OCLC Research-RLUK survey examines special collections practices in UK and Ireland

    Special collections and archives play a key role in the future of research libraries. Significant challenges face institutions that wish to capitalize on that value, however, if they are to fully leverage and make available the rich content in special collections in order to support research, teaching, and community engagement. To help address these concerns, OCLC Research and RLUK collaborated to survey the special collections practices of RLUK members and OCLC Research Library Partnership institutions in the UK and Ireland. The findings from this survey as well as the resulting recommendations have just been published in the report, Survey of Special Collections and Archives in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

    This report provides institutional leaders, curators, special collections staff, and archivists both evidence and inspiration to plan for much needed and deserved transformation of special collections.

    Key findings from the report include:

    • The top challenges for archives and special collections in the UK and Ireland are outreach, born-digital materials and space.
    • Alignment of special collections with institutional missions and priorities is an ongoing challenge.
    • The special collections sector is undergoing a major culture shift that mandates significant retraining and careful examination of priorities.
    • Philanthropic support is limited, as are librarians’ fundraising skills.
    • Use of all types of special collections material has increased across the board.
    • Users expect everything in libraries and archives to be digitized.
    • One-third of archival collections are not discoverable in online catalogs.
    • Management of born-digital archival materials remains in its infancy.

    The report also contains twenty recommendations that the authors feel will have a positive impact toward addressing the issues identified. In addition, it provides a backdrop for continued discussion, both within special collections and the larger library enterprise, for the role of special collections in an evolved information economy. These key findings and recommendations are highlighted in the report’s executive summary, which has been published as a separate document.

    Survey of Special Collections and Archives in the United Kingdom and Ireland builds on the foundation established by Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives [pdf], a report published in 2010 that provides a rigorous, evidence-based appraisal of the state of special collections in the US and Canada. Together, the survey findings published in both reports establish a baseline for comparison of practices in the US and Canada between those in the UK and Ireland, and help to pave the way for building on mutual strengths and planning for joint activities where warranted.