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This year’s CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group conference explored something librarians must do in order for their collections to survive and thrive … show them off!  Collections are no fun sat on shelves unseen and unused; as our organiser Sheila Hingley said, we need to flaunt them!

In particular, the conference discussed how we can use exhibitions to bring collections to wider audiences.

New exhibition gallery, Palace Green Library, University of Durham

New exhibition gallery, Palace Green Library, University of Durham, courtesy Durham University Library

It is tricky to develop training for exhibitions.  The risks:

  • too academic/theoretical for those who just want to know how to do something good with no money/time
  • too basic for experts or those involved in exhibition strategy.

I thought this event avoided both traps, covering both the why and the how at levels appropriate for delegates.  It offered good advice for exhibitions from tiny to the blockbuster.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what was said and will explore the talks and issues in more detail in future posts.  There will be more formal write-ups in Rare Books Newsletter in due course and plans are afoot to get presentations online.

One recurring theme: flaunting collections through exhibitions helps market them to stakeholders, particularly those who might influence funding.  Getting our messages to such stakeholders is essential to the survival of Special Collections services in difficult times.

Which brings me nicely to a plug for next year’s Group conference, looking at advocacy: Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, 12-14 September 2012.  I’ll be talking about the RLUK Unique and Distinctive Collections Project, which will help make the case for Special Collections in all sorts of useful ways.