I have a guilty conscience for not writing sooner about something Merrilee posted on July 15 over at the hangingtogether blog. She wrote:
Susan Allen (Associate Director of the Getty Research Institute and Chief Librarian of the Getty Research Library) has started a list of reasons (“beyond sentimentality”) that special collections are important. I asked if she would share her list, and she agreed. Take a look, and if there are things that are not on this list, please add them in the comments. Are there other, similar lists elsewhere? Let us know!
The list of seventeen things is an odd one. (Please go look at it now. See what I mean?) Its title is “Ways in Which Scholars/Librarians Use Rare Materials.” This seems to me to be a much more specific list than one devoted to why special collections are important. Obviously special collections/archives may have value other than for their usefulness to scholars or librarians. I also found some of items in the list confusing, probably since they had been lifted from such a specific context.
But the purpose of this post is not critique Merrilee’s list (which is actually Susan Allen’s, I believe), it is to address her question. Can we add to this list and do you know of other similar lists out there?
So, our purpose is to identify the value (that is the way in which the collections may be used) of special collections. For the purposes of this exercise, I suggest that we just lump archives and special collections together, and if you have thoughts about why that shouldn’t be done, please share your comments. Trying not to duplicate what’s already on the list (as I understand it), here is what I’ve come up with so far:
1. Use of original materials provides users a tangible link to the past which can create an emotional connection for the user.
2. Archives and special collections contain first person accounts that document historical events.
3. Archives and special collections contain materials that document the lives of historically underrepresented groups.
4. Archives and special collections contain materials that document the use and transformation of our environment over time.
5. Archives and special collections materials contain information about past events that can be used by citizens, business, and government to support their business functions.
6. Archives and special collections can be used by educators at all levels to teach across all disciplines.
7. Archival materials can have evidential value.
I could probably break each of these down into many smaller values, but I think that covers quite a bit of ground. I know my readers are a knowledgeable and creative group, so I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of comments on this question: What are archives and special collections good for?