Survey of Special Collections and Archives in the United Kingdom and Ireland

An OCLC Research Report by:

Jackie Dooley, OCLC Research
Rachel Beckett, University of Manchester
Alison Cullingford, Bradford University
Katie Sambrook, King's College London
Chris Sheppard, University of Leeds
Sue Worrall, University of Birmingham

Download the report »
(.pdf: 1.8M/259 pp.)

Executive summary:

The key findings and recommendations from the report are highlighted in the Summary and Recommendations (.pdf: 69K/12 pp.).

Key findings:

  • 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.


Special collections and archives play a key role in the future of research libraries. However, significant challenges face institutions that wish to capitalize on that value, to leverage and make fully available the rich content in special collections in order to support research, teaching, and community engagement.

This report, produced in collaboration by OCLC Research and RLUK, 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. The survey provides both evidence and a basis for action as part of the RLUK's Unique and Distinctive Collections workstrand  and OCLC Research's Mobilizing Unique Materials theme.

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. Specifically, it contains twenty recommendations that the authors feel will have a positive impact toward addressing the issues identified. It also 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 (.pdf: 69K/12 pp.), which has been published as a separate document for your reading convenience.


Together, the survey findings published in this report and those published in its earlier companion piece, Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives [pdf], 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.

For More Information:

Jackie Dooley
Program Officer
OCLC Research


Related information:

Survey of Special Collections and Archives in the UK and Ireland

Activity page:
Survey of Special Collections and Archives in the UK and Ireland

Report publication announcement:
OCLC Research and RLUK Report Calls for Transformation of Special Collections Sector in UK and Ireland

OCLC Research theme:
Mobilizing Unique Materials

Related activity page:
Survey of Special Collections and Archives in the US and Canada

RLUK workstrand:
Unique and Distinctive Collections

Jackie Dooley's bio page

Suggested citation:
Dooley, Jackie M., Rachel Beckett, Alison Cullingford, Katie Sambrook, Chris Sheppard, and Sue Worrall (2013), Survey of Special Collections and Archives in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research.


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