I was attending a study group at my college library the other day when my group and I decided to look for some information to help pilot us in our group project. We looked up our subject matter and wrote down the call numbers and then went ‘shopping for books.’ I noticed that, although the subject matter was on the same topic, there were several different areas (and even different floors) that our books were to be found.
I attend Bowling Green State University (BGSU) and their library has two special collections-a Music and Sound Recordings Archive, and a Popular Culture Collection. Neither of these are unanticipated, and in fact go hand in hand because music is an annex of popular culture and BGSU is the only university in the country that has a Popular Culture Department that you can receive an undergraduate degree from. The library that I work at has a special collection of books and catalogues about Japanese Netsukes. It is most often filled by the generous donations of Norman Sandfield, a Chicago based collector of Netsuke information and memorabilia.
However, while I was looking for my books at BGSU, I began to cogitate about the idea of special collections. What makes a collection special? Aren’t all collections special? I know that by definition it’s a collection of specific materials within a library’s collection. I was thinking more abstractedly about the idea of generating this collection and what it says about the community.
The initiative of a special collection is to make the library visit inimitable to that library. If you have a question about Japanese Netsuke, the Toledo Museum of Art Reference Library is a good place to start. Likewise, if you want to research Bob Dylan, you may want to head to the Jerome Library on the campus of BGSU and go to either the fourth floor for Popular Culture or the third floor for the Music and Sound Recordings.
In the Future..
It would be fascinating to have a consortium of all of the special collections; perhaps convened by city, state, country, and then cross referenced by subject matter. Is there another Netsuke special collection out there? Bowling Green State University may have the only Popular Culture department, but that doesn’t mean their library is the only one with a special collection of popular culture material. Furthermore, it would be of interest to libraries, to confer with their patrons if there is a need for a special collection. Does the community want or use the collection that already exists? Does the community want a new special collection and what should it echo about that community? This idea of a special collection may be a perfect opportunity for a dialogue and caucus with the community to better attend their needs.