A Research and Learning Agenda for Archives, Special, and Distinctive Collections

[This post is contributed by our Practitioner Researcher-in-Residence, Chela Scott Weber]

Network rectangle board rings | from Pixabay
Network rectangle board rings | from Pixabay

Some of you may have seen the recent announcement that I’m working with the good folks here at OCLC Research through the end of June, to help shape a research and learning agenda around issues related to archives, special, and distinctive collections in research libraries. In this and a series of upcoming blog posts, I’ll be sharing details about that work. Today I’ll talk a little bit about goals and process, and in later posts I’ll talk more about content.

The goals for this work are twofold. First, to build a guiding agenda for the OCLC Research work in this space over the next several years that is truly aligned with current and emerging needs in the OCLC Research Library Partnership community. Second, to engage in a transparent and iterative approach to building the agenda, with significant input from the RLP. While I’m leading the effort, I’m certainly not doing it alone. Merrilee Proffitt and Jackie Dooley are active collaborators, as are an advisory board who have generously offered their time and expertise to meet with and advise me regularly throughout the process. This group is Athena Jackson (Penn State), Erin O’Meara (University of Arizona), Michelle Light (UNLV), Sharon Farb (UCLA), and Tom Hyry (Harvard/Houghton Library).

I’m now more than a month into the project, which I started with a review of the last 8-10 years of work OCLC Research has done in this space– reading papers, watching webinar recordings, and revisiting conference proceedings. I did this to get an overview of the work, and to identify trajectories that might not yet be complete. I also wanted to get a sense of the full range of the outputs and activities they’ve undertaken, to inform what approaches might best suit future research needs.

I am currently having conversations with colleagues throughout the profession in order to identify major areas of challenge and opportunity, and then try to drill down to better define the problem spaces and think about what kinds of activities and outputs might be helpful to address them. I’ve been talking to people in leadership roles at RLP institutions, as well as specialists with expertise in specific areas like audio/visual collections and born-digital records.

My hope has been to get a well-rounded sense of how issues play out at different levels of the enterprise, from the overarching view of an administrator to the on-the-ground perspective of the librarians, archivists, and conservators working closely with collections and researchers.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working on shaping what I’ve learned through my reading and conversations into a draft research agenda, and will be sharing that draft for feedback in a number of ways. We will be hosting an invitational working meeting in June at the  RBMS Conference in Iowa City, where we’ll be convening a small group of leaders from RLP institutions to react to an early stage draft of the agenda, and inform where further work is needed. We’ll then host another similar event in July at the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting in Portland, asking invited colleagues to engage with the next iteration of the agenda. I’ll also be sharing drafts with colleagues for written feedback throughout. The finalized agenda will be rolled out at the OCLC Research Library Partnership Meeting in November.

Stay tuned for further updates about work on the agenda, and opportunities to give feedback.