Nadia Nasr 2016-11-16 12:47:30
Acquisition of materials housed in Archives and Special Collections (A&SC) at Santa Clara University (SCU) in northern California has been ongoing for nearly 250 years. However, library correspondence from 1994 denotes hesitation about making a “REAL decision on whether or not we should be in this business.” Yet almost fifteen years later, the library opened a new building with a suite of facilities for administering special collections and a task force assembled to review holdings and set strategic priorities for this area. More recent changes in both the library and the A&SC department have renewed the need for the library to articulate a clear vision for its unique collections in keeping with its vision as a vibrant and vital center for learning. Origins and Evolution A&SC’s collections include books and manuscripts acquired by the Franciscan friars who founded and administered Mission Santa Clara from 1777–1851. These materials were transferred to Italian Jesuits who founded SCU in 1851 on the grounds of the mission. The Jesuits continued to collect books for use by both Jesuit and lay faculty, as well as students, and generated manuscripts in the form of various university records, personal papers, and manuscript material. Today, these are housed alongside a reading room and gallery space in the Harrington Learning Commons, a building opened in 2008 that incorporated standards-based security and environmental conditions for housing special collections. Construction of this building brought about the first major turning point for A&SC by organizationally resituating the University Archives and the library’s special collections under the administration of a single department for the first time. Until 1985, the first keepers of rare books and archival collections at SCU were Jesuits who wore many hats as teachers and administrators of the school. The first non-Jesuit archivist reported to the library beginning in 2000. By 2009, the library had added staff to better support administering its unique collections, realigned department oversight under the leadership of a new department head position, and then later reallocated a digital initiatives librarian position to increase online access to collections. This gradual forward momentum built up to a second dramatic turning point for A&SC in 2014: an external consultant’s review of Technical Services prompted a reallocation of positions to other functions of the library in order to better support electronic resources, archival processing, digital initiatives, and special collections. This reorganization added two permanent staff members to A&SC, bringing the total number to six. When I started work at SCU in June 2015, the dust of the recent reorganization had begun to settle and my position had been vacant for about two years. During that time the library underwent changes in its executive leadership team, making me the fourth direct supervisor for three team members. I found myself working with excellent staff in need of a clearly articulated vision for the department and cohesion among team members coping with a new landscape after significant and dramatic change. Charting a Path Forward This past winter I organized and co-facilitated a departmental planning retreat. Our conversations began with highlights from two key reports on archives and special collections: Judith Panitch’s Special Collections in ARL Libraries: Results of the 1998 Survey Sponsored by the ARL Research Committee (2001); and Jackie M. Dooley and Katherine Luce’s Taking Our Pulse: the OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives (2010), which built on and expanded Panitch’s report. Using these as context, A&SC staff discussed our shared purpose and individual success statements for the next three years. Brainstorming resulted in thirty-eight success statements which we organized into four broad themes. Individuals identified three to five of those statements that they might transform into goals for the next review period. After the retreat, I further distilled the themes and success statements into the following strategic priorities. Priority 1: Manage and Preserve Our Collections The first priority focuses on improving overall access to collections and assessing the magnitude of our backlog of uncataloged and unprocessed material. A revised collection development policy will lay the groundwork for fine-tuning our holdings to better reflect our collecting strengths. Addressing conservation and preservation issues, developing and implementing a disaster recovery plan, and preserving and making accessible digitized and born digital materials will help ensure access to collections for the future. Priority 2: Support Student Success Managing and preserving our collections will lay a solid groundwork for our second priority, which is to support student success. We intend to do this by strengthening and expanding our collaborations with faculty to incorporate the use of archival, special, and digital collections in classroom instruction and by providing one-on-one support to students using these materials for classwork. Assessment of these activities will enable us to determine the impact of our efforts and identify areas for improvement. Cultivation of a robust internship program will provide immersive experiences that allow students to work with our materials and explore opportunities within the archival profession. Priority 3: Engage All Researchers Our third priority reflects our service to unique communities within and outside of SCU and builds on the work we will do to manage and preserve our collections and support student success. Sharing descriptive collection information with union catalogs and leveraging the potential for 24/7 access to materials online will allow us to reach a broad research audience and increase the profile of our parent institution. Closer to home, we hope to enable the creation of new courses within the SCU curriculum that engage students in the use of primary research material, stimulate critical thinking skills, and promote a better understanding of how the past can inform the present and future. Priority 4: Marketing and Donor Development Finally, our fourth priority focuses on targeted outreach activities that raise awareness about our collections and services, thoughtfully and strategically increases our holdings, and attracts donors whose interests share an affinity with our collecting focus or who may wish to contribute financial support to our programs and services. Outcomes Almost a year has passed since we started the process of articulating our strategic priorities. Since then, I have shared them through formal presentations to our library leadership team, at monthly meetings of library employees, and at this year’s annual meeting of the Society of California Archivists. Feedback in these venues has been positive, with comments focused on the coherence these priorities bring to the department, the collaborative way in which they were developed, and their thoroughness in addressing all functional areas of the unit. Although we have not yet formally assessed our progress in relation to the various indicators of success, we have internalized these big ideas and begun to implement small, positive changes in response. Developing strategic priorities is a major accomplishment, a rudder to steer our ship and an activity that poised us to make meaningful contributions not only to this year’s strategic plan but also to the ongoing teaching and research mission of Santa Clara University
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