The College’s commitment to inquiry-based learning provides opportunities for the primary resource materials owned by the Grinnell College Libraries to be more fully integrated into the educational experience of its students. Among these resources are the rare books, manuscript and archival collections, historical maps, and other unique materials that comprise the Libraries’ Special Collections.
The Key Challenge
The key issue we face is how to maximize the impact of these primary resources on inquiry-based learning.
Use of Special Collections has shown a significant increase over the past five years for both on-campus and off-campus users (see reference statistics in Appendix 12). Classes have met in the Special Collections department for an introduction to using materials from special collections. A number of student projects, from first-year Tutorial papers on local history to a senior Mentored Advanced Project on Irish poets, have been completed using materials from the collections. Although this is an encouraging trend, it indicates a need for more assertive efforts to engage students and faculty with the materials in Special Collections and their potential for research. How much more use might materials get if they were easily discoverable through common search tools such as Google or the library catalog, or were linked from course pages on PioneerWeb? Similarly, campus offices that need information from the college archives could identify sources much more easily if more transparent access to the archives existed.
The need for accessibility is made more immediate by the College's increasing focus on inquiry-based learning. This is an obvious opportunity for increasing the engagement of Special Collections and Archives with the College's academic program. We need to promote that opportunity actively among faculty, develop guides to the collections that help students and faculty identify subject areas in which primary-source inquiry can be fruitfully conducted using our collections, and clarify our collection development plans.
The responsibility to maintain the institutional archives of the college presents a particular challenge in an era where so much institutional history is born digital. How can we best archive and maintain those key institutional documents so they will be accessible for future use? How do we create entry points so that materials from the College Archives that are used by students, faculty, and many campus offices can be easily identified? The Alumni Office, the Development Office, and Communication and Events call on the archives frequently to provide materials for publication and press releases. Alumni and other off-campus researchers, from scholars to local genealogists, use the Archives for their research. Making more of the College Archives accessible electronically would facilitate the work of these offices and individuals.
Meeting the Challenge: What We Can Do
A. In consultation with faculty and other stakeholders, develop a written collection development plan for Special Collections (including the Vault, Manuscripts, and Iowa Room) and the College Archives.
This plan should identify access strategies appropriate for different collecting areas. Access may include item level and/or collection-level MARC records, non-MARC indexes or finding aids, digital surrogates, and other strategies.
B. In coordination with the Digital Initiatives Committee,(see the proposal in the section on Digital Initiatives), develop a plan for creating and managing digital assets that will include the following:
* A plan for networked storage of digital materials held in Special Collections, as well as a list of priority materials.
* A plan for digitization of selected Special Collections materials, including a plan for sharing data about Iowa-related digital collections with the Iowa Heritage Digital Collections (http://iowaheritage.org/)
* An image database for photographs held by Special Collections. Images in our collection are currently not easily identifiable, but are among the items which are frequently sought by researchers and college staff.
C. Improve Web access to materials in Special Collections.
1. In consultation with faculty, create Web-accessible subject guides to materials in Special Collections to highlight opportunities for student and faculty use of the collections in the curriculum and for independent study (Bowdoin College for one example: http://libguides.bowdoin.edu/).
2. In consultation with representatives from campus offices, create guides to facilitate access to commonly sought archival information.
3. Improve the Special Collections Web site to enable researchers to make better use of our collections. In particular, examine issues of navigation within the site, searchability, and links to related resources.
D. Develop an exhibition program, including Web-based exhibits.
Offer students the opportunity to curate exhibitions or to create digital projects from our collections. Examine the feasibility of working with Faulconer Gallery or other campus organizations to create exhibitions. Other institutions commonly have online and on-site exhibitions of their important collections. For example, Amherst’s exhibitions of rare books often include labels written by faculty; Augustana College grants a stipend to encourage researchers to use their special collections; and Amherst has an active publication program.
Strengths To Build On
Our collection of rare books, with approximately 2500 items, is a good teaching collection with editions that date from 1477. Based on recent experience, faculty seem increasingly interested in helping students see for themselves the historical development of print-based communication; this seems to us especially important as we encourage development of "critical information literacy" throughout the curriculum (see Section 1). The rare-books collection is particularly strong in the history of Iowa and the settlement of the American Midwest; approximately 1800 items are on Iowa. This strength in Iowa history is complemented by a significant collection of postcards that depict Iowa scenes (approximately 11,000 items). The highlight of our manuscript collection is the James Norman Hall papers. Hall, best known as the co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty, was a Grinnell graduate in the class of 1910. However, the bulk of our manuscript collection consists of materials from people and organizations affiliated with both Grinnell College and Grinnell the town. Examples include the papers of George Herron, Professor of Applied Christianity at the College from 1893 to 1899 and a key figure in the social gospel movement, the Matlack Family Papers, a rich resource for local history covering 120 years in the life of a Grinnell family, and the records of several Congregational churches in the area.
Most of the book collections in the Iowa Room (faculty and alumni publications) and the Vault (rare books and manuscripts) are represented in the Libraries' online catalog. There is a small backlog of uncataloged early printed books, which should be evaluated for relevance before cataloging. Most of the Manuscript Collections are processed to the box or folder level with finding aids; the finding aids are available on the Libraries' Web site (http://www.lib.grinnell.edu/collections/specialcollections/Manuscripts/ManuscriptAbstracts.html). Some of the finding aids are also cataloged in the Libraries' online catalog, and those that are not are in queue to be cataloged.
College Archives are organized by Record Group. Although the Record Groups are listed online (http://www.lib.grinnell.edu/collections/specialcollections/Archives/RecordGroups/index.html) access is supplemented through a card file. Many college and student publications are cataloged in the Libraries' catalog at the title level, but not all.
A collection of College-related materials, including biographical information on alumni and faculty, information on college buildings and events, and information about the community of Grinnell is kept in a separate pamphlet collection. Currently, this is the most heavily used part of the archives. Access to these materials is only through the Iowa Room card catalog. Making this collection more easily accessible via the Web or the library catalog would increase the visibility and use of these materials.
Two collections within Special Collections—Iowa postcards (3800 items) and early 20th-century photographs of Turkish missions (90 items)—have been digitized and made available through the College's image-management repository, the Pioneer Digital Image Database, or PDID, which is a local instance of the James Madison MDID software. Access is open through a guest login, but the content is not indexed in Google and has not been harvested.
Most of Grinnell's peers, including Amherst, Bowdoin, Carleton, and Colorado College, have more developed digitization programs than Grinnell. This provides us with a community of practice upon which we can draw as we embark on new projects.
Weaknesses and Constraints to Overcome
One librarian, the Special Collections Librarian and Archivist of the College, staffs Special Collections. She is also responsible for general reference and instruction responsibilities and is consulting librarian for the History and Education Departments. Additionally 0.75 FTE support staff assists in the department. Generally, 24 hours/week of student staff are employed during the academic year. The department is open to users on weekday afternoons with other hours by appointment.
Developing new areas of expertise
In order to fulfill the recommendations given above, (especially digitization efforts and web development), staff will need support and resources to develop new areas of expertise.
Only small classes of 12 or fewer can fit into the Special Collections reading room for an instruction session. There is room for a maximum of six researchers at any one time—and that does not allow them much room for spreading out materials such as maps or drawings. Workroom space is no longer adequate for equipment and staff workspace, particularly if we undertake local digitization projects. The collection area (Vault) is also crowded, even with duplicates and some little used collections moved to off-site storage.
Awkward exhibition space
Exhibition cases are difficult to re-arrange. There is inadequate lighting, and the cases are not large enough to display oversized materials, such as historic maps.
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