of this presentation, “The Significance of Special Collections,” is a statement
of fact. But is it also a question? As a declaration it reaches a dead end:
either special collections are significant or they are not. But as a question,
it opens several lines of inquiry. For example, significant to whom or to what?
And significant in the past, in the present or in the future? Or for all time?
Park Archives, where I work, is a type of special collection. We have a small
library, a stock of town records dating back to the incorporation of the town
in 1898, some artifacts, and some donated private collections which include
residential files, records of various civic groups, and oral histories. Our
nearby neighbors in Kensington,
Rockville and Chevy Chase call their collections historical societies, and that,
in essence, is what we are, a historical society, a memory institution.
collection is significant as a memory institution to the community it covers
and represents. In the case of Moorland Spingarn, that community is Howard
University students, faculty and researchers, in particular, and the community
of people of African descent in general.
I read in
the Libguide that Moorland Spingarn Research Center is comprised of four content
units: the university archives, a library division, a print and photo unit, and
a manuscript division. And a fifth unit consists of digital collections, both
born digital assets and items digitized on site. This brings us to an
additional significance of a special collection.
promoting access, for preservation considerations, for space and cost
constraints, digitization is by all accounts the path forward. Digitization of
records and actual items across content types, like books, photographs,
manuscripts, archive and museum artifacts presents a great opportunity to apply
common cataloguing standards and common taxonomies that will serve as a multiplying
effect for additional access opportunities for students, faculty, researchers,
and community users, both on site, and in an online environment.
it could provide avenues for cooperation and collaboration across institutions
in the future that may or may not exist in the present. I am thinking here
about the Library of Congress and the massive universe of Smithsonian museums.
But this also could include smaller institutions and learning centers as well.
digitization is not a panacea. We are already seeing digital decay in
degradations in the quality of storage media (try playing that CD you bought
twenty years ago). File glut, bit corruption, hardware failure, and
obsolescence of formats over time are all examples. Document formatting changes
over time. In general, entropy rules – things gradually decline from order to
internet is not a cure all, though from where we sit it looks like it may last
forever. One internet guru says, “If it doesn’t exist on the Internet, it
doesn’t exist.” He points out the obvious, that access to special collections
on the internet can promote greater access to that collection. But he makes a
more significant point – when the collection is also connected to a learning
institution, there are added benefits: the institution gives added credibility
to the online resource, and the online resource brings a much larger audience
of students, scholars and researchers to the learning institution. Without
going into too much detail, a center like Moorland-Spingarn connected to Howard
University has built-in advantages that a larger center like Schomburg lacks.
much of my MSLIS course work revolved around a growing trend of convergence
across cultural heritage institutions, galleries, libraries, archives and
museums. I am including a list of readings from various courses at the end of
this presentation. Convergence ultimately results in the creation of a
networked information society with online access to all facets of information
in the social and informational space. The opportunity to approach and take
part in this convergence movement may be the greatest significance offered by
special collection, a significance shared equally by staff, students, faculty,
scholars and the community at large.
Thank you for this opportunity to have this conversation.
I am in my third class in the MSLS program at Catholic University and I anticipate completion by December, 2014. I am also on terminal leave in advance of retirement from a 21 year career in the Foreign Service. My next career goal is to work as an information professional in a small or special library setting in a position that may lead to entrepreneurial opportunities within five years.
Thoughts about my interest is special libraries take me back to weekly, Saturday-afternoon visits with my father and sister to the Carnegie Negro Library in my hometown, Greensboro NC, in the early 60’s. It was a special library inasmuch as it served a special population at a special time in U.S. history. My father would park us in the basement where the children’s books were shelved, while he withdrew to a cubicle upstairs to work on his Sunday School lesson plan for the next day. In the late 60’s, with the integration of the library system, that special library was acquired by the Greensboro Public Library and became a branch library accessible to all Greensboro citizens. In high school I got my first real job there as a library page.
Years later, I would seek refuge at small libraries on U.S. Navy bases, far from the roar of main engines, air compressors, and hydraulic plants, my primary occupation at the time, as I climbed my way through the enlisted ranks. The thought occurred to me to create a small borrowing collection on my ship, a thought which thrilled the base librarians to the point that they provided donated books to help me get started. When we got underway, I “ran” the crew library, between watches and drills and equipment maintenance emergencies (of which there were always many!), a very special, special library (to use the term loosely).
And in my most recent employment, through a domestic assignment as special assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Administration, I was fortunate to become involved with the Ralph Bunche Library, a fascinating collection of books, documents and artifacts at the Department of State. Among other things, I couldn’t believe there were no links to Ralph Bunche on the Department’s internal homepage, previous attempts to do so getting lost in the bureaucracy. Forever the iconoclast, I used an old Navy trick of pretending to speak for my boss to get a good thing for my shipmates: I phoned the Department webmasters and told them the Assistant Secretary (my immediate boss, their boss several times removed) wanted to know why he could not find a link to the Ralph Bunche Library on the Department homepage. That same day, three links appeared, all occupying prominent real estate on the page, and to this day, one link remains.
Special libraries are, by definition, more nimble, flexible, agile, and responsive to the needs of the population they serve, and less encumbered by the rigidities inherent in massive bureaucratic organizations. I had a handful of interests that “called” me to the library and information profession. Many of those interests revolved around knowledge management and continuity of information in the business operations of overseas embassies. But several of my interests were and are less global (although perhaps, in a manner of speaking, more): the growing digital divide; the growing gap in information literacy between the haves and the have-nots, and even between the haves and the haves, and the impact on society overall; the policy of outsourcing information control to massive private companies like Google, or even of scientific information to companies like Monsanto; and the growing threat to our constitutional right to information as the key to social and professional mobility. These diverse interests hardly translate into a single goal, but a lifetime of goals. And as this is my third career, I don’t have a lifetime left, maybe thirty good years, at best. So I should chose my goals wisely…
References and additional reading
David (2007) ‘Knowledge Ecosystems: A Theoretical Lens for Organizations
Confronting Hypertubulent Environments,’ in IFIP International Federation for
Information Processing, Volume 235, Organizational Dynamics of Technology-Based
Innovation: Diversifying the Research Agenda, eds. McMaster, T., Wastell, D.,
Ferneley, E., and DeGross, J. (Boston: Springer), pp. 457-462. Accessed January
14, 2019 at http://dl.ifip.org/db/conf/ifip8-6/ifip8-6-2007/Bray07.pdf
Ricky, and Jennifer Schaffner (2017) ‘Shifting Gears: Gearing Up to Get into
the Flow’. 2nd Ed. Dublin, OH: OCLC Research. doi:10.25333/C3159X. Accessed
January 14, 2019 at https://www.oclc.org/content/dam/research/publications/2017/oclcresearch-shifting-gears-second-edition-2017.pdf
Robert (2011) “Forensics of digital librarianship”, OCLC Systems &
Services: International digital library perspectives, Vol. 27 Issue: 4,
Kenneth (2007) ‘If it doesn’t exist on the internet, it doesn’t exist.’ Poetry
Foundation, March, 2007, Accessed on January 14, 2019 at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2007/03/if-it-doesnt-exist-on-the-internet-it-doesnt-exist.
Matt (2016) ‘Archivists and Thespians: A Case Study and Reflections on Context
and Authenticity in a Digitization Project,’ The American Archivist Vol. 79,
No. 1 Spring/Summer 2016 161–185, Accessed January 14, 2019 at http://americanarchivist.org/doi/10.17723/0360-9081.79.1.161
Paul F. (2009) ‘An introduction to digital convergence: libraries, archives,
and museums in the information age.’ Museum Management and Curatorship Vol. 24,
No. 4, December 2009, 295-298. Accessed January 14, 2019 at https://marty.cci.fsu.edu/preprints/marty_mmc2009.pdf
Jennifer (2009) ‘Emerging convergence? Thoughts on museums, archives,
libraries, and professional training’, Museum Management and Curatorship, 24:
4, 369 — 387. Accessed January 14, 2019 at https://courses.ischool.berkeley.edu/i290-ppos/reading/EmergingConvergence.pdf