Making the most of your special collections: Historic Libraries Forum annual conference, Bishopsgate Institute, 20 November 2012
Bishopsgate Institute was proud to host the Historic Libraries Forum’s annual conference in November, which was dedicated to the theme of “Making the most of your special collections”. In times like these, in addition to their traditional tasks every library needs to raise its profile, boost its marketability, and maximise the impact that collections and services have on audiences old and new. Clearly, this is well-understood by librarians across the country, as indicated by the fact that this conference sold out well in advance.
Attendees arrived eager to hear about new ways and means of getting their libraries and collections under the public eye. Most of the presentations at the event centred on one of three topics: curating public exhibitions based on your collections; using social media to promote your library; and marketing and managing your library and building as a venue for filming (for documentaries, drama, and the big screen). Speakers generally focussed on the benefits of these activities for generating income, raising the profile of your special collections, and making the most of your holdings and professional expertise to build new audiences and new links with communities: burning issues for all libraries, not least historic libraries, all of which are increasingly expected to “do more with less”.
Highlights for me included Alison Cullingford’s talk about how she uses blogs and Twitter to promote Bradford University Special Collections; Alison provided important perspective and emphasised how social media provide a public arena where it is easier for small institutions to “punch above their weight”. In reference to work on a bigger stage, Harvey Edgington from the National Trust gave an entertaining talk about filming. In contrast to the National Trust, few heritage organizations are well-placed to act as venues for big-budget movies such as Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Alice in Wonderland (2010), but there are a number of potential benefits to being featured in a production, big or small, that may make the inevitable challenges and frustrations worth facing.
The speakers were all very good, and others hailed from institutions including the British Library, Cambridge University, King’s College London, and Lambeth Palace. While most were understandably drawn from large organizations, conference attendees seemed to come from a wide variety of institutions, including a large proportion from small or independent libraries and archives like our own. During the breaks, it was great to meet old and new friends in the profession, and to discuss ways of meeting the challenges and opportunities of the current period.
I found the talks to be very stimulating and finished the day with a number of new ideas. I was excited by the discussion about a potential future event on promoting and preserving digital collections; this is an area we are working on at Bishopsgate. On a personal note, I was also very pleased with the reaction of people to Bishopsgate as the conference venue: visitors appreciated our building and library for their visual appeal and distinctiveness, and we were also complimented on our efficiency as a venue hire service.
The Historic Libraries Forum is committed to promoting and protecting historic libraries and collections, and also serves as a forum for people working with these collections to share information and ideas. For more information about the Historic Libraries Forum, visit www.historiclibrariesforum.org.uk.