Libraries and archives: cows of a different color?

August 8th, 2008 by Merrilee

Two interesting (and contrasting) blog postings popped into my feed reader today.

The first blog posting is from colleague Andrew Pace (the second in his “sacred cow” series). (Why don’t you have a “cow” category, Andrew? Or a “have a cow” category, for that matter.) For those of you who don’t like clicking links, I’ll summarize: circulation rules are ridiculously complicated, and putting restrictions — on what categories of users can use which materials, when, and for how long — serves no one.

I read this and I thought, well, special collections don’t function that way. Hmmm.

Five minutes later, I read the second blog posting from the Accidental Archivist. Again, to summarize, north American archivists are very welcoming and helpful to users of all stripes. He goes on to contrast North American behavior with European behavior. I have little experience in the European archival theater, so I can’t comment. If you have some observations, please leave him a comment!

I don’t think I have anything smart to say about the differences between libraries and archives in this regard. Maybe it’s that academic libraries’ constituencies are more clearly defined. Special collections (even in an academic context) consider their audience to be the scholars who are interested in the “stuff.” If they have bothered to turn up at your doorstep, they belong.

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2 Responses to “Libraries and archives: cows of a different color?”

  1. Kate T. Says:

    I can’t add anything to the American vs. European archives discussion (I wish I could–anyone want to fund some travel for me?).

    But I think one of the people commenting over at Andrew’s blog hit on a good point that relates to archives–special collections don’t let people take materials out of the building. Most archives and special collections have the same access policies for all users. I think the only limit is usually a requirement that users be over a certain age to gain access. But we control the conditions of access. We control what tools you use, how many documents you can see at a time, and, most importantly, where you can use the documents. I think a lot of our users probably think our rules are just as frustrating as the circulation rules Andrew is discussing, but the common thread is probably that we both have these rules to protect the materials.

    I like the “sacred cow” theme! I might have to take on some of those myself.

  2. Andrew Pace Says:

    As you wish, Merrilee, I now have a category for Cows.