To Hold: Historic Libraries Forum Annual Conference 2013


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Managers of special collections face difficult decisions: what to collect, what not to collect, how to accept new material etc, how to identify and deal with irrelevant material …  This year’s Historic Libraries Forum conference in London on 19 November will share best practice in collection management.   I’m speaking, along with Katie Flanagan from Brunel and David McKitterick from Trinity College Cambridge.

I’ll discuss how some newish concepts helped me to create the latest collection development policy for Special Collections at Bradford.  The new policy has in turn helped improve the way we manage our collections – deaccessioning with confidence, knowing where we want to go with digital collecting etc.  I hope these ideas will inspire others, and I look forward to learning how colleagues manage their collection problems!

Access All Areas? a user’s perspective on archives by wheelchair


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Here’s an invaluable blog post by Viv Dunstan, a historical researcher who is a wheelchair user, on her experience of using archives.  Searchrooms are often small, cramped spaces which are tricky to get around.  Staff are helpful but there is only so much they can do.  She explains the value of good quality catalogues which help readers decide whether they need to visit at all, and of digitisation on demand.

no access

Viv’s experience of archive spaces is easy to recognise.  So many archive services are constrained by unsuitable buildings, squeezing users into whatever corner can be created for them.  All I can suggest to those services with difficult spaces of this kind is to consult users about their experiences, do the best you can with what you have, and use accessibility concerns to help you make your case for improvements.  Our reading room is better than some but is far from ideal – however, we rearranged it a couple of years ago to improve access, with pleasing results.

Of course, accessibility goes beyond the searchroom.   Making catalogues and collections available online allows huge numbers of people to engage with them without needing to visit (though not forgetting that these also need to be accessible to all, often a legal requirement and a moral one too).

Improving spaces and services for people with disabilities makes them better for everyone, staff and users. For instance, improving access for wheelchair users also makes it easier for staff using trolleys to do their jobs.  And webpages designed with accessibility in mind will work as you would want them to regardless of old browsers or slow connections.  And after all, most people have some kind of disability at some point in their lives!

Picture credit: Bob the lomond’s flickr stream, license CC BY-NC 2.0.

Tiers for Fears: inter-library loans and Special Collections


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Special Collections on inter-library loan?  Surely not?  But wait … A new report from OCLC Research, Tiers for Fears: sensible, streamlined sharing of Special Collections*, shares the results of a 2010 survey on interlending of Special Collections.

Detail of cover design from books by Yorkshire Dales author Willie Riley. We would lend most of our copies in this book collection on ILL as they are pretty common second-hand, but not the rarities or things with Riley provenance. All are valuable in Special Collections because they are a distinctive collection enhancing Riley’s archive.

Historically such lending was mainly for exhibitions; now there is growing demand from researchers, thanks to increased visibility of collections online.  Like other OCLC R reports, Tiers is thoughtprovoking and challenging, but also pragmatic, suggesting a tiered approach to improve and streamline procuredures in libraries.

I wonder whether this is one area where UK and US Special Collections differ. The survey seemed mainly to attract US respondents. What do other UK librarians think?  Is there an increase in demand for ILLs?  Maybe the geography of the UK makes it easier to visit other libraries?

At Bradford, we are very rarely asked for inter-library loans of Special Collections, despite our significant online presence.   This means we are able to consider requests case by case.  I’m happy to lend modern printed books and pamphlets which aren’t unique and are robust enough to travel.  I do try to get in touch with the original enquirer, especially if the answer is No, as often there is another route such as our repro service.

I don’t think we’ll use the Tiers tools unless demand increases.  The new report has however prompted me to make sure that info about our ILLs policy is online (it isn’t at present – mea culpa!).

* Great title: a music reference, a pun, and a bit of alliteration!  Well done!


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