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Some 13 million volumes of material remain uncatalogued in libraries across the UK, according to a recent report.

‘Hidden Collections’ is the first of three reports to be published by RLUK, undertaken as part of its Unique and Distinctive Collections (UDC) strategic strand that will provide a comprehensive review of the state, and nature, of special collections in the UK.

The report surveyed a wide range of libraries across the sector including university, museum and national libraries with collections totalling over 75 million items.

Not surprisingly non-traditional formats are heavily represented in the backlogs as librarians are prioritising material that can be easily catalogued over that which requires specialist skills and expertise such as foreign language, cartographic and archival material. Some of the libraries surveyed admitted that their retrospective cataloguing or conversion projects have had to be halted in part or entirely due to a lack of funding, a situation exacerbated by the continual influx of modern material that is only adding to the overall backlog.

The report recommends the establishment of a national register of hidden collections that would allow collection holders to self document their uncatalogued material, leading to a more coherent awareness of the scale of the backlogs nationwide and encouraging greater opportunity for collaborative and cross-sectoral digital initiatives and funding applications.

Another recommendation put forward in the report is creation of a  freely available cataloguing tool, based perhaps on RLUK metadata and Copac by smaller-scale collection  holders to make the creation of online records more manageable, and to provide an ongoing, community solution to augmenting and scaling up the coverage of Copac as a major research tool.

“The swelling backlogs present a real challenge to librarians, especially in these more austere times”, said Andrew Green of the National Library of Wales and Chair of the RLUK UDC project board. “The astounding wealth of hidden material is undoubtedly of a significant value for researchers and the wider public; they are the undiscovered treasure troves of our cultural landscape. It is clear that collective action needs to be taken in seeking solutions that overcome the financial, technological and human resource restraints that hinder us from bringing these hidden research materials  to light. If well-documented collections such as that of the Women’s Library can have come under threat, then the dangers for undocumented collections are ever greater, . RLUK is committed to supporting our members and the wider community, through our strategic work and the harnessing of our collective expertise and assets, to overcome these challenges”.

The second report in the UDC strand has been undertaken in collaboration with OCLC and will be released in January, next year. The final Promoting Unique And Distinctive Collections  report is scheduled for release in the spring of 2013.


Research Libraries UK

Research Libraries UK is a consortium of 33 of the largest research organizations in the UK and Ireland, including the three UK national libraries. Founded more than 25 years ago, RLUK has directly and indirectly sponsored some of the major free online UK resources in support of research, including Copac, the de facto UK Union Catalogue. RLUK’s mission is to work with their members and partners, nationally and internationally, to shape and to realise the vision of the modern research library

The London Library

Founded in 1841, The London Library is the UK’s leading literary institution. With more than one million books and periodicals in over 50 languages, the collection includes works from the 16th century to the latest publications in print and electronic form.