Observations on Scholarly Engagement with Hidden Special Collections and Archives was a multi-year study of the ways that librarians and archivists structured and developed relationships with scholars in the course of the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives projects. The study described then-current practices, while also encouraging substantive conversation between librarians, archivists, and expert users about those practices. Interim reports of this study were released in 2010 and 2011 (pdfs).
What is “scholarly engagement”? And who qualifies as a “scholar”?
The term scholarly engagement is defined as interaction with collections that results in the creation of new knowledge. Such knowledge—whether created by academic faculty, independent researchers, filmmakers, artists, journalists, students, or librarians and archivists themselves—is typically reviewed by peers, absorbed into educational curricula, and/or able to be collected and preserved for future generations. Any individual undertaking the work of knowledge production may therefore be considered a scholar for the purposes of the study. The study recognized and honored the challenges and tensions between the distinct cultures of the scholar and archivist, but also sought to uncover the common ground in which both are rooted.
Why study scholarly engagement?
Without productive engagement between people and collections, rare and unique materials—even if processed and cataloged—remain dormant. The individuals who teach, create, and publish using original sources bring library materials to new audiences and are well positioned to serve as powerful advocates for libraries and archives. Moreover, the librarians and archivists who ensure the physical safety and accessibility of collections need scholarly users’ support not only to build public awareness of collections, but also to help maintain an ongoing focus on the mission and wider significance of their own work.