Special Collections on a Shoestring: A Survey of Non-ARL Libraries Servicing Rare Book Collections

Lynne M. Thomas


This article reports the first national survey that creates a baseline for documenting the experience of working with rare books in libraries without Association of Research Libraries (ARL) membership: a group of libraries that make up about half the field of librarians working with rare books. Scarcely studied despite decades of comparable studies of their ARL library colleagues, librarians working in non-ARL rare book collections have comparable demographics, professional training, and standards for their work as their peers in ARL libraries. Their experiences doing the work in non-ARL libraries demonstrate a significant disparity in resources for acquisitions, security, staffing, and fundraising. These experiences of half of the special collections professionals in the field require further study, reintroducing their narratives into our understanding of “what rare books librarianship looks like.”

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