Thursday, May 31, 2007

Joint Statement on Access to Original Research Materials

I will be attending the RBMS Preconference in Baltimore next month, but since I won't be staying for the annual ALA conference, I thought I would take the opportunity now to make some comments on the draft revisions to the ACRL-SAA Joint Statement on Access to Original Research Materials which has been circulated in advance of the public meeting to be held Saturday June 23, Washington Convention Center, Room 147B, 4:00-5:30 pm.

As a point of reference, the 1994 Statement is available from the ACRL website here.

While some of the wording has been reworked to be clearer or more concise, the bulk of the 2007 draft document remains the same in spirit. The two new items I noticed were both related in some way to what I'll call "researcher relations": one is a new stipulation that repositories "should also instruct researchers in proper handling of fragile materials" and the other is an expanded section on Publicity, moved from the number three slot to number two on the list.

On handling fragile materials: an excellent addition. Certainly, we can no longer expect that researchers who come to use special materials have had previous training in handling of library materials in bibliographic instruction classes (if, indeed, we could ever really have expected that). If they don't know the proper way to approach fragile materials, can we blame them for causing inadvertent damage? And if the Statement requires repository staff to provide this training, it is a welcome admission that special collections staff themselves should know how to handle these materials. (British Library embarrassment, anyone?)

On Publicity: an exciting upgrade! As some of you may have noticed, I love to crow about the latest whatever we've received, whether or not it's going to be physically accessible today, tomorrow, or a year from now. Patrons are our reason for existence, and repositories that cannot see the benefits of publicity are doomed to extinction.

On the Statement: although the sentiments conveyed by this document may seem obvious to those of us who work in special collections, I can personally attest to its usefulness and necessity. Shortly before I began work here in August 2003, new policies and procedures were being written for the Historical Collections & Archives. At that time, well-meaning library staff members suggested that we charge researchers for access. Our archivist, who had come on the scene here just a few months prior, mounted a stand against this tactic on the basis of professional ethics. The Statement is a critical tool for special collections staff everywhere who seek help in explaining the ethics of equal access. If you work in a special collections setting--whether as a staff member or as a researcher--you'll benefit from reading this document.

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