Category: Cultural Heritage

How do I make a career in Special Collections?

Guest post by Alison Cullingford, author of The Special Collections Handbook.

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Why work in Special Collections?

Special Collections work is fantastically rewarding: one never knows what will happen when the phone rings or a new email comes in.  It is a joy to bring hidden collections to life, to see how they inform and inspire users.

Special Collections is a sector which is booming and full of confidence and innovation.  Many universities and other organisations are realising that in tough times their collections are unique and distinctive assets, and investing in premises, and, crucially, staff.

A note of caution

As with most heritage and arts careers, Special Collections work is popular and therefore competition for jobs can be significant.  The widest range of opportunities is probably in London or ‘Oxbridge’, though do not despair: there are jobs in national libraries, research libraries and universities, cathedrals etc all over the UK.  Permanent roles are scarce so project work is often the way to get into the sector.

Here are some tips to help you build a career in Special Collections despite the challenges.

Focus on skills

Special Collections staff need many skills, including:

  1. ‘Traditional skills’. These are distinctive to Special Collections, or shared with specialist academics and colleagues.  Traditional skills include:
  • Historical bibliography: how items in collections were made.
  • Preservation: how to look after collections.
  • Cataloguing: how to describe collections so people can discover them.
  • Languages: Latin is particularly useful, though not always essential.
  • Palaeography: how to read handwriting.
  • Subject and collection knowledge.
  1. Soft skills. You will need to be able to communicate effectively orally and in writing, to work well in a team but to manage your own time, including conflicting priorities, and to be able to help users of all kinds and levels of experience.
  2. Future skills. The Special Collections librarian of the future will need to be equipped for a tough and fast-changing world. Consider:
  • Digital literacy – encompasses a huge range of skills and will continue to develop.
  • Advocacy and evidence-based practice. Understanding statistics is essential!
  • Knowledge of legal and contractual issues.

But please don’t be too put off by these huge lists.  Skills are built up gradually and not all jobs require everything all at once.  There are many ways to improve your skills, even if you are unable to attend conferences or training events.  Consider apps (very useful for languages), online learning resources, webinars, reading printed books, not to mention the resources which appear below under ‘Connections’.

Seek and seize opportunities

For example:

  1. Your job title may not involve Special Collections, but maybe you can find a way to work with collections in the organisation. If you are working in a library, there are probably distinctive collections somewhere on the premises.  Consider talking to colleagues and managers about your interests so they can help you find opportunities.  Some element of voluntary work could be helpful and would show evidence of commitment to the sector as well as boosting your skills.
  2. Conference bursaries. Most significant library conferences offer these, in exchange for helping out and/or writing a report about your experience.

Build connections

Join and engage with relevant groups, such as CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Group and the Historic Libraries Forum.

It is easier than ever to connect with Special Collections communities:

  1. Social media platforms: full of librarians, archivists, scholars and enthusiasts sharing collections objects and discussing the joys and challenges of their work. Watch out for ‘chats’ and other themed events. I recommend #uklibchat, #archivehour, and, coming up later in November, #explorearchives.  You can also join in with conferences via their hashtags, such as the recent #rbscg17 and forthcoming #dcdc17.
  2. Mailing lists reach all professionals including those who aren’t active on social media. Lis-rarebooks is a low-traffic list populated by helpful rare book people.
  3. In recent years more and more librarians and heritage professionals have set up their own events and groups. Watch out for such activities as teachmeets, show and tell, and unconferences.  These often take place out of working hours so folk in less relevant jobs can still attend.  See for example Heritage Show and Tell.

Think like an employer

Most Special Collections jobs are in public sector organisations, which recruit and select via automated and standardised processes which aim to be fair to all applicants.  You need to engage with these systems but make sure you stand out.

Above all, if you are asked for an example during the application process or an interview, give a strong, real one that illustrates your skills.  Employers are looking for specific examples not vague generalisations.  Do draw on whatever work experience you have, for example dealing with difficult customers or teamwork can be demonstrated well by experiences from shop or bar work.

Persist, but be flexible

It took me eight years from qualifying as a librarian to becoming a full-time Special Collections person, so I do understand that it is not easy.  It is worth reflecting on what attracts you about Special Collections work, and being open to other opportunities that may give you similar job satisfaction.   Many roles in heritage, education and the arts offer similar rewards.

Best of luck!

About the author9781783301263

Alison Cullingford is the author of the Special Collections Handbook, now in its second edition.  She is Special Collections Librarian at the University of Bradford and loves writing, blogging and tweeting about the challenges and rewards of working with heritage.  Her website is https://specialcollectionshandbook.com/ and she tweets as @speccollbrad.

About this blog post

This post was inspired by talks and discussions at CILIP Rare Books Group New Professionals Days, held in 2015 and 2017.  Thanks to all who were involved, and follow the story of the days via the #RBNewProfs hashtag.

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Art and design librarians of the world, read on, you have nothing to lose but your innocence

The second edition of The Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship edited by Paul Glassman and Judy Dyki is out now.

Copy of Hamilton & Saunderson

Since the publication of the first edition of this handbook, the world of art and design libraries has been rocked by rapid advances in technology, an explosion in social media, the release of new standards and guidelines, shifts in the materials and processes of contemporary art, innovative developments in publishing models, expanding roles of librarians, new perspectives surrounding library spaces, and the evolving needs and expectations of art and design students.

Revised and updated with mostly new chapters, The Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship provides an accessible guide to librarians working in art and design environments who need to support and anticipate the information needs of artists, designers, architects and historians who study those disciplines.

The authors said,

“The handbook delineates roles and responsibilities for art and design librarians, offers guidelines for materials and collections management, reviews best practice in teaching and learning, and presents innovative approaches to knowledge creation, library spaces and promotion and sustainability.”

Clive Phillpot, former Director of the Library at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, said,

“The contributors to this book are writing from the front line. So, art and design librarians of the world, read on, you have nothing to lose but your innocence.”

The book is out now and will be essential reading for students taking library and information science courses in art librarianship, special collections, and archives, as well as practising library and information professionals in art and design school libraries, art museum libraries and public libraries.

Paul Glassman is Director of University Libraries and Adjunct Instructor of Architectural History and Design at Yeshiva University.

 Judy Dyki is Director of Library and Academic Resources at Cranbrook Academy of Art and Editor of Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America.

Foreword by Clive Phillpot, Fermley Press, London (formerly Director of the Library, Museum of Modern Art, New York).

The book is published by Facet Publishing and is available from Bookpoint Ltd | Tel: +44 (0)1235 827702 | Fax: +44 (0)1235 827703 | Email: facet@bookpoint.co.uk | Web: www.facetpublishing.co.uk. | Mailing Address: Mail Order Dept, 39 Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4TD. It is available in North America from the American Library Association.

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*Offer not available to customers from USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Asia-Pacific

Making the case for open licensing in cultural heritage institutions

Facet Publishing have announced the release of Open Licensing for Cultural Heritage by Gill Hamilton and Fred Saunderson.

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In the digital era, libraries, archives, museums and galleries are no longer constrained by the physical limitations of their buildings, analogue books, manuscripts, maps, paintings and artefacts. Cultural collections now can be safely distributed and shared globally. To ensure that the benefits of this ability to share are realised, cultural institutions must endeavour to provide free and open access to their digital collections. The tool for achieving this is open licensing.

Featuring real-world case studies from diverse education and heritage organizations, Open Licensing for Cultural Heritage digs into the concept of ‘open’ in relation to intellectual property. It explores the organizational benefits of open licensing and the open movement, including the importance of content discoverability, arguments for wider collections impact and access, the practical benefits of simplicity and scalability, and more ethical and principled arguments related to the protection of public content and the public domain.

The authors said,

“Openly sharing our knowledge, experience, content and culture for free is not a new concept. Sharing is an innate and natural part of our human character. Forward looking, inclusive, modern, relevant cultural heritage organizations must play a central role in supporting free, open access to culture at a global level. This is possible, practical and achievable with considered and informed application of an open licensing framework. Our book will provide readers with the insight, knowledge, and confidence to make a case for and implement an open licensing approach.”

Gill Hamilton is Digital Access Manager at the National Library of Scotland where she leads on access to the Library’s extensive digital collections, and oversees its resource discovery and library management systems.

Fred Saunderson is the National Library of Scotland’s Intellectual Property Specialist where he has responsibility for providing copyright and intellectual property advice and guidance, as well as coordinating licensing and re-use procedures.

 

Sign up to our mailing list to hear more about new and forthcoming books. Plus, receive an introductory 30% off a book of your choice – just fill in your details below and we’ll be in touch to help you redeem this special discount:*

 

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Practical guidance for valuing objects in cultural collections

Facet Publishing have announced the release of Freda Matassa’s new book Valuing Your Collection: A practical guide for museums, libraries and archives

Assigning a financial value to a cultural object is always difficult, as there is no right answer. It is one of the many tasks of the curator, whether they work in a gallery, museum, archive or library, yet it is a role for which few have had any traChambers Cat 2.02.qxdining and that many approach with a lack of confidence. Even if there is a profound knowledge of the subject matter, there may be insufficient experience in the market for cultural objects. However, although it may not be easy, it has to be done.

In Valuing Your Collection, collections management expert Freda Matassa examines the issues around valuing objects in cultural collections, describing current practice in museums, libraries and archives, and giving practical advice on how to assign values. Matassa looks at the difference between value and worth and at how cultural value can be translated into monetary terms. She outlines the arguments over whether financial values should be assigned at all and provides guidance on how to approach a valuation by making comparisons and using a step-by-step process for which templates for a wide range of collections are provided.

Matassa said,

Valuation is fraught with difficulties for cultural collections. Finance is not their core business. Curators have little or no training and are reluctant to mention money as it may detract from significance. My book is designed to give the non-specialist confidence in their decision making.

Freda Matassa FRSA MA (Hons) DipAL DipEd is a well-known UK expert on collections management who advises, teaches and lectures internationally. Currently Director of Matassa Toffolo, a museum-standard art consultancy, former Head of Collections Management at Tate Galleries and co-founder of the European Registrars Conference, she is expert adviser on several European projects for museum standards and to the Minister of Culture on Immunity from Seizure. She was named one of the Top 50 Women to Watch in the arts and is the author of Museum Collections Management (Facet, 2011) and Organizing Exhibitions (Facet, 2014).

Sign up to our mailing list to hear more about new and forthcoming books. Plus, receive an introductory 30% off a book of your choice – just fill in your details below and we’ll be in touch to help you redeem this special discount:*

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In this post-truth world, can we still rely on archives to tell the truth?

Facet Publishing have announced the release of The Silence of the Archive by David Thomas, Simon Fowler and Valerie Johnson

 In recent years big data initiatives, not to mention Hollywood, the video game industry and countless other popular media, have reinforced and even glamorized the public image of the archive as the ultimate repository of facts and the hope of future generations for uncovering ‘what actually happened’. Chambers Cat 2.02.qxdThe reality is, however, that for all sorts of reasons the record may not have been preserved or survived in the archive. In fact, the record may never have even existed – its creation being as imagined as is its contents. And even if it does exist, it may be silent on the salient facts, or it may obfuscate, mislead or flat out lie.

The Silence of the Archive, written by three expert and knowledgeable archivists, with a foreword by Anne J. Gilliland, draws attention to the many limitations of archives and the inevitability of their having parameters.

Co-author David Thomas said,

In The Silence of the Archive, we explore the question of whether archives are all that they seem. Are there silences, omissions and falsehoods which undermine their truth claims? Are their holdings, as some of us were taught, the unselfconscious products of administrative processes, or are they the products of powers relations? Is there a democratic deficit in archives?

The book, part of the Principles and Practice in Records Management and Archives series, will make compelling reading for professional archivists, records managers and records creators, postgraduate and undergraduate students of history, archives, librarianship and information studies, as well as academics and other users of archives.

About the authors:

David Thomas is a Visiting Professor at the University of Northumbria. Previously, he worked at The National Archives where he was Director of Technology and was responsible for digital preservation and for providing access to digital material.

Simon Fowler is an Associate Teaching Fellow at the University of Dundee where he teaches a course on military archives. Previously he worked at The National Archives for nearly thirty years.

Dr Valerie Johnson is Director of Research and Collections at The National Archives. She has worked as an archivist and a historian in the academic, corporate and public sectors.

Contributors:

Anne J Gilliland is Professor, Department of Information Studies, Director, Center for Information as Evidence, University of California, USA.

​The series editor: Geoffrey Yeo is honorary researcher in archives and records management at University College London (UCL), London.

About the book:

The Silence of the Archive | May 2017 | 224pp
Paperback: 9781783301553 | Hardback: 9781783301560 | eBook: 9781783301577

Management of cultural heritage information: policies and practices

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Image source: ‘Printing the pase: 3-D archaeology and the first Americans’ by Flickr user Bureau of Land Managment Oregon and Washington https://www.flickr.com/photos/blmoregon/

As the iConference 2017 continues this week, we’ve made a new chapter, written by one of the conference chairs Gobinda Chowdhury, freely available to view and download from the Facet Publishing website.

The chapter, Management of cultural heritage information: policies and practices, is taken from the 2015 book Cultural Heritage Information, edited by Gobinda and Ian Ruthven. The chapter includes discussion of:

  • some of the policies and guidelines for digitization that form the foundation of digital libraries of cultural heritage information
  • the social, legal and policy issues involved with managing digital cultural heritage and their implications
  • the provenance and digital rights management issues associated with cultural heritage information.

You can view or download the free chapter here.

Cultural Heritage Information is the first book in the iResearch series. Edited by Gobinda Chowdhury, iResearch is a peer-reviewed monograph series supports the vision of the iSchools and creates authorative sources of information for research and scholarly activities in information studies. Each book in the series addresses a specific aspect or 9781856049306emerging topic of information studies and provides a state-of-the-art review of research in the chosen field and addresses the issues, challenges and progress of research and practice.

Find out more about the book Cultural Heritage Information.

Find our more about the iResearch series.

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The case for open heritage data

open

An open access chapter from Henriette Roued-Cunliffe and Andrea Copeland’s new book Participatory Heritage is now available to view and download from the Facet Publishing website.

In this chapter, Henriette Roued-Cunliffe argues the case for open heritage data as a means to facilitating participation in heritage now and in the future. Three case studies feature in the chapter:

  1. Europeana APIs
  2. Vindolanda Tablets Online II
  3. Hack4DK in Denmark.

Participatory Heritage demonstrates how heritage institutions can work with community-based heritage groups to build broader, more inclusive and culturally relevant collections.

More information about the book and the open access chapter are available on the Facet website.

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