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Collaborating for Impact: Special Collections and Liaison Librarian Partnerships. Eds. Kristen Totleben and Lori Birrell. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, 2016. 270p. $60.00 (ISBN 978-083898883-1).

“In a twenty-first-century academic library, its unique collections distinguish it from other libraries.” So reads the first line of Collaborating for Impact: Special Collections and Liaison Librarian Partnerships, which focuses on ways that special collections librarians and liaison librarians in academic libraries have worked together to benefit their libraries and campuses. The volume is edited by two librarians from the University of Rochester who themselves are special collections and liaison librarians.

Collaborating for Impact begins with a chapter containing a literature review, which sets up the book well to differentiate between the work already done on this topic and why the case studies in this book are unique. The chapter also asks great questions for further exploration. From there, the volume moves on to two other research-based chapters. The first focuses on collecting policies of academic libraries and how to create a framework for collecting that incorporates special collections. The next chapter covers object-based pedagogy, and how liaison and special collections librarians can work together to bring fascinating objects into the classroom to deepen student learning. These three chapters stand alone and read better as individual essays than as part of the larger collection.

The bulk of the book consists of thirteen chapters, each containing short case studies, varied both in subject matter and project/application. Each case study concludes with sections entitled “Impact,” “Lessons Learned,” and “Next Steps.” These summarize each case study well and provide concrete advice for those who are interested in similar projects.

Of the projects included, all but one are from research-level universities; thus, smaller institutions may not have the resources to conduct partnerships at the scale discussed. However, the chapters read less like a “how-to” manual and more like inspiration to think of your own collaboration project in your setting with your unique collections. Topics that librarians have collaborated on include Shakespeare, comics, foreign language materials, and collaborative exhibit design.

The first set of case studies is considered “Collection Stewardship.” One example of a collection stewardship project took place at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). In their special collections, they own a number of artists’ books: “materials conceived and created by an artist as art, which comes in the form of a book or a book-like object.” The librarians at UIUC worked together to collect, organize, and promote this collection. This included forming instruction sessions around artists’ books and collaboratively writing a collection development policy. The librarians have found great value in this project: “It provided the impetus to consider the special collections as an extension [of the main collection] rather than a separate collection.” It also caused numerous conversations on collaboration both within the library and with other stakeholders.

The next section of the book includes “Projects, Research, and Exhibitions.” Librarians at Pitt Theology Library created a unique program that enabled volunteer docents to lead special collections tours and work on projects. This allowed the librarians to pass on some of their specialty knowledge to the docents; it also freed up librarian time for other projects. Additionally, this has made the special collections accessible to a wide range of patrons who may not have otherwise set foot in the library, including homeschooled students, Sunday school groups, and local high school students.

The last set of case studies focuses on “Instruction.” One example from this set is a project at the University of Rochester that translated AIDS Education posters. This is a digital collection of more than eight thousand posters in more than seventy-five languages. Prior to this project, an English translation for most of the posters was not available. The librarians at the University of Rochester collaborated with four foreign language instructors to add the translation project as a piece of the design for their classes. As a follow-up to this project, a Russian undergraduate student volunteered to translate additional posters and even received a grant to do further research with the posters.

The largest weakness of this volume is, due to the number of authors, that it lacks a feeling of cohesion. It reads more like a collection of essays, available for the reader to pick and choose based on the project of each case study. This is especially apparent in the first three chapters, which have no transition from one to another. If read in conjunction with one another, chapters 1 and 3 become especially repetitive in framing the liaison librarian/special collections librarian relationship.

Despite this weakness, this volume is likely to be interesting and inspirational to many special collections librarians. As they identify librarians with whom they wish to collaborate, a great first step to forming collaborations would be sharing some of the case studies with their colleague(s). In the words of Culbertson and Jackson, “It is therefore their hope that librarians everywhere will consider collaborating and exploring creative problem-solving for unprecedented and worthwhile pursuits.”—Ruth Szpunar, DePauw University

Copyright Ruth Szpunar


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