Promoting “Hidden Collections”


Recently I have been investigating how special collections can be promoted effectively. This has involved looking at the work of other Libraries, museums and archives together with a quick scan of the literature available. Here are some really rough notes relating to my findings.

Developing a virtual presence –

Feedback on this area included ensuring that items are catalogued effectively and that these records can subsequently be accessed easily. Where possible people have recommended the digitization of images and text so users can get a real insight into the collection. The development of effective user driven webpages together with clear sign-posting is another area drawn out from a number of articles and examples of best practice.

In addition to these more static resources there could also be online exhibitions or a “treasure of the month” type approach to maintain interest.

The use of web 2.0 tools (e.g. links/ info/ images of collections in Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Podcasts; Videos; Flickr etc.) was a popular resource used by organisations both in the UK, America and Australia.

Linking from external webpages could also help to raise the profile of collections e.g. through regional special collections consortium etc.

Events and Exhibitions

In addition to the potential for enhancing the virtual profile of collections there is also the possibility for developing events and exhibits to encourage people to interact more with the collection.

From the examples looked at special collections events included talks from people who have used the collections. Curriculum development was another way of promoting collections – a number of examples demonstrated the involvement of staff and students to develop modules incorporating the resources.

Exhibitions both within the library/ museum/ archive or on tour in other departments was another approach employed by some organisations. This included having themed exhibitions that incorporate the opportunity for people to actually see the collection and where possible to interact with the resources. In a number of instances these exhibitions were complimented with related on-line exhibitions.


A number of organisations run outreach events to open the collections up to wider communities both locally, nationally and internationally. This in turn helps in some cases to raise the profile of the collections and the institution who hold the collection. In a number of examples events, exhibitions, a web presence and links from other organisations/ institutions assisted with this.

Placing the collections into context
One key theme that came out of the brief scan on promoting hidden collections was the need to place the collection into context in order to give people an understanding as to how collections can be used. This could be through events as described above or on-line testimonies. In addition providing links to published works who have referenced the collection have also been demonstrated to help with this.


Some institutions outlined how they evaluate the success of their marketing campaigns. Several suggestions included the following:

  • Quantative – usage statistics, enquiries
  • Qualitative – feedback, survey, interviews/focus groups
  • Impact factors from published outputs.

This has been a really interesting and brief project investigating how special collections are being promoted – and I would be really interested to hear people’s experiences on special collections – what works and what doesn’t when you are developing a marketing strategy for the hidden resources?


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