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Presented at the 2010 Library Assessment Conference, Baltimore, MD, October 25-27, 2010.
“What’s So Special About Special Collections?” was the title chosen for the inaugural issue of the ACRL journal RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts and Cultural Heritage and a theme issue of American Libraries published later that year in August 2000. In June 2001, ARL held a special collections symposium at Brown University that led the formation of a task force to engage the agenda that emerged from the symposium. Following the task force’s final report in 2006, a new ARL special collections working group was assembled and given a charge that included “contributing to the work underway within ARL to develop qualitative and quantitative measures for the evaluation of special collections.” This past fall, the working group partnered with CNI to host a two-day forum on special collections that opened with a panel titled “Why Are Special Collections so Important? Exploring the Value Proposition of Special Collections.” OCLC Research is currently completing the most comprehensive and detailed survey to date of special collections and archives; results will be published this summer. These two presentations will discuss current initiatives addressing the measure issues in special collections and university archives.
In our two-part paper presentation, Christian Dupont will begin by summarizing the key activities and accomplishments of the past decade of efforts to assess the role and contribution of special collections and archives to the academic library enterprise. More importantly, he will point to the significant work that remains to be done to define common practices and measures for assessing special collections and archival services. At present, for instance, there are no generally agreed upon methods for counting basic reading room circulation and reference transactions, much less metrics for evaluating their quality and impact. With little basis for comparing special collections and archives units across institutions, it is difficult to point to best practices and the types of strategic investments needed to implement them. Recent literature indicates that more resources are being devoted to processing and providing access to previously “hidden” collections and conducting instruction outreach programs. Nevertheless, few studies thus far have attempted to systematically analyze their impact. In discussing those that have taken formal approaches, such as a recent NHPRC-funded survey that measured user satisfaction with minimal archival processing techniques, Dupont will point to key areas where standard, guidelines and assessment methods need to be developed.
Elizabeth Yakel will discuss several methodologies of the Archival Metrics Project, such as the Repository of Archival Metrics (ROAM) initiative, designed to define and exchange benchmarking data among university archives and special collections. ROAM attempts to address the lack of effective metrics for special collections and archives in ARL Statistics, standards such as ANSI/NISO (Z39.7), and the International Council of Archives (ICA), International Standard for Describing Institutions with Archival Holdings (ICA-ISDIAH). Yakel will also discuss instruments that university archives and special collections can use to assess the learning and education impacts of their programs and the most recent research assessing the economic impact of government archives.
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