by Tim Johnson, Curator of Special Collections & Rare Books; E. W. McDiarmid Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections
Much of what we do happens beyond the public eye. Rarely do students, faculty, or researchers observe us unpacking collections, crafting finding aids, or scanning materials. However, all of these activities--and more--have a profound impact on how information consumers discover and use archival and special collections. We constantly scan our own procedures and practices looking for ways to improve service and access.
One example of this "back office" work involves our rare book collections. These volumes constitute some of the "crown jewels" in the Libraries' catalog and are found in various repositories around (and off) campus. Primary gatherings of rare books are found in the Charles Babbage Institute, the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine, the James Ford Bell Library, Special Collections & Rare Books, the Riesenfeld Rare Books Research Center in the Law Library, and the Andersen Horticultural Library at the University's Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen.
For the past several months, staff members from these collections have engaged with colleagues from cataloging and metadata services to review the Libraries' rare book cataloging policy. You, gentle reader, might be tempted at this point to offer a disinterested yawn or plead to be spared a microscopic examination of a rare book catalog record. Consider your plea heard; the remainder of this post will not dive into the minutia of such a process. But we do want to share with you a few tidbits from the process and the kind of questions considered from a researcher's perspective.