Establishing an Evidence Base for Special Collections

Research libraries are repositioning special collections and archives, but require an evidence base to help them make decisions about where and how to invest. Because these materials require specialized approaches to management, cataloging, preservation and access, enormous challenges abound.

To help address these issues, OCLC Research executed two surveys (United States and Canada in 2010; United Kingdom and Ireland, in collaboration with Research Libraries UK, 2013).  The two survey instruments were similar to enable cross-sector analysis and pave the way for possible collaborative activities. The results were published in two reports, each of which explores a variety of issues and provides an in-depth overview of practices and challenges.

The surveys identified that the most pressing issues were similar for both populations:

  • satisfying the growing need to conform to to institutional missions and priorities,
  • addressing the born-digital challenge,
  • satisfying user expectations for digitized materials,
  • lack of space, and
  • meeting user needs through new forms of engagement and outreach.

Continuing to address backlogs of inaccessible “hidden collections” also remains a significant concern.

Together this work helped to establish the evidence base needed to enable transformative change. We encourage you to read the reports below and contact us with questions or feedback.


Survey of Special Collections and Archives in the US and Canada
Survey of Special Collections and Archives in the UK and Ireland

Most recent updates: Page content: 2015-11-19