Can special libraries be too “out of touch”?

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As National Library Week is coming to a close, we reflect on all the things that are libraries have done for us. At the same time, libraries across the country have also been showing their appreciation for what they do for their communities. For example this great parody:

But as I saw libraries celebrating their existence, I noticed that certain type of libraries were missing from the celebrations-special collection libraries.

I’m not saying special collections libraries remove themselves from the celebrations but it did get me thinking. Why such a low prescience of special libraries taking part in National Library Week? People might answer “public libraries require the most funding so they have to put themselves out there.” “Putting themselves out there”, that is the key phrase I want to discuss here, are special collection libraries out of touch with the public?

I currently work in an academic special collections library. We get a lot of researchers that come through our institution, including undergrad and grad students. But we do get our patrons who think they are entitled to everything. And I’m not talking about “our taxes fund public libraries” patron but “we donated money to the library and we should have a say on how it is run” patron. You see, there is an exclusivity feel in the library but is that exclusivity hurting us?

All this week, not one of my colleagues mentioned that this National Library Week. There are no exhibitions, no events, nothing remotely reflecting this event. All that was discuss was particular patrons visiting libraries and what we can do to make them comfortable. I am not against idea. All patrons who enter any library should be made comfortable. But certain patrons should not be getting “special treatment” due to their prominence in a field or how much money they donated. As we were taught in library school, libraries are open for all.

The lack of social media also makes a huge difference. We have a rarely updated Facebook and Twitter page and blog that is only used to announce events that are occurring at our library. I am not saying that all special collections library lack a social media presence, for example this great Tumblr page: Special Collections & Archives at Mizzou. We have a lot great stuff at our library and for some reason we choose not to advertise it all, whether it is through exhibitions or on a blog.

How can we complain that there are not enough people who care about libraries when we ourselves refuse to adopt to the social changes that can help our libraries? How can claim that special collections are important when we neglect to do any advocacy of our own? We choose to help only those elite and the public will continue to think of us that way. And there’s a chance that special collections may the way of 3 1/2 floppy disk: obsolete. And we definitely do not want that to happen

Maybe it also has to do with the type of special collections we are discussing here. A friend of mine visited two special collection libraries: one academic and one public. In her opinion, she felt that the public special collections library showed them more interesting stuff and their enthusiasm for their collections was infectious compared to the academic library. The public special collections library was more appreciative of what they had and were more likely to increase enthusiasm of what they had.

And I think that is the point I am trying to make here. Most special collection libraries feel that they are immune to challenges that face the library profession, mainly the prestigious ones. They feel that their name speaks for itself and trying to advocate relevancy to the public is a moot point. But, you see, that is a huge mistake, all libraries, whatever type they are, will face challenges especially in this digital climate. Having this type of exclusivity is only hindering that process.

Special Collection libraries, the era of chained books is over:

https://medievalfragments.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/tumblr_lzi6nnaux61qfg4oyo1_1280.jpg?w=531&h=375
Chained Library in Hereford, England

Isn’t it time to remove “exclusivity ” from our field and replace it with “openness”?

I would like you guys to answer this question:

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