Special Collections and Access to Library Materials

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I think a lot about how libraries are perceived these days.  I have met students who see libraries as wonderful welcoming places, and others who find libraries intimidating and institutional.  It’s not just students who feel that way about libraries–a scholar and librarian writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education that he, had an encounter with a special collections librarian that made him feel unwelcome.  I should say here, I’m pretty unsympathetic to his dilemma, descending as he did on a private library of unique items, and expecting to be able to page through the books right off.  However, I think it’s interesting fodder for conversation.

In fact, I think the most interesting part of that column is the comments section–it contains a lively discussion about what librarians and patrons want from Special Collections.  I think that many of the same points can be made about libraries generally.  It can frequently be difficult to balance what patrons desire with what is necessary to keep the library functioning well, and to provide access to information.

So, how do you feel about libraries?  How do you feel about Atkins in particular?  Now that people are using the library 24/7, it seems busier than ever.  I think at least some of you are here because you like it.

Or am I wrong?

2 thoughts on “Special Collections and Access to Library Materials

  1. Katie

    As a Special Collections Librarian here at Atkins, I can say our materials are here to be used and we welcome everyone to come see us. I have seen many students come off the elevators on the 10th floor, look into the room behind the glass doors, and turn right back around becuase they feel like we are not open to them. It’s true that we have different hours and that the way materials are handled in Special Collections is different than in other areas of the library but, ultimately, we are here for you.

    The article in the Chronicle is hard to judge, I can actually empathize with the writer’s experiences (having myself been denied access or treated rudely in other special collections libraries) but I think it is too bad that so many of the comments suggest that all Special Collections libraries and librarians are rude and treat their collections like private objects. It is a good reminder to us about how we can be percieved in our dual efforts to preserve and provide access to unique materials, but I would like to think that here at Atkins we always provide service and information in a welcoming way.

    Want to find out what we have, browse our shelves, or do in depth research with one of a kind materials? Come see us Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm on the 10th floor of Atkins and we’ll be happy to help!

  2. Audrey

    Ha, ha, ha. I am one of those students mentioned above. The ten floor, for me at least, is a sacred space. Perhaps the feeling is from the glass enclosure and signs. The vibe I feel is not of exclusion, but of purpose. Personally, I think I need a purpose to validate entering this space. Is my reason for entering Special Collection worth it? I have gone to the tenth floor three times in two years. I guess I have not proven myself worthy of entering this realm. Ha, I’m weird.

    Until then, I guess I will stick to the seventh floor where it’s nice and quiet.

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