Many libraries separate collection development activities into two broad categories, that of “general” collections versus “special” collections. Although this makes for a clean distinction between two areas of library activity (roughly the work of librarians as distinct and separate from that of archivists), in between these two poles lie “distinctive collections” – items that are neither especially rare nor unique (special), but are also not run-of-the-mill monographs or journals. Government documents, numeric datasets, ephemera, area collections, audiovisual media, born-digital materials – these are all recognized subsets of library collections with their own frameworks (more or less developed) for acquisition, cataloging/metadata, preservation, inter-institutional collaboration. Falling as they do somewhere between “general” and the “special” collections, these distinctive collections are often overlooked in traditional collection development and public service activities.
This panel discussion will demonstrate that failing to understand distinctive collections on their own terms is a mistake. A full appreciation of “distinctive collections” allows libraries to think creatively about a number of timely issues, including how much of selection duties can be outsourced through patron-driven acquisitions and approval plans, the role of collaborative collection development, and appropriate resource allocation to the acquisition and management of these collections. This session will present a big-picture overview of how distinctive collections and their management fit into the overall collection profile of a library, and case studies of distinctive collections along the continuum within a single research university library. Attendees will take away a conceptual framework for distinctive collections and an appreciation for how this framework might guide some of the more pressing issues facing the profession.