Unique/special collections and engagement: a symbiotic relationship between collection development and community engagement

Sharon Bryan and Rachael McGarvey, James Cook University

Poster presentation
Thursday 1 September 2016, 12:15pm - 12:30pm


The Special Collections of the James Cook University Library include a number of unique collections, which act as a public asset for the university and offer a point of engagement with the wider community – reaching far beyond the students, staff and researchers of the university itself.  North Queensland specific collections such as the Archives Collection and Photographic Collection hold great interest to community members, private researchers and researchers from other institutions.  By actively promoting these collections in a variety of platforms including print media, blogs and radio interviews, the Special Collections Librarian has created a high profile for the library and the services it can offer the wider community beyond the university walls. This building of engagement was highly evident in the recent launch of the NQHeritage Repository.  This online repository extends our outreach far beyond the walls of the Special Collections reading room.  The launch of the repository gave us an opportunity to promote the collections, and also offered us an opportunity to strengthen our ties with various stakeholders – as well as demonstrate the value of the library and its collections to the university’s Chancellery. 

The Special Collections Librarian created an ongoing pattern of engagement to promote the existence and role of the library’s Special Collections.  This included promotion on the library’s social media pages, cooperation with the Townsville Bulletin and local historians, regular radio appearances to talk about different “objects” within the collections, and seeking out opportunities to give presentations at events run by community groups.  This continually builds the profile of the university and its collections.

The development of the repository involved targeting specific collections which were of wide interest and relevance to community groups and researchers beyond the university.  Donors who were still living were approached to be part of the project and made to feel they were actively contributing to the creation of something worthwhile and special.  Thus the profile of the library’s collections encourages donors to help develop the collections.

The Special Collections librarian then promoted the repository, culminating in a public launch which proved to be a highly effective method of community engagement.  The launch thus helped to strengthen the ties with our stakeholders as well as promoting the Special Collections to new users and new potential donors.

Over 140 people attended the launch, which was twice the attendance we originally expected.  Donors travelled to Townsville to take part in the event, which was launched by the Vice Chancellor of the university.  It was one of the most successful events ever hosted by the library, and people who attended the event later contacted the Special Collections librarian to inquire about donating to the collection or becoming one of our volunteers.

The launch of the NQHeritage Repository illustrates the symbiotic relationship between the development of the collections and community engagement, as it was engagement with the wider community that enabled us to develop the repository, and the promotion of the repository gave us the opportunity to engage with the wider community.  JCU’s Special Collections are one of our strengths and make us unique – they give us an avenue to engage users beyond the university.

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