Update – May 2014


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Welcome to my website!

I started this site in 2008 to blog about the issues facing Special Collections services in difficult times – hence its name.  I later started another, similar blog as an online supplement to my Special Collections Handbook.  It’s taken me a while to decide what to do about this.  I have now decided to do all my Special Collections blogging on the Special Collections Handbook site.  I may use this site again for blogging in the future but at the moment I’ll maintain it as my professional website: a handy online place to put all my presentations and publications.

So, if you follow this blog and want to keep in touch with new posts, you need to head over to the Handbook blog and follow me from there.  Thank you!


Special Collections in CILIP Update

The Special Collections Handbook

Very pleased that the latest issue of CILIP Update features a section all about the latest in Special Collections.  Special Collections is an incredibly dynamic and exciting area of library work, and it is good to see this feature in a title aimed at all librarians.  There’s a piece by Karen Attar about the new Directory and one by me about our innovative collections development policy at Bradford.  There’s some fantastic illustrations of materials from our collections too.

Sorry, CILIP Update is only available to CILIP members and libraries who subscribe to it.  If you don’t have access, following the links in the paragraph above will take you to other writing by Karen and me about our respective contributions.

PS I haven’t blogged much lately for which apologies.  NOT for lack of things to say though.  I’ve been putting all my writing energy into our application for archive accreditation, which…

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Farewell, Rare Books Group Committee!


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Off to London tomorrow for my last ever CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group Committee meeting. Definitely the end of an era, as I’ve been part of this Committee since 2004.  I’ve had various jobs, most recently Treasurer, and done many things, including organising or co-organising several conferences and day events and looking after the Twitter.  I’ve really valued the opportunities to build new skills and to learn from and network with fellow special collections professionals.

I’ve decided however that I have done all I can as a member of this Committee. After a few years on any committee one gets a bit stale and then it’s time to let new people have a go.  I’ll still be active in the profession, but I increasingly prefer to get involved in other ways: writing, blogging, conferences, peer review etc.  I’ll also still take an active part in Group stuff – I really like the look of next year’s conference in Aberdeen on Special Collections buildings.

Thanks to all my Committee colleagues past and present for their support!


Show, Tell + Play: sharing heritage projects and stuffed animals in Yorkshire

The Special Collections Handbook

On 24 October I went along to a great event offering “a playful space” for discussing heritage activities in Yorkshire: Heritage Show+Tell.  This uses a very effective format: 3 minutes, 3 slides per speaker.  No long presentations to write, no big commitment of time, a friendly and supportive atmosphere.

The projects all had some relevance to my work at Bradford: discovering the history of fashion and business, using a dyeing garden to help offenders, AR and sculpture, art gallery outreach, exploring Yorkshireness, and amazing use of audio-visual in historic theatres.  Find out more about the event and the speakers here.  The talks were followed of course by WINE AND SNACKY THINGS.

We also had a chance to see the stores at the venue, the Leeds Discovery Centre.  My knowledge of museum collections tends to focus on local and social history, so I was delighted that our hostess was…

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Bingo for Buttons: the archive accreditation workshop

The Special Collections Handbook

Back in September (20th to be exact) I went along to a workshop on archives accreditation.  Though I’ve been following the growth of the new standard pretty closely, I still found the event really helpful.  If you’re thinking of applying, do try to get to one of these sessions!

What did I like about this one?

Well, it humanised the standard and the application process and answered several questions that I’d been pondering …  I enjoyed sharing ideas and experience with others thinking of applying.  I was reassured that other services were in the same boat: we played accreditation bingo, crossing off the policies, procedures etc that we already had, and nobody at all had every one of them (I had quite a few and won CHOCOLATE BUTTONS!).

What was covered?

I won’t try to summarise all that was covered – that would make a very very long…

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To Have and To Hold: Historic Libraries Forum Annual Conference 2013

The Special Collections Handbook

Managers of special collections face difficult decisions: what to collect, what not to collect, how to accept new material etc, how to identify and deal with irrelevant material …  This year’s Historic Libraries Forum conference in London on 19 November will share best practice in collection management.   I’m speaking, along with Katie Flanagan from Brunel and David McKitterick from Trinity College Cambridge.

I’ll discuss how some newish concepts helped me to create the latest collection development policy for Special Collections at Bradford.  The new policy has in turn helped improve the way we manage our collections – deaccessioning with confidence, knowing where we want to go with digital collecting etc.  I hope these ideas will inspire others, and I look forward to learning how colleagues manage their collection problems!

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Code of Practice for Cultural Collections Management

The Special Collections Handbook

Oops!  I realise I haven’t mentioned the Code of Practice for Cultural Collections Management (PAS 197: 2009).  The Code is relevant to libraries, archives and museums, and offers a strategic framework for senior managers on collection management, development, information (i.e. cataloguing/metadata) and care.

PAS 197 underlies the new archives accreditation standard, which is why I have been investigating it.

You can get hold of the Code from British Standards Online.  NB If your organisation doesn’t subscribe to BSOL, I wouldn’t necessarily rush to buy a copy as they are expensive – take a look at what’s been written about it to see how relevant the Code is to you.


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Access All Areas? a user’s perspective on archives by wheelchair

The Special Collections Handbook

Here’s an invaluable blog post by Viv Dunstan, a historical researcher who is a wheelchair user, on her experience of using archives.  Searchrooms are often small, cramped spaces which are tricky to get around.  Staff are helpful but there is only so much they can do.  She explains the value of good quality catalogues which help readers decide whether they need to visit at all, and of digitisation on demand.

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Viv’s experience of archive spaces is easy to recognise.  So many archive services are constrained by unsuitable buildings, squeezing users into whatever corner can be created for them.  All I can suggest to those services with difficult spaces of this kind is to consult users about their experiences, do the best you can with what you have, and use accessibility concerns to help you make your case for improvements.  Our reading room is better than some but is far from…

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Going for Gold: archive accreditation is here

The Special Collections Handbook

Exciting news for archives managers! A new standard can help you improve your  services and highlight your excellence. Find out more on the Archive Service Accreditation webpage and in this blog post by Melinda Haunton.

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Three things I like about the scheme:

  1. One size doesn’t fit all.  The scheme accommodates archives services of all shapes and sizes and appreciates that they exist for various purposes.  I was worried that it would be heavily record-office oriented as is often the case with archives things, but, really, it isn’t.
  2. It’s about building better services.  To gain accreditation, organisations don’t have to be perfect (because, who is?).  They do have to show that they understand their problems and are working to improve.
  3. It’s a partnership.  I feel that as a future applicant I was fully consulted and informed throughout and had plenty of opportunities to have my say, at…

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A Tumblr full of Gems

The Special Collections Handbook

Delighted to reveal A Cabinet of Gems!  It’s our new Tumblr account.  I’m using it to share appealing out-of-copyright images from Special Collections at Bradford, like this lovely 1920s girl on a photo wallet from the Jacquetta Hawkes Archive.

Why (yet) another blog?   I’ve realised for a while that I needed something to fill the gap between Twitter and the WordPress blogs.  Tumblr fits the bill nicely.  It’s for those moments when we find or rediscover something amazing which we want to show the world – but don’t have time or energy to write a detailed blog post about it.

As always with social media, I’m experimenting.  I find Tumblr quick and fun to use, posting pretty much daily at the moment.  I’ll explore ways of getting statistics from the site, analyse the kinds of audiences and involvement that we get, see how other Special Collections use Tumblr, and…

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