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Research Libraries UK (RLUK), in collaboration with OCLC Research, has published the Survey of Special Collections and Archives in the UK and Ireland, the second report to be released as part of RLUK’s Unique and Distinctive Collections strategic strand.

The report provides institutional leaders, curators, special collections staff, and archivists with both evidence and inspiration to plan for much needed and deserved transformation of special collections.

Special collections and archives play a key role in the future of research libraries. Significant challenges face institutions that wish to capitalise on that value, if they are to fully leverage and make available the rich content in special collections in order to support research, teaching, and community engagement. The OCLC/RLUK survey provides an extensive review of the special collections practices of RLUK members and OCLC Research Library Partnership institutions in the UK and Ireland.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Main 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 on-going 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 digitised.
  • One-third of archival collections are not discoverable in online catalogs.
  • Management of born-digital archival materials remains in its infancy.

The report also contains twenty recommendations that will have a positive impact toward addressing the issues identified and 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.

The Survey of Special Collections and Archives in the United Kingdom and Ireland builds on the foundation established by Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives, a report published in 2010 that provides a rigorous, evidence-based appraisal of the state of special collections in the US and Canada. Together, the survey findings published in both reports establish a baseline for comparison of practices in the US and Canada between those in the UK and Ireland, and may help to pave the way for building on mutual strengths and planning for joint activities.