Part 2: Forging the Future

The second day of the colloquium began with a panel discussing how collectors, dealers, faculty and special collections librarians can and perhaps, should be working together to collaboratively build collections.

Speakers addressed issues related to ideas of creating complete collection, an activity perhaps best suited for collectors, as opposed to special collections librarians. The importance of having written collection development policies and goals tat align with those also were particularly relevant to me, as we at the University of Rochester revise and make public our collection development policy.

Jim Kuhn, of the University of Rochester spoke about his recent collection development activities and the liberating approach of telling a potential donor: Yes, but or if, No thank you, or a referral to another repository that more closely aligns with the collection’s focus. He also asked us to consider how print collections differ in important and significant ways from Hathi Trust and other digital repositories, and how in some cases those slight differences may be difficult to justify to one’s stakeholders, when compared with manuscript items.

An interesting question from the audience related to marketing our collections. The panelists discussed programming for the k-12 audience, partnering with admissions offices and of course our development officers.

Serving as the morning keynote speaker, Stephen Enniss, Director of the Harry Ransom Center, shared with us his thought about the of future in special collections. Specifically he discussed both the limitations and possibilities of born-digital collections. He emphasized the current state of those collection development decisions as the process of preserving digital and highly ephemeral records and that we may be waiting into the future for scholars to begin to develop modes of inquiry using this content. Stephen also astutely drew our attention to stark contrast to how born-digital records are created and transmitted (quickly and virtually) and the practice of binding them to the reading room (permanence and physical). He concluded his remarks with comments about the very real privacy issues that born-digital collections raise and the inherent policy implications.

The afternoon began with the second panel of the day and an open discussion of current challenges and future directions of our field. There was a call for a greater diversity in our records and the kinds of histories represented there, as well as greater diversity within our profession, panelists and the audience also addressed issues related to building donor relations and establishing trust over time.

Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare books and Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress, spoke as the final presenter for the colloquium. He urged us to think beyond finding a solution to a particular challenge, and instead to focus on the wider goals of our professional. Mark spoke about information as a social practice and not a solitary one. He invited us to consider new models of staffing and service, in the forms of roving reference and outreach. Perhaps most compellingly, was his vision of a department staffed with a group of core special collections librarians, as well as loosely affiliated subject specialists and others in the library.

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