Book Reviews

RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage reviews books, reports, new periodicals, databases, websites, blogs, and other electronic resources, as well as exhibition, book, and auction catalogs pertaining directly and indirectly to the fields of rare book librarianship, manuscripts curatorship, archives management, and special collections administration. Publishers, librarians, and archivists are asked to send appropriate publications for review or notice to the Reviews Editor.

Due to space limitations, it may not be possible for all books received to be reviewed in RBM. Books or publication announcements should be sent to the Reviews Editor: Amy Cooper Cary, Raynor Memorial Library, Marquette University, 1415 W. Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53233-2221, e-mail: amy.cary@marquette.edu, (414) 288-5901.

Alison Cullingford. The Special Collections Handbook, Second Edition. London: Facet Publishing, 2017. 336p. $85.00 (ISBN 978-1-78330-126-3).

Alison Cullingford’s The Special Collections Handbook provides information specialists with a timely guide to managing the rapid and continuous changes buffeting today’s libraries, archives, and museums. First published in 2011 during the global recession, the book focuses on all aspects of special collections work. The work is informed by the ongoing political and economic uncertainties caused by budget cuts and austerity policies in the cultural heritage and education sectors. Since the book’s initial publication, information specialists have recognized the need to “tell their story” and demonstrate their value to parent organizations, donors, and community members. Advocacy and community engagement are now seen as being critical business functions. Indeed, Cullingford argues that librarians and archivists must adopt a new “mind-set” (along with skills and tools) if they are to be successful in the digital era. The revised and greatly expanded 2017 second edition of The Special Collections Handbook examines this new mentality and professional shift in priorities. According to the author, special collections specialists must embrace innovation, entrepreneurialism, and marketing to navigate the current turbulent information environment.

Drawing on her work as a librarian, Alison Cullingford brings a practitioner’s sensibility to the discussion of the profession’s core concepts, best practices, and emerging trends. Serving as the special collections librarian at the University of Bradford, Cullingford’s firsthand experience working with collections informs her examination of such curatorial challenges as “hidden collections” and the preservation of analog and digital holdings. Additionally, her time spent in a university setting has afforded her a strong command of library instruction and trends in digital scholarship. As a coauthor of the OCLC survey of special collections and archives in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Cullingford has a comprehensive understanding of the challenges and arising opportunities in the cultural heritage field. Furthermore, her management of the 2014 Unique and Distinctive Collections Project for Research Libraries UK placed her at the center of a discussion to reconsider the term “special collections.”

One of the great strengths of The Handbook is its clear and structured presentation of information. Indeed, the author notes that the book’s chapter structure is intentionally designed to map with the UK’s Archive Service Accreditation Standard. The book provides the reader with concise definitions of key terms as well as outlining central questions being considered within the field. For example, Cullingford argues that the term “special collections” must be considered in the context in which it is being used. She insists that collections should not only be considered “special” because of their preservation needs but because of their potential relevance. This expanded definition of “special collections” informs the book’s discussion of how to adopt a more external facing approach to operations and programming. While the book heavily references UK and European library practices and standards, Cullingford does attempt to provide a more global perspective through the use of case studies and readings that are drawn from the United States and Commonwealth countries.

The 2017 second edition of The Special Collections Handbook contains more than one hundred pages of new content. Within this expanded volume, the author retains all of the chapters found in the original 2011 publication. These thoughtful and well-documented chapters address such topics as: care of special collections; emergency planning; understanding objects in special collections; acquiring and developing special collections; cataloguing, description, and metadata; legal and ethical issues; user services; marketing and communications; access; influencing; and fundraising. Each of the ten chapters has been revised to include new case studies and updated lists of relevant readings, influential blogs, and useful websites. Furthermore, three out of the ten original chapters are significantly expanded to incorporate new subchapters of content. In her chapter on cataloging, description, and metadata, Cullingford discusses linked data and library cataloging and the emergence of RDA and BIBFRAME. The author expanded her chapter on marketing and communications to address the opportunities and risks of employing a social media strategy. And, in her chapter on advocacy and fundraising, Cullingford devoted a new section on the importance of using metrics to demonstrate value.

Two new chapters were added to the 2017 second edition of The Handbook. They focus on digitization and the management of organizational resources. With the astonishing growth of digitized collections online, Cullingford argues that special collections professionals need to adopt this transformative tool as a means of promoting collections and their use. At the same time, she acknowledges that the establishment of a digitization program requires an organization to shift resources and staff, embrace new tools and skills, change its notions of ownership and access, as well as planning for a possible drop in user visits. Cullingford concludes that the benefits of a digitization program (access, use, and visibility) far exceed any potential disruptions to the organization’s operations.

While acknowledging that the current economic and political environment has librarians “doing more with less,” Alison Cullingford argues that the ultimate success of special collections rests on the willingness of professionals to try new ideas and their ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The 2017 second edition of The Special Collections Handbook offers the reader an engaging, informative, and strategic road map to overseeing and promoting unique and distinctive collections. This book is an essential read for special collections professionals and library administrators, as well as graduate students who are just entering the field.—Keith Phelan Gorman, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

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