In the 21st century, libraries are well aware of the problem of hidden collections and so must seek by computer technology to make these “virtually” hidden collections available to our clients in a single, easy-to-use database. The Kentucky Library & Museum (KYLM), which opened in 1939, houses the special collections department of Western Kentucky University Libraries, and holds materials collected from 1919 to the present. Special collection libraries and archives such as the KYLM are known for their diversity of materials including manuscripts, ephemera, institutional records, maps, images, objects, audio and video recordings. These collections are of great research value to scholars across disciplines. Traditionally, access records for KYLM collections were produced in the analog forms of card files and legacy finding aids, thus limiting their use to in-house researchers. As the library’s OPAC developed, bibliographic records were created for books and periodicals housed in the Kentucky Library, as well as some collection level records for manuscript and university archives collections. However, museum objects, photographs and Folklife archives, as well as other non-book collections had never been entered into the library OPAC and were accessed only through paper finding aids. These roadblocks to the collected knowledge of the KYLM primary sources limited the use of our intellectual capital and the production of new intellectual property.
The problem of hidden collections in libraries across the country is one that has been addressed particularly by the Association of Research Libraries special collections libraries survey conducted in 1998. TheARL Special Collections Task Force summarized the results of the survey in 2001 identifying many unique issues. The “hidden” collections are deemed:
• vulnerable to theft
• inaccessible to researchers because of distance or availability and the financial hardships created by traveling to collections
• inaccessible due to dependence on staff for their institutional memory
• exceptional, resulting in omission during retrospective cataloging or in the creation of substandard guides (Jones, 2009, p.3).
Barbara M. Jones and Judith M. Pantich (2004) have also observed that “[t]he problem of hidden collections is one of the oldest and most vexing in modern archives and libraries. Unprocessed and under processed backlogs of special collections are, for all intents and purposes, unavailable and often unknown to scholars. They are demoralizing and frustrating to librarians and archivists. They prevent us from realizing to the fullest possible extent our professional commitments to public service, to teaching, and to outreach.”
- Hidden Collections,
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/slathrop/1/