Mobilizing Unique Materials

Archives, Manuscripts, Rare Books, and Digital Special Collections

The objective of this theme is to help institutions improve stewardship, raise visibility, and increase the use of rare books, manuscripts, archives and special collections.

Special collections and archives elevate the excellence and prestige of their institutions by providing scholars access to unique and rare materials of high research value. But new environmental factors—such as constrained resources, shifts in research methods, the proliferation of digital journals and reference sources, and evolving demands of researchers—make the care of rare books and special collections difficult.

Current practices are expensive and don't scale effectively, and efficient management and improved discovery of special collections are urgent priorities.

Institutions need a way to move forward, but workflow problems—such as substantial backlogs—are a common bottleneck.

Improved stewardship will contribute to the creation of new knowledge and enhance an institution's reputation. Developing new perspectives and modeling reasonable solutions will increase the use of rare books, manuscripts, archives and special collections, and ensure that resources are put to their best use.

How we advance thinking

We take a fresh look at community practice and consider alternatives for special collections and archives.

We focus on:

Identifying key issuesOur surveys and analyses provide evidence of challenges in special collections.

ProtoypingWe experiment, using new ideas to make archives easier to discover.

ModelingWe surface strategies for sharing innovation and expertise.

Convening—We assemble librarians and archivists at events that catalyze radical changes in community practice.

Mining data and text—We explore social metadata, data mining, and text mining to demonstrate improvements in description of both digital and non-digital special collections.

Publishing—We "clear the air" and document changing priorities.

We work on:

Improving discovery of and access to archives

Scaling up digitization of special collections

Increasing use of special collections

Collecting and analyzing a shared evidence base for special collections decision-makers

Enriching metadata for special collections

Simplifying management of born-digital special collections

Providing a venue for community engagement and stakeholder consultation, where organizational leaders and decision makers can collaborate with peers

ResearchWorks icon (RW) Some of the activities listed here have prototypes or demonstrations you can explore and play with. You can find a list of just those hands-on activities in ResearchWorks.

Software icon (SW) A few of these activities have generated software that you can download and build upon. Go to our software page for a list of only those activities.

ORL Partnership icon (P) The OCLC Research Library Partnership has sponsored the activities with this mark.

OCLC Research on YouTube

Watch OCLC Research YouTube Channel videos that feature some of our current work or recent findings

We are a worldwide library cooperative, owned, governed and sustained by members since 1967. Our public purpose is a statement of commitment to each other—that we will work together to improve access to the information held in libraries around the globe, and find ways to reduce costs for libraries through collaboration.