A short talk to be given today at the Moorland Spingarn Research Center at Howard University.
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 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.
Additionally, 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 a special collection
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, called for short, the GLAM movement. 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 the opportunity to have this conversation.
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