Reference and Access: Innovative Practices for Archives and Special Collections [Review]

By Rob Sieczkiewicz
April 2015

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Kate Theimer, ed., Reference and Access: Innovative Practices for Archives and Special Collections (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014)

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 This volume consists of case studies about the reference and access dilemmas that archivists face today. How do we meet rising patron expectations in a time of shrinking repository budgets? How do we provide access to our unique and valuable collections while keeping these materials safe from theft?

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Most cases in the volume follow a single format composed of six sections—introduction, planning, implementation, results, lessons learned, and conclusion. This consistency helps guide the reader through the varied terrain. The cases come from repositories large and small, primarily but not entirely academic. As Kate Theimer notes in her introduction to the volume, one of the key criteria for inclusion in the book is a case’s relevance to a wide range of archivists. While it may not be possible for all repositories to implement each case exactly, Theimer insists that the ideas should be transferable.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Many of the repositories were prompted to seek an innovative solution to a new problem or to respond creatively to a new opportunity. When Boise State University (BSU) issued iPads to its library staff, the Special Collections librarians responded by using the devices to improve the experience of researchers in the reading room. In the case of Emory University, both positive forces (a library renovation) and negative ones (the discovery of a theft from a much-used collection) compelled the manuscript and rare-books librarians to innovate security practices. At Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), the library’s move to a Drupal content-management system prompted archivists to implement their own improvements, adding a chat service and adopting new procedures for responding to reference requests.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Several cases address the limitations as well as the benefits of deploying new technology. While the appeal of using iPads in the reading room is clear, the BSU case also considers the drawbacks of using devices intended for consumer use in an institutional setting. At EKU and at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), archivists encountered obstacles when using technologies that were designed for libraries rather than specifically for archives. At UCI, archivists used new technology—the institutional repository software DSpace—to re-create a familiar model, the virtual reading room. This allowed them to provide remote but controlled access to two collections of philosophers’ born-digital papers, while respecting privacy and copyright as well as adhering to a gift agreement.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Not all the innovations involve new uses of technology. Some of the cases focus on such matters as improving communication between departments in a repository or between archivists and patrons. In one case, Virginia Tech Archives describes changes in archival training practices. Rather than putting a new reference archivist through a “trial by fire” that leaves too much to chance and often fails to fully meet the needs of a researcher, Virginia Tech offers a model that fosters intentional rather than accidental learning.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Overall, the cases inspire the reader to be prepared to seize any opportunity to improve service to researchers.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0  

Reference and Access: Innovative Practices for Archives and Special Collections [Review]

Rob Sieczkiewicz

Instruction and Digital Scholarship Librarian – Susquehanna University

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