Another pulse taken: Special collections in the UK and Ireland

February 18th, 2013 by Jackie

Hurrah! After about 18 months of enjoyable collaboration with new colleagues from RLUK (Research Libraries UK, the ARL equivalent over there across the Atlantic), our rather hefty report was co-published by OCLC Research and RLUK last week. The project was launched on the heels of our predecessor project that studied research libraries in the US and Canada, which was published as Taking Our Pulse in 2010. The projects were similar in two basic respects: both populations comprised a disparate array of special collections research libraries across multiple nations, and data gathering for the UK/Ireland was based on a variant of the US/Canada survey instrument.

A lot of similarities in the data exist as well. The top six “most challenging issues” were the same for both populations (though not in the same order): outreach and user services, space and facilities, born-digital materials, digitization, cataloguing and metadata, and¬†preservation (“collection care” in the UK/Ireland). In general, the use of all types of material by all types of users increased over the preceding decade. Collecting and management of born-digital archival materials remains in its infancy in both sectors. Use of minimal-level processing techniques is used (at least sometimes) by strong majorities of both populations. For staff education and training, born digital was the most frequently cited area of need. Collaborative collection development is relatively common but is invariably informal and within a localized area.

On the other hand, we saw some big differences. External funds (e.g., gifts or endowments) for acquisition of materials are far larger in the US/Canada. Interlibrary loan of original rare or unique materials, which has become increasingly common in the US, is rarely practiced in the UK. A significantly higher percentage of archival finding aids are online in the UK and Ireland–perhaps due to the strong national hubs that exist.

RLUK was very interested in seeing how their data would compare with that of ARL libraries, which was a key reason for keeping the two instruments in synch, so we took a close look at similarities and differences in a nine-page section toward the end of the report.

There’s no way I could have done this project on my own. The expertise and perspective brought by my UK co-authors was essential, and their esprit de corps made the entire process a delight. The effort was coordinated by David Prosser and Mike Mertens, the RLUK executives, whose collegiality and make-it-happen attitude were equally essential.

Not yet available for your mobile devices, but easy enough to haul around in your dropbox!


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