An Age of Discovery: Distinctive Collections in the Digital Age October 15-16, 2009
Each year the annual membership meeting of ARL closes with a Fall Forum. This year’s topic grew out of the recent report of the ARL Working Group on Special Collections. As the name suggests, the program focused on the impact of digital on collecting, preserving and providing access to rare or unique research collections. There were several recurring themes.
Cross-collection collaborations. Don Waters (Mellon Foundation) took issue with the idea that it is a library’s special collections that give it its distinction. This could lead to silos and keep collections separate. Instead the library community must work together to build the collections and services to our unique collections that our users demand and deserve. Susan Nutter (North Carolina State University) summed this up as: “Special Collections must be mainstreamed. We cannot afford to keep them separate and special.”
User-centric collaborations. Listening to what users want and building services to meet those needs was another theme. G. Wayne Clough (Smithsonian) gave many examples of how curators are rethinking how they present collections online by creating ways for the public to tell the Smithsonian what they think about the collections rather than just having sites where the curators tell people what they are seeing. Clough also cautioned the group against building websites that create a physical building online but instead use the digital environment to build virtual collections that cross institutional boundaries. Josh Greenberg (New York Public Library), Fred Heath (University of Texas) and Will Noel (Walters Art Museum) were just three of the speakers who talked about ways Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and other social networking tools have been used to promote and provide access to Special Collections materials.