IFLA conference: Marketing of rare and special collections in a digital age

Papers from the recent IFLA conference are now available online for those of us who didn’t make it to Helsinki. An interesting bunch of papers made up session 87 on “Marketing of rare and special collections in a digital age”. This include lots about marketing to new audiences particularly, but not exclusively, through digital technologies.

They’re all worth a read, as is Daryl Green’s post from the session. The paper that has got me thinking (and wanting to act) most is Helen Vincent’s on “The library and the display of text”. I found it almost revelatory to be reminded that books are texts for reading as well as being artifacts, having spent a lot of time demonstrating the reverse. Her four principles for thinking about displaying texts seem practical as well as inspirational and have already filled me with ideas for how I could put them into practice. They are as follows (but must be read in context of the rest of the paper):

  • An exhibition of texts should always want to promote engagement with the texts displayed.
  • The interpretation around a text-based exhibition should try to do some of the work of reading.
  • The planning of exhibitions of text should always consider providing orientation into and out of the texts on display.
  • An exhibition in a library site should consider how to use that context to relate back to the library itself.

I found the papers that tackled online modes of promotion and access more problematic. I would not dispute that social networks, online exhibitions etc. are useful for attracting new audiences and should be fully experimented with, but I would like to read a more nuanced discussion of this mode of interaction which is based on priviledged access to hardware and a good internet connection. Does that not limit the type of new audience that can get access to special collections this way?

Another issue, from my own experience, is that groups who are totally unfamiliar with historic libraries and their physical collections do not fully appreciate their potential until they have experienced them physically. Example: primary school teachers were politely interested when shown pictures and descriptions of a seventeenth-century library. Once they had stood in the space, looked at it, smelled it, seen some of the books, they were enthused and full of ideas about how it was relevant to their students and teaching. So can online networks really attract audiences who wouldn’t otherwise be interested? Some real life examples would be useful.

These are just my sketchy first impressions. I recommend reading the papers.

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