Updates from you?

Originally posted on Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the UK and Republic of Ireland:

Thank you very much to everyone who sent an entry, new or revised, for the forthcoming edition of the Directory of Rare Book and Special Collections in the UK and Republic of Ireland. As I write this, final edits are going ahead and I am firing off numerous emails to request clarification about particular collections. Thanks to everyone who is responding to queries quickly and with good humour.

If anything has happened with your collections since you submitted your entry – for example, if you have acquired any new printed special collections of any vintage (including 20th-21st century), disposed of collections, if you reported collections as uncatalogued that are now catalogued, etc, or indeed if you have moved location, changed telephone number or email address etc, please could you let me know by emailing RareBooksDirectory@outlook.com by 31 January 2015?

(Dr) Karen Attar
Editor, Directory of Rare…

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Meeting Medieval Manuscripts


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Mystified by medieval books?  I’m very impressed by a new series of online tutorials offering a fun and free introduction to these wonderful objects: how they were made and how they were used. Books and the dissemination of knowledge in medieval Europe was created by medieval book expert Erik Kwakkel.

Any excuse to share an image of one of my favourite medieval books … bit early for Valentine’s Day, but heart-shaped books are a delight any day of the year.  This one is a 15th century Book of Hours belonging to the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF, Manuscrits occidentaux, latin 10536).  You can find out more about it on its own webpage http://classes.bnf.fr/dossisup/grands/ec060a.htm and see it with some other heart-shapes on Dr Kwakkel’s Tumblr.

How can unique and distinctive collections support University mission?


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Delighted to share news of a report which should help anyone trying to make the case for investment in special collections.  Or indeed considering whether they should invest in them …

Unique and distinctive collections: opportunities for research libraries is freely available online from the Research Libraries UK website.  It’s based on fieldwork I carried out during my time with RLUK, edited and updated by Caroline Peach and Mike Mertens.


The report pulls together the case for special collections, using fascinating case studies to show how such collections help universities to stand out and convey values in a competitive and turbulent environment.  Many libraries are now tackling the legacy problems of unsuitable spaces and vast uncatalogued hidden collections: taking away constraints that allow collections to support teaching, research, community engagement, creative activities and fundraising, reaping financial and other benefits as a result.

I hope this report will inspire those working in such services and those who fund them to find ways to bring their wonderful collections to light.


The Pukka Pad and the Big Cake: #DCDC14 Conference Part 1


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Discovering Collections, Discovering Communities, a joint effort by RLUK and The National Archives, is fast becoming a must-attend conference for archives and special collections folk.  The idea?  We face tough times and huge challenges: let’s collaborate and find new ways to survive and thrive.  The second in the series was held last week in the awesome setting of Birmingham’s new Library, fittingly rendered in cake form in this picture.

270 delegates, two packed days, a veritable whirl of discussion, one of the most inspiring conferences I’ve ever attended.

Videos of the talks, articles and much more will appear online soon, so I won’t attempt to cover everything I saw and heard and said.  Not least because I have half a Pukka Pad of notes still to re-read and ponder.  Here are the highlights i.e. what I can remember without checking!

& here's the real thing.  Library of Birmingham, from Jo Alcock's flickr stream licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

& here’s the real thing. Library of Birmingham, from Jo Alcock’s flickr stream. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


Speakers: me, Simon Demissie of the National Archive and Peter Findlay of JISC.

I reflected on our social media journey at Bradford – where we are and where we are going … (more on this later – am writing article for Rare Books Newsletter).  Some great discussions followed (on twitter too!).

For many services, outreach via social media is no longer an innovation – it’s mature, core, business-as-usual.  But others have not even started!  How do we get out of the social media in archives echo chamber and encourage those who don’t use it for audience engagement to give it a go?  The access requirements of archive accreditation will help …

How do we measure and evaluate our social media use?  I argue for an “action research” approach to management and objectives: learning by doing or “suck it and see”.  Quantitative measures should look beyond hits/followers and consider engagement – check out Klout as a quick measure (available as part of Hootsuite too).  Think about qualitative and subjective measures too: what conversations were started?  What collaborations emerged?  What are people saying about your activities?

Simon’s talk considered the phenomenally popular Twitter accounts which share historic images, such as @theretronaut and @historyinpics. Archive services can learn from their success while not necessarily imitating their cavalier approach to citation, copyright etc.

Above all, pictures increase engagement.  Even if picture isn’t particularly exciting, people tend to retweet and fave it far more than texty tweets.  Keeping tweets short, simple and not giving whole story away works better than just reproducing a catalogue entry for an image.

Peter encouraged libraries with lots of under-used digital resources, especially images, to consider working with Wikimedia Commons to bring wider audiences.   Worth thinking about!

more to follow …



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Thrilled to announce that Special Collections at the University of Bradford has achieved Archive Accreditation!  We are the first English university to reach this new standard.  I’ll blog about the experience for professional colleagues soon: why we applied, what we made of the process, and how we think it will help improve our service.

And if you’re applying, feel free to make use of our published policies as models for your own.  I’ve made them available under a Creative Commons licence so you can use them with confidence.

An Alien Territory? Local Studies versus Special Collections


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Here’s an interesting blog post by Tony Pilmer, a Local Studies librarian sharing what he learned from a year working in a library based in a think-tank/learned society.  I agree: local studies and special collections work have masses in common.  This is especially true of university special collections.

Advertisement for Novello, Bradford, back cover of the Historical Pageant of Bradford, a book in Bradford University's Special Collections that would also be found in Local Studies

Advertisement for Novello, Bradford, back cover of the Historical Pageant of Bradford, a book in Bradford University’s Special Collections that would also be found in a Local Studies setting and is stuffed with wonderful adverts such as this one.

I think I’m right in saying that most university special collections have significant collections of archives and/or books that are “local”, relating to the city or region.  Why?  In most cases, universities grew out of the local industries and colleges and thus their collecting reflected local needs and interests.  Individuals, companies or organisations looking for homes for their papers would naturally contact the local university, certainly in the days before county record offices were established.  Academics in universities would look for local themes to research to build their own careers and then donate their findings to their organisation.  And so on …  Want real examples?  Take a look at the distinctive and rich local collections held by, say, Aberdeen, Nottingham or Exeter universities.  Students and staff benefit from the opportunity to work on collections which are distinctive and which overlap with other material nearby.

There are differences of course, between our missions, the types of material we collect, the users we attract and how we work with them.  However we have enough in common to make university/local authority joint services possible – witness for instance the Hive, the Keep, and the Hull History Centre.

But we don’t need to merge and share a building in order to learn from other services!  Check out this great collection of case studies which the Local Studies Group have archived – lots of good ideas which could be adapted for outreach by other heritage organisations.  In tough times, it makes sense for services to work together e.g. to discuss collecting policies, to reach out to each other’s user groups and to co-operate on collections care or emergency planning.

PS I’m aware I’ve conflated record offices and local studies services in the above to some extent … though these are often merged nowadays anyway …

PPS I’m also aware that not all special collections are quite as “local” in their focus as ours at Bradford.  However most collections of rare books have distinctive qualities that reflect their locality even if the subject matter is not particularly “local” – their provenance, custodial history, bindings, patterns of use … and the insights of Local Studies colleagues may help us in understanding and promoting them. Witness the Portico Library, whose collections of 19th century books give “a tangible insight into the culture of Boomtown Manchester, reflecting the literary, intellectual and cultural mindset” of the Industrial Revolution.  As the texts of rare books become readily available via online sources, increasingly use and interest of rare books collections centres around these distinctive qualities.

Joyful June: copyright law to change for the better


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This June, copyright changes for the better!  LOOOONG-awaited changes to copyright exceptions are bringing complex and outdated legislation into line with the needs of modern teaching and research.  These changes will treat those using “non-text” materials more fairly, make preservation copying easier, and enable copying into accessible formats to support people with disabilities.  The rights of copyright holders will still be protected and it can be argued that making copyright law more sensible keeps it relevant and more likely to be respected.

Houses of Parliament (Digital Impasto Painting)

Here are two excellent summaries of the changes:

Breakthrough in copyright law reform confirmed.  Guest blog on CILIP’s website by Naomi Korn, Chair of the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance and Benjamin White, Head of Intellectual Property at the British Library.

ARA shares briefing on copyright exceptions and limitations.  Tim Padfield, copyright advisor to the Archives and Records Association, updates the sector.

And the image?  It’s from Charles W. Bailey’s flickr stream, licensed under CC-BY-NC-2.0.  I chose this particular creative commons image of the Houses of Parliament because it is a public domain photo which the artist has tweaked using various Topaz plug-ins to create a “digital impasto”, creating something unique and unusual from something created by another.  Opening up copyright opens up possibilities!







Collection Care at the British Library


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The British Library’s Preservation Advisory Centre was closed in March 2014.  Concerns about the loss of this valuable service were raised by many organisations and individuals.  It is a pity that it has not proved possible to find a way to fund it though it is good to note that the publications (such as the handy leaflets) are to move to the British Library Collection Care website. Collection Care are also offering training courses – bookbinding, disaster response and photograph care coming up this summer.

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.


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