Lovely in Lilac: sneak preview of handbook II


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A sneak preview of the Second Edition of the Handbook!  Full details are now on Facet’s web site.  Why the pomegranates?  No idea, must ask.  It’s pretty though, and I love the colour.

I’m hard at work on the text every day now, aiming to have the finished manuscript with Facet on 15 July.  It’s a pretty substantial rewrite, to take account of all the new thinking and exciting activities from Special Collections people over the last five years.

404: Friend or Foe?


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For the Second Edition, I’m reviewing the web links I cited in the original.  The bad news?  Half the links I cited have broken.   I’ve seen rather a lot of 404 message screens!

404 message

Github 404 error message, from Mehdi Kabab’s flickrstream, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The good news?  Almost all the pages or documents with broken links are still available elsewhere on the web.  So why have they moved?   Many of my citations are reports, policies and the like produced by large organisations such as CILIP, the National Archives, and the Association of Research Libraries.  Such organisations regularly change their content management systems and re-organise their websites to reflect new ways of working and to offer better services to their audiences.  This results in changes to the website structure and thus links no longer work though the documents are usually still there – somewhere.

Links to blogposts and to the websites of very small organisations have been much more stable.  However, in the longer term, this information may be more at risk, as the creators are private individuals or organisations which may cease to exist at short notice and without a wind-down period!

So what does this mean?  I think we have to accept a degree of “link rot” as the price paid for a dynamic and up-to-date web presence.  Organisations which change frequently and which operate in a turbulent environment need their web presence to reflect this.

It’s also the price to be paid for precise linking.  I could avoid deep-linking and just cite the top level website, but I believe this kind of linking is pointless and confusing.  It requires the user to do a search, which they could have done just as well without the link.

Nowadays though, it is possible to have both a dynamic website and stable links for important documents, thanks to institutional repositories and other sites developed with long-term linkability in mind.  I will try to cite the most stable link for any resource I mention in the Handbook.  If you find a 404 on this site, please accept my apologies, and let me know about it!

Handbook redux


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This summer I will mostly be writing.

I’m working on a NEW edition of the Special Collections Handbook: deadline July.

V0040734 A woman is sitting at a desk in a library, writing a letter.

A woman is sitting at a desk in a library, writing a letter. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Engraving by I. Taylor after himself. CC BY 4.0

I was delighted when Facet Publishing invited me to create a new edition.  It’s been five years since the first edition was published: in a fast-changing world there are many new developments to share with readers, including:

  • New thinking about collecting and collections …
  • Growing emphasis on teaching and outreach …
  • LOTS on preservation and curation of digital …
  • Much more on impact and value of special collections …
  • New and revised standards, notably archive accreditation, PAS 197 and PD 5454.
  • Changes to legislation, especially UK copyright law, and new ways to manage risk.
  • Changing nature and role of cataloguing.

Despite the pressures of austerity, managerialism, user expectations etc, I feel that the world of special collections is in a much better state than it was when I started in the 1990s.

In universities, special collections are becoming more and more visible (thanks to digital libraries, social media, and yay for the forthcoming Directory!).  Their value to parent organisations is becoming better understood and long-needed investment in premises, staff and cataloguing is happening.  It is great to see organisations like Research Libraries UK and the National Archives collaborating with special collections librarians to find new ways to bring unique and distinctive collections to the fore.

But these new skills and ideas don’t replace traditional ones.  The special collections librarians of the future will still need to know how to care for paper documents, how to describe early printed books, and have at least a smattering of Latin.  We go into the 2020s with masses of hidden collections still in need of care and cataloguing.

There is so much to do and so much to learn.  I hope the new Handbook will help.

PS If you used the original edition (or even if you didn’t), I would be very interested in your thoughts about the new edition.  Contact me at


Free your Orphans!


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Struggling with copyright?  You’re not alone.

Archives in the UK contain millions of “orphans”.  These works are in copyright but the rights holder(s) are unknown or untraceable so we cannot get permission to use the works.  This means the works are in legal limbo and hidden from audiences who might benefit from using them.

At Collecting in Tough Times last June I encouraged archive services to take a risk-managed approach to this conundrum.  The points I made are summarised in an article I wrote for Townsweb’s digitisation blog: Free your Orphans!


An orphan work from Special Collections at the University of Bradford.  J.B. Priestley and Jacquetta Hawkes at Brook Hill, 1958 (archive reference HAW 18/5/52/1). Rights: Unknown Rightsholder

The most important message: copyright isn’t binary: in or out.  In modern Special Collections, there’s material definitely in and some definitely out, but so much else is a tangle of possibilities and unknowns.  Published or unpublished?  In copyright or out?  Who holds the rights?  Can they be traced?   Our response to this mess (other than campaigning for improvements to the law) needs to be flexible, practical, and based on an understanding of risk.

So I was delighted to see last week the launch of 11 standardised rights statements for use by libraries, archives and other heritage organisations.  The statements, created by DPLA and Europeana, include statements for orphan works (see this in use in the image caption above) and materials where copyright is unclear.   These, along with Creative Commons licences, give services a choice of machine-readable statements to communicate complex rights situations clearly to users.  I’ll be using the statements when I post images on my blogs and am looking into using them on our website, digital library etc.

Wine? Glass? DRINK?


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The first of several quick posts from this year’s excellent DCDC conference in Salford.  Digital impact expert Simon Tanner asked an interesting question in his Keynote talk.  If we compare archives services to wine, the wine equals the collections, the glass the infrastructure of building and staff, and the drinking is access to the collections by users.  Which element is most important?

6777920074_cc04ab1a3a_zSimon asked us to tweet one of the hashtags #dcdc15wine #dcdc15glass #dcdc15drink to cast our vote.

My choice:

Infrastructure is vital!

It’s all about the access:

Some fence-sitting!

So which element won the vote?

See The Wine, the Glass and the Drinking, a blog post by Simon Tanner, for the answer.  He also discusses this unanswerable question in more depth and includes links to a Storify of the tweets and to the whole keynote on Slideshare.

And on reflection

This game showed how effective use of social media can encourage an audience to learn and reflect.  It was fun, the question was thought-provoking, and the number of options worked well.  DCDC is particularly suited to this activity because so many  delegates are active tweeters – check out #DCDC15 for the proof!

Possibly overthinking this, but one could include also the landscape or context in which the wine was made and which it allows us to experience.  Drinking is more complex too – one can get the quick hit of visual appeal (the alcohol perhaps?) or research the historical context over many years, which could perhaps be exploring the terroir of our wine.  Actually, I am definitely overthinking this …

Credit: wine glass from Bony Nguyen’s flickr stream, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Beware of the Swans, or, Collecting in Tough Times


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Let me take you back to a baking hot day earlier this year – yes, we had a summer and it was on June 8th.  I made the epic trip down to Kew for Collecting in Tough Times, a National Archives event which aimed “to explore how archive services can address the challenges of collecting in the context of shrinking resources”.  N.B. To allow candid discussion, the meeting was held under the Chatham House Rule.  So I can’t be specific about who said what about their service, and you won’t find much trace of this event online.  You had to be there!  Still, I’ll try to give you a flavour of the discussions.


No story about the National Archives is complete without mention of the Swans. Alas, this time they had cygnets (cute!) so I didn’t get too close.

The four speakers (including me) were asked to be provocative, to encourage open debate about our situation and what we can do.  Without prior discussion and coming from very different institutions, we found ourselves in agreement.  In difficult times, archives need to think strategically, to be selective, to value our expertise and professionalism and the services we provide – and to understand we cannot collect or do it all.

I argued that we must tackle the burden of past passive collecting, deaccession effectively and collect strategically.  Other speakers covered working with volunteers, community archives, and charging corporate depositors for the investment of time, space, cataloguing etc in their archives.  In the workshops, we shared our collecting challenges, especially how to say no to deposits.  Never easy: having good policies on which to base decisions is vital.

The event was exemplary in the amount of time allowed for discussion, resulting in some really interesting and candid conversations: I got a great sense of how things are for my colleagues.  Not good: those in local authorities particularly are operating at incredibly low levels of staffing and often with little support and understanding.  But archivists aren’t accepting a cycle of decline: they are trying to find new ways to continue to care for collections and bring them to the public.

The good news? Audiences more than ever are keen to engage with heritage, whether for academic research, family history, or natural curiosity – and we have more ways than ever to share it with them.  So we can be confident that what we do is valuable – all we have to do is find ways to translate that into the support we need …

& here’s some cygnets they hatched earlier …

Why I Revalidated


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In 1994, librarians were learning how to do gopher searches (younger readers, this was a way to search the internet, just before the World Wide Web came along).  Acronym-laden databases on CD-ROM were delighting/scaring our users.  I became a Chartered Member of the Library Association (now CILIP).  The information world has changed a bit since then …


Not this sort of gopher … K Schneider, licence CC BY-NC 2.0

But my Chartership hasn’t.  For many years, you Chartered and that was that, job done.  Fellowship seemed to be only for the great and the good.  There was an optional revalidation process (when did this come in?  I can’t remember!) but it didn’t catch on.  Strange that a profession so connected with social and technological change should not require its Chartered Members to keep up with and reflect on new developments.

Well, now it does.  In 2014 CILIP introduced a much more friendly revalidation process for all levels of professional registration.  Optional, but obligatory revalidation is to be put to the vote in 2016.

The new process is not onerous.  Members must do at least 20 hours a year of continuous professional development (CPD): this can include using social media, talking to colleagues, reading professional publications and the like as well as conferences and committee work.  To revalidate, you use the CILIP Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) to submit your CPD log for the year and a 250 word reflective statement.  Unlike Chartership, there’s no need to supply any evidence of the CPD, and revalidation is free.

I sent in my application a couple of weeks ago and have just heard that it has been successful!  I’m delighted and am definitely going to revalidate every year.  Doing so demonstrates to my employer and anyone else who might be interested my commitment to improving my skills.

I must admit I did NOT find the VLE easy or intuitive to use.  Fortunately  there is plenty of help to be had:

  • CILIP’s regional networks offer training sessions on revalidation.  Our local Mentor Support Officer, Maureen Pinder, who happens to be a colleague at Bradford, was most helpful.   Several librarians here are in the process of submitting and we found that a joint session sharing our problems and encouraging each other was a fun way to get it done.
  • Jo Alcock (Joeyanne Libraryanne) has written a series of posts on Hints and Tips for revalidation.  Jo was involved in developing the new scheme and ensuring it worked for busy librarians so that everyone would be able to afford the time and cost.

Best of luck to all revalidating librarians!

[Update Nov 2015: I voted for obligatory revalidation as it demonstrates professionalism and commitment to improving skills, making us individually and collectively more convincing.  I was surprised to see that 51% of voters opposed the plans.  Where next for revalidation?  Consultation and improvement!   Whether we end up with obligatory revalidation or not, I hope we can find ways to fight for the value of libraries and librarians]