Assessing Needs of AV in Special Collections

As diligent readers of Hanging Together likely already know, in October 2017, OCLC Research released the Research & Learning Agenda for Archives, Special, and Distinctive Collections. We created the agenda with input from colleagues across the Research Library Partnership and the broader archives and special collections community. It outlines shared challenges and opportunities research libraries are facing in this sphere, and suggests approaches for working on them together. It is guiding OCLC Research work in this area into the future. The agenda called out seven major areas for investigation, and “Addressing Audiovisual Collections” was one of them.

While the agenda called out potential areas of work related to A/V, we have subsequently received more broad-based feedback. Now we are trying to better assess the state of need around A/V, and identify where OCLC is best suited to help. To inform this work, we conducted a short survey of the RLP earlier this year. We asked members about their most pressing needs and how we might help to address them. We followed up the survey with focused conversations with RLP members. Both the survey and the follow-up conversations were useful and informative. In this post, I’ll summarize the survey results. I’ll follow up with a summary of those conversations in a subsequent post.

Roles and Responsibilities of Respondents

We had 137 respondents to the survey, with 136 completing all required questions. The majority of them worked in support of archives or special collections (91 respondents or 67%), a small number worked with general library collections (12 respondents or 9%) and about a quarter worked with both general and special collections (33 respondents or 24%). The area of responsibility of respondents varied. A slight majority worked in technical services or collection management roles, as well as in administrative, public services, curatorial, preservation, and systems roles (see figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Primary Area of Responsibility of Respondents

The majority of respondents worked with unique A/V material held in archives or special collections (96 respondents or 71%), with a small number of respondents working with commercially produced and distributed content (19 respondents or 14%) and institutionally produced content (11 responses or 8%). Ten respondents (7%) answered “other” rather than choose one of these types; most free text comments indicated that they worked with some combination of the three.   

Types of Challenges with A/V Collections

We asked three questions related to challenges RLP partners were facing and where they’d like to see us invest energy in working:

  • What challenges related to managing A/V collections would you be interested in the RLP addressing?
  • What challenges related to providing access to A/V collections would you be interested in the RLP addressing?
  • Is there a specific type of A/V media you find most challenging?

We provided categories for each of the questions, and asked respondents to rate their responses for each category.

Responses to our question about challenges in managing A/V collections did not provide clear cut priorities. At least half of respondents were interested or very interested in us addressing every single category of challenge outlined (see figure 2, below).

Figure 2: Challenges Related to Managing A/V Collections

We saw similar results with our question about challenges to providing access. While there was somewhat less interest in issues related to providing in-person access to collections and determining researcher needs, there was still significant interest in all categories (see figure 3, below).

Figure 3: Challenges Related to Providing Access to A/V Collections

An obvious interpretation of these responses is that there is a high level of interest in all of these issues. But they also point to these issues being deeply intertwined and interrelated. So taking a holistic approach to managing A/V will be important. The results may also speak to the great variation in maturity and level of support for programs dealing with audiovisual collections across institutions.

We also asked what type of audiovisual collection is most challenging. Although this was an optional question, 122 people responded. Over a third identified production collections, with their outtakes and b-roll and many other media elements, as the most challenging (44 respondents or 36%). Commercially produced and distributed collections, and institutionally produced content, were each identified as most challenging by roughly 15% of respondents (19 respondents each). Oral histories and broadcast collections were indicated as most challenging by the smallest number of people (13 respondents or 11% and 6 respondents or 5%, respectively).

Twenty-one respondents chose “other” as their answer for this question. Many of them used the free text space provided to point out specific issues that spanned collection type.  These issues included:

  • dealing with large quantities of holdings,
  • the unknown nature of unlabeled materials and materials mixed into manuscript collections,
  • sparse metadata about collections already in their care — both descriptive and administrative,
  • dealing with duplicates, and
  • dealing with the variability of amateur collections with a mix of original and dubbed materials.

How the RLP Might Help

We also wanted the survey to help us understand what kinds of activities and engagement might be most useful to the RLP. We asked two questions on this topic:

  • What are your primary goals for engaging with RLP activities in this area?
  • What kinds of RLP activities would be most useful to you in this area?

Respondents were clearly interested in learning from colleagues in other institutions. The most widely shared goals were learning what colleagues at peer institutions were doing and collaborating around shared challenges and issues. There was also high interest in learning about new topics and deepening knowledge on familiar topics. Respondents were most interested in watching webinars and reading OCLC Research outputs on the topic like reports and blog posts. There was also solid interest in attending in-person meetings at conferences, participating in working groups, and facilitated discussion groups.

Of the 127 people who took the survey, 50 said they would be interested in helping with topic prioritization and planning for any activities we undertake in this area. We invited them to follow up conversations. Stay tuned for another post soon summarizing those conversations which will help to shape the future of RLP activities.