Collections in a Cold Climate - "Hard Times"
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Collections in a Cold Climate - "Hard Times"

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Presentation to the Historic Libraries Forum on 15 November 2011. ...

Presentation to the Historic Libraries Forum on 15 November 2011.

The hard times facing special collections and rare books libraries (cuts, uncertainty, impact of mass digitisation). How to cope by taking advantage of the exciting opportunities offered by new technology and ways of learning. Plus top ten survival tips on working effectively in difficult times!

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  • These are incredibly difficult times: a truly cold climate.I’ll unpick why this is briefly and outline some ideas that have helped me to cope and that might help you.What I have to say overlaps with and agrees with what Phil and Katie said earlier about advocacy and skillsI’ll also explain a little about the Research Libraries UK Unique and Distinctive Project – I’m project managing this initiative which aims to help RLUK librarians and others make the most of their special collections.
  • Sector is facing uniquely tough situation. Recession, serious cuts, and a sense that nothing is safe from the attack on the public sector, plus …
  • Many of us are based in the higher education world or otherwise involved in scholarly research. Our institutions are facing a complete shake-up of funding, and no-one knows how students will respond to the new fees … which means uncertainty and fear …
  • In addition to the difficulties our organisations face, those who are responsible for rare books are newly vulnerable now.The text of so many early printed books is now available through EEBO, ECCO, google books … which makes it easy for those seeking to reduce spending to argue that the physical books, the staff etc are no longer needed.
  • All this adds up to a very difficult situation. There may be redundancies, closures, sales and disposals of rare material. Less dramatically, spending will be pinched, meaning collections stay hidden and neglected and the benefits they can bring are not realised.
  • However, there is hope. There are many useful opportunities or angles we can exploit to show the benefits of collections and those who care for them. I think that for special collections to thrive in these hard times, our work in the future needs to follow these paths.
  • Special collections and historic libraries can be an organisation’s greatest treasures.Unique and distinctive, cannot be replaced, part of the narrative.Not just window-dressing (here’s pretty old stuff!). They can actually help organisations achieve their mission in quite clear ways e.g. attracting funding, high quality academic staff, community engagement, student experience … the UDC project will be gathering evidence about these ways to help make the case for collections.
  • As we’ve seen, access to the text of special collections materials, especially early printed books, is becoming much easier: readers no longer have to visit or engage with service to see it. This is brilliant for them.It means that engagement with physical objects and services will be much less about text and much more aboutMaterial evidence – books as created objects. Provenance, binding, making, print history and so on.That copy and its story, rather than an old copy for the text.We may have more in common with museums in future.(Image: unique copy of J.B. Priestley book, specially bound for him and given by him to his wife Jacquetta Hawkes).
  • As so much experience is digital online, made homogenous and flattened, there is an appetite for non-digital experiences.Witness the demand for art exhibitions e.g. the new Leonardo and for live performances.Some experiences cannot be digitised.Special collections and historic libraries can offer these.(Image: from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. These are amazingly colourful fold-out plates, impossible for digi to do justice to them.)
  • Special collections can play much more of a part in the work of universities and other educational establishments than hitherto.They offer new, powerful objects, narratives, experiences for researchers and students.Witness the growing demand by undergraduates to use primary sources in their dissertations.
  • There are now amazing opportunities to communicate about collections and find out what people make of them.These are free to use, fun, and open to all. We are no longer reliant on gatekeepers to give us access to wider audiences.Three of the most important appear on this slide.Social media e.g. twitter for quick communication, blogging for reflection and relaxed communication about collections, flickr for getting images to new audiences.Crowd sourcing – buzzword, but exciting. Involve audiences in identifying and tagging images. Get online communities to transcribe mass digitised documents e.g. Bentham transcription, Old Weather etc.Linked data – getting cataloguing and other metadata out of silos and opening it up. Endless possibilities.
  • So, how to take advantage of these new angles in these difficult times? Here are ways that work.
  • The most important slide!We need to talk about the value of what we do, in the right language and using right arguments for whichever audiences we are dealing with. From their perspective – what they value.Not just one dramatic speech or paper, ongoing effect of everything we do.
  • We can’t thrive alone. We need to find people who can help – mutual benefit.This includes bigger organisations e.g. cathedral libraries linking up with universities to support cataloguing etc.Tech stuff e.g. the Archives Hub/UKAD taking lead on linked data.Find champions e.g. enthusiastic academics, Friends, influential people. Such champions can make our case in places we cannot go and get respect in ways we might not be able to.
  • When you have partners, get them to do things for mutual benefit.You benefit them by contributing collections or whatever, they may have more expertise in whatever they do.
  • As mentioned above.#cpd23 is a good way into this.You don’t have to use all the new things just because they are new. But some of them may offer wonderful new chances.Take a look, see what other people are doing.You don’t have to talk about breakfast or cake or cats or knitting unless you want to!
  • What are we for? What are our organisations for? How can we get there?These are questions we need to consider in developing collections, deciding what to preserve or catalogue, reaching out to audiences etc etc.We also need to show that we think strategically as this makes us more credible within our organisations.It’s easy in hard times to work harder and beaver away at more stuff or to just get through the day reacting to whatever crops up. But given the pressure on resources, this is dangerous – now more than ever we need to consider what we are doing and why …
  • Which leads on to …Staff time (and knowledge, skills etc) often only resource we have.Respect and value it!Avoid doing things because they’e always been done – are they still useful, relevant, getting us towards where we need to be? If we don’t do something, what happens?Comes back to doing what we are best at and getting others to contribute in different ways.
  • Out of the box?We can’t do more with less, when it’s more of the same with less of the same. But can we do different stuff with different stuff? Less of something, more of another?New opportunities, climate, tech – new ideas and ways of working.Small organisations (lone librarian) can be more nimble and take advantage of ideas and opportunities.(Image: stuffed ox hide used by naturalists the Kearton Brothers as camouflage for taking innovative wildlife photos).
  • Essential to keep monitoring own skill set and of staff if you have them. Keep up to date. Already heard about #cpd23 from Katie.Did you know about other skills frameworks for the rare books/special collections profession? CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group in the UK and RBMS in the US have created them. Helpful when making case for skills training.
  • And power is resources …We need to know what is going on. Who funds our organisations? What are the wider issues? What’s going on? What are our senior managers and colleagues talking about and worrying about (and can we help?)?I find social media esp twitter v helpful in keeping up with this and knowing things early. You will now find that movers and shakers such as marketing people are often already there and talking. It also cuts thru institutional silos.Librarians also need to be proud of and appreciate their own knowledge. Being a hub of expertise, either knowing things or knowing who knows things, linking people and projects together. Often we know people from many departments and organisations, can bring them together.
  • I left the 10th out, because I don’t have all the answers and I don’t want you to think I do.It’s open-ended, what do you think?If I included a 10th, it would be “Just do it!”. Have a try, explore new things, plan effectively but don’t agonise.
  • I hope this has helped and even inspired!More on marketing, advocacy and new tech along with many other useful things in the Special Collections Handbook, due to be published by Facet in December.The Unique and Distinctive project is taking these ideas further and will publish a report outlining suggestions and recommendations next autumn.

Collections in a Cold Climate - "Hard Times" Presentation Transcript

  • 1. Collections in a Cold Climate Caring for and sharing special collections in hard timesAlison Cullingford @speccollbrada.cullingford@bradford.ac.ukHistoric Libraries Forum, 15 November 2011
  • 2. A Perfect Storm?1. Cuts in the public sector …
  • 3. A Perfect Storm?2. Change and uncertainty in higher education …
  • 4. A Perfect Storm?3. Digitised rare books approaching critical mass? Why do we need these books when they’re all on this EEBO Isn’t it all thing? scanned in?
  • 5. A Grim Picture!
  • 6. Five Useful Angles
  • 7. 1. Treasure Trove
  • 8. 2. Much More Than Text
  • 9. 3. Power of the Real
  • 10. 4. Learning, Teaching & Research
  • 11. 5. Sharing via #AmazingNewTech Crowd Social sourcing media Linked data
  • 12. Ten Survival Tips
  • 13. 1. Proclaim Value
  • 14. 2. Take our Partners
  • 15. 3. Be “Lazy”
  • 16. 4. Explore New Tech
  • 17. 5. Think Mission & Strategy
  • 18. 6. Value our Time
  • 19. 7. Dare to Think Creatively
  • 20. 8. Skills Skills Skills
  • 21. 9. Knowledge is Power
  • 22. 10. I’ve told you mine, what’s yours …?
  • 23. Thank you!Photo credits: Special Collections, University of Bradford (and clip art)Keeping in touch:SpecialCollectionsHandbook.comRlukUniqueanddistinctive.wordpress.comAlisonCullingford.wordpress.com#speccollshandbook#rlukudc