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Blowing The Dust Off Rare Books And Special Collections

Ms Elizabeth Litting

University of Sydney

Background: The University of Sydney Library is home to one of the country’s most impressive Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) departments. Since a significant organisational restructure in 2015, RBSC has sat within the Academic Services division, distinct from the general collection which falls within the division responsible for all other resources. Academic Services is home to the Liaison Librarian teams, and

is the primary conduit for research and education support to the faculties and research centres of the university. This very deliberate positioning aims to improve the opportunities for connections with teaching and research via increased outreach and promotional activity with the university community. Methods: Since a change in RBSC management

in 2016, a number of new outreach and digital ‘experiments’ have been implemented. Among them: ‘Rare Bites’, a lecture series featuring academics speaking passionately about lesser known items in the collection, ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ to introduce new and exciting items from the collection to Library staff , and ‘Rare Brews’ - a brewing competition using recipes found in the collections. In the digital space, we have experimented with creating a virtual exhibition space, and creating rich experiences through students as curators video content (to varying success...). We are also gearing up for the launch of our new Digital Asset Management system, which will enhance discoverability and usability of our rare and special items.

Findings: Results have been mixed - engagement with the lecture series varies wildly depending on the speaker and topic (eg. Dr Karl talking about Isaac Newton’s Principia was a full house, other talks have not fared so well). Rare Brews reached an audience that had never engaged with us before (and really captured the imagination of students). The challenge with our digital activities has been to find a balance between an exciting experience for users and a platform that staff can sustain.

Discussion: All of our activities are continuing works in progress and evaluation is ongoing. The proposed presentation would be very much along the lines of “this worked really well!” and “that was an epic fail and let us never speak of it again”.

(A copy of this presentation is unfortunately not available).