Marketing Special Collections

From my cubicle, dressed as a reference desk, I can see the entire library. Five shelving units, an end table, and a halved table house our collection. Given our stature, you’d think visibility and browsing would not be a problem. Our Criminal Justice (CJ) Department Chair in tandem with past and present library staff members started a wonderful community policing reserve collection. However, unearthly dust balls blanketed these resources, obscuring them from potential users.

Quietly tucked away between the course reserves and Engineering and Design were rich resources from the Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, and the Department Chair’s personal library. After surviving the Dust Bowl, I carefully combed through each document attempting to uncover why these materials were not being used. The government documents and tool kits were not only current, but also highly specialized, informative, and accessible.

After becoming engrossed with a gang threat assessment toolkit, I reached out to our CJ chair, whereupon we implemented the following initiatives (Well, not all at once, but I have to keep the story going):

1. Increase collection’s visibility

Students cannot use what they do not know is there. The collection was placed on our halved table in front of the Librarian’s desk. I created attractive signage and printed a catalog of collection items for patrons to peruse. (Note: Our library does not have an online catalog for our physical collection.)

2. Invest in the collection

Roughly 90% of the collection was current and relevant, but the rest needed to be weeded. Working alongside the CJ chair, I eliminated those items and created space for new resources. I distributed copies of the inventory to all CJ instructors, which led to one instructor donating 5 true crime books. My interest in their special collection led to improved partnerships with the entire program. Plus, our departments revived interest in a great resource which had long been abandoned.

3. Integrate into the curriculum

Instead of my standard bibliographic instruction lecture on plagiarism, research, and APA citation, I experimented with a hands-on APA activity. With the CJ chair, I created a research assignment for his students. The students had to find sources in our periodicals collection, the Virtual Library, and within the special collection. As this went well in our CJ chair’s class, he encouraged other instructors to request the same session for their classes. A couple of quarters later, the CJ thesis students have all consulted the collection for their papers. Success!

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