Past Forward: One Library

This is the first in a series on the OCLC Research Library Partnership meeting, Past Forward.

Past Forward, a meeting for the OCLC Research Library Partnership was held last month, June 4-5 (with a pre-meeting workshop on June 3rd). We’ve just posted the videos and other outputs for the meeting, and it falls to me to summarize the meeting and outcomes. But how to capture such a rich experience? This wasn’t just a meeting, it was the best meeting we’ve ever had (and that’s not just me talking, I have feedback from a survey to back me up). Instead of summarizing chronologically, as I usually do, I’m going to call out some themes that surfaced during the meeting. The overall theme for Past Forward was “managing special collections in the 21st century” (and the workshop was on outreach — teaching, fundraising, and connecting on campus — for special collections). Naturally, I anticipated that outcomes would cleave to special collections. I was surprised to find that they were really much broader. See what you think and if you attended the meeting in person or online (or watched the videos) please contribute your comments!

From Rachel Beckett's presentation -- staff special collections vision exercise
From Rachel Beckett’s presentation — staff special collections vision exercise

One Library

It was during the pre-meeting workshop that it hit me. Lance Heidig’s presentation centered on his relatively novel position at Cornell University, which integrates special collections and general library instruction. This makes all kinds of sense, because this has got to be the way that most library patrons (faculty, students, other researchers) approach their own work. I think it’s probably quite rare that research includes only primary source material or things found in special collections without also citing secondary literature (monographs, journals and the like). So why do we isolate special collections teaching from the teaching about the general collections?

It’s a good question, and the notion of integrating special collections into the broader library surfaced in more than just this one presentation. Robyn Holmes (National Library of Australia), Rachel Beckett (Manchester University), and Mike Furlough (Pennsylvania State University) each hit on the notion of a more incorporated special collections in their presentations in the “Repositioning Special Collections” panel. A the University of Manchester, staff identified gaps in engagement and support for learners and support for research: part of the remedy has been for special collections to sit on committees to address these issues. At the National Library of Australia, repositioning goes a step further, with a single reading room for all formats embodying their “one library” concept. Too, the library is emphasizing shared systems for description and processing of collections, trying to get away from “special” ways of dealing with collections and introduce more common processes. Mike Furlough’s presentation highlighted an external review of special collections, but also emphasized PSU’s organizational structure, in which special collections is in the same administrative unit as digitization & preservation and publishing & curation services, which both has the potential to bring special collections closer to the end products in scholarly communications and also allows for sister units to more easily capitalize on skills of special collections staff.

This notion of getting out of your four walls was taken a step further in Lisa Carter’s presentation on advocacy — she urges special collections to connect more directly with the missions and priorities of their parent institutions, acknowledging that it’s not just special collections must serve the larger needs of the whole.

You can find Heidig and Carter’s presentations on the workshop page; the presentations from the panel on “repositioning” can be found on the Past Forward event page. You might also enjoy the videos from the meeting.

I’ll be back next week with another theme, finding new ways forward.