Totaling over 16,500 linear feet, KSL’s collection of unpublished primary source materials is one of the largest in the greater Cleveland area. Although these materials hold limitless potential for teaching and research, historically they were underutilized. In 2011, KSL combined the operations of special collections and archives into a new Scholarly Resources & Special Collections Team, with a goal in the library’s strategic plan to expand the access to and the use of these materials. Since then, the team developed an outreach program that engages faculty, students, alumni and the surrounding community.
In addition to increased exposure of physical materials, the team has heightened emphasis on digitization of the collections to make them more conveniently available. Efforts such as creating web-accessible finding aids, coordinating an ambitious exhibits program and working with the library’s Acquisitions & Metadata Services Team to increase cataloging have made a larger amount of materials available to a broader audience in a greater number of ways.
“As we’ve planned exhibits and worked with researchers, we’ve learned that the depth and breadth of our collections is most compelling when we break down traditional distinctions between rare books, manuscripts and archives,” said Jill Tatem, University Archivist. “We want our visitors to be exposed to the broadest range of relevant materials.”
Assessment thus far validates the efficacy of these efforts. During FY2013, the overall use of special collections and archives increased by 31%. The number of classes held in fall 2013 doubled compared to the previous year. Moving forward, KSL will concentrate on building vibrant collections and providing tools to help library users explore and analyze those collections.
Special collections and archives (SC&A) supports the university’s research mission by collecting, preserving and providing access to materials that researchers cannot find anywhere else. Our primary goal is to increase campus, community and scholarly engagement with our unique collections to ensure they are a vibrant part of the cultural life of the university and beyond. To do so, we will explore opportunities to introduce faculty, students and members of other institutions to our collections, and find new ways to support users who are already familiar with what we have. As we rethink collection development practices, we can build collections in ways that will increase relevance and use.
SC&A also offers unique opportunities for teaching and learning. Where else will students be able to handle a medieval manuscript? Or write a research paper using a handwritten document that no one else has seen in years? These experiences are incredibly effective for teaching critical thinking skills, plus, they’re fun and engaging. We seek to work with faculty to expand our instructional program to create innovative learning experiences. Online exhibits and other digital scholarship tools will allow us to showcase KSL’s collections beyond the reading room, which are still fairly new practices. We need to experiment and assess these efforts to find the most effective ways to engage our users.
Ensuring collections are used to their fullest potential will be one of our largest challenges. Outreach efforts such as exhibits and events will help to increase awareness of our wonderful collections and let people know that our staff is always happy to answer questions and collaborate on projects. Improving how our collections are described and presented online will also better support scholars searching for specific research materials.
The next steps for our team will be to continue to build strong collaborative relationships. Partnerships with faculty, students and outside researchers enable us to develop lasting relationships that ensure the vitality of our programs. We want people to see us as more than a place to view rare and unique materials, but also where they can find collaborators to develop and expand research, teaching and service agendas. More students are entering college having never lived in a culture dominated by print information. As higher education undergoes fundamental changes in research and teaching, KSL will have a hand in shaping the future as we reimagine our collections and services in response to these ongoing changes. —Melissa Hubbard, firstname.lastname@example.org
Special collections have a rich history, yet they face a whirlwind of challenges — digital, financial and institutional. How can we leverage their strengths to build a more secure and accessible tomorrow? Come and participate in building the future of special collections at a ground-breaking national colloquium! Organized by Kelvin Smith Library and presented in collaboration with River Campus Libraries at University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University and Washington University in St. Louis Libraries, the two-day event will feature some of the most distinguished voices in the field, including opening keynote speaker, Sarah Thomas (Harvard University); closing keynote speaker, Mark Dimunation (Library of Congress); Stephen Enniss (University of Texas at Austin); Alice Schreyer (University of Chicago); and Jay Satterfield (Dartmouth College).
Registration is now open! For more information and the latest updates, visit: library.case.edu/spcoll