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I WAS PLEASED TO ACCEPT F. W. Lancaster's invitation to add to the legacy of Michele Cloonan's 1987 Library Trends issue, "Recent Trends in Rare Book Librarianship," with a 2003 version, "Special Collections in the Twenty-First Century." Professor Cloonan and Dr. Sidney Berger graciously agreed to write a reflective, transitional piece for this issue. I will be happy to do the honors for my successor.
Professor Lancaster was apparently intrigued by my August 2000 American Libraries article, coauthored with Paul Saenger, about the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)/Newberry Library joint acquisitions program for medieval manuscripts. I remember how pleased I was at the time to enter into such an agreement. It felt innovative but sensible, and included much of what I find "new" about the special collections field at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We managed to craft this agreement--between a private independent research library and a huge, bureaucratic public university--and agree on a means to transport the fully insured manuscripts back and forth securely. These three shared manuscripts benefit the book history programs at the Newberry and the medieval studies program at UIUC. Students have already embarked on detailed studies of these manuscripts. An April 2000 joint reception at the Newberry Library to celebrate this collaboration was attended by Chicago-area UIUC alumni. Dr. Saenger, the architect of this innovative program, has brought the manuscripts to campus on two occasions, to make them available for an international medieval studies conference and to lecture on early Biblical manuscripts and concordances. Happily, Dr. Saenger agreed to describe the Newberry program more fully for this issue. Aside from the fact that these manuscripts are obviously a rich addition to our collection, they are being used--for traditional scholarship, for exhibits, and for public programs to inspire our alumni to support our library's mission.
The philosophy of resource-sharing inherent in such agreements has the potential to build bridges and influence the perceptions of library colleagues in other research library units. Special collections, too, can control acquisitions costs by implementing our own version of interlibrary loan. While I believe that special collections need to remain "special," twenty-first-century fiscal and political realities mandate that they be integral to the larger institution. After all, many special collections materials don't start out as "rare," but as part of the general collections. One envisions a continuum of books, steadily moving from the central stacks to special collections as they deteriorate physically, become scarce, of are subject to theft or vandalism. More than ever, we are part of the whole.
SPECIAL COLLECTIONS AS AN INSTITUTIONAL RESPONSIBILITY
Special collections libraries in many institutions still need to justify their existence to administrators, legislators, and donors, not to mention other library colleagues. We can no longer assume--if we ever could--that every research library can afford the stewardship and time-intensive …