|'Reach Out!' by ~diP on Flickr|
Sheila Hingley started the day off with an account of the almost intimidatingly broad 'Education, Exhibitions, and Outreach' being done at Durham University Library Special Collections. They're in the middle of a refurbishment programme which will create a dedicated, secure, exhibition space as well as an education room, a history of the book gallery, a gallery on the history of the university, and a cafe space. The 'Treasures of Durham University' will open in January 2011 and will be desinged so that items can be replaced on a rolling programme, without having to continually re-write the whole exhibition. The Heritage Collections have a dedicated Education Officer, initially funded through Heritage Lottery Fund money; a post common in museums, but as yet rare in libraries. The schools offer is made through a website, 4schools, but there is also engagement with community groups, Durham Book Festival, local and family history events, and so on and so on and so on...
Mark Purcell spoke about raising the profile of the c. 170 historic libraries owned by the National Trust. (A good proportion of these are now catalogued and available on Copac, which was a pleasant surprise to me.) The task of managing these libraries is terribly complicated; each library is different, and came to the Trust as part of the property in which its housed. Until recently there was very little idea as to how many libraries there were, let alone what was in them, although this has changed in recent years with a serious cataloguing effort. One comment particularly stuck with me: Mark explained that in some properties, cataloguers worked in public view (and therefore enduring endless comments about 'medieval laptops'); although this wasn't necessarily a very convenient working arrangement for the cataloguers, it really helped to raise the profile of the library with staff and volunteers at the property, as well as the visitors.
The third talk that really made an impact on me was the last of the day. Patti Collins spoke about work to utilise and promote the 'Treasures' of Manchester Central Library. I found her talk really inspiring; she said that the special collections had at one point been viewed as elitist by the local council, and the Library had decided to overturn this view by making the special collections accessible to the public. Patti pointed out that the books in a public library service belong 'to the people', and that the people should be able not just to see them, but to touch them. The 'Treasures' programme has focussed on books with high visual appeal, to help overcome barriers of literacy and language, and they've held events for all ages and backgrounds in which visitors are allowed, invited, to handle the books themselves.
|'1598' by Ian Sane on Flickr|
This presentation prompted the (inevitable) discussion of access vs preservation, about which books were suitable to be handled, about the risks involved in letting people touch them, and about the requirement to preserve books for future scholars. Concerns about damage and security are, of course, warranted, but it's all a matter of context. In a public library, with books that aren't the only remaining copy of a text, I think it's superb to allow hands-on access. In some academic settings, this might not be possible for one reason or another. I think, however, that libraries should be looking seriously at developing handling collections of books, in the manner of museum handling collections. Whether these would be replicas showing different binding structures, or 'real' books deemed to be sufficiently non-rare to allow handling, or a combination of the two, this would allow us to escape the endless, circling worries about damage, and move on to more productive topics such as 'how will we actually reach out, and who will we reach?'.