Academic Archives: Managing the Next Generation of College and University Archives, Records, and Special Collections

By Sheehan, Jennifer K. | Library Resources & Technical Services, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Academic Archives: Managing the Next Generation of College and University Archives, Records, and Special Collections


Sheehan, Jennifer K., Library Resources & Technical Services


Academic Archives: Managing the Next Generation of College and University Archives, Records, and Special Collections. By Aaron D. Purcell. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2012. 315 p. $95 softcover (ISBN: 978-1-55570-769-9).

In Academic Archives, Purcell takes a broad approach to a small area of the library world, addressing many aspects of the operations within the narrow purview of an academic archives. He divides the book into three parts, with part 1 describing the current state of archives in an academic setting. In this section, he begins by outlining the steps required to obtain a professional position in an academic archives, the mission of academic archives, and the role of these archives under the larger umbrella of special collections. Part 1 is observational in tone, looking at archives from an external perspective. In part 2, Purcell pursues a more operational approach. This part, which is nearly two-thirds of the book, is a discussion of the specific tasks required to build or update an academic archives program. Here Purcell also describes in detail the different aspects of operating an academic archives, including acquisition, processing, reference services, and digitization. Part 3 consists of a single chapter, focusing on emerging trends and the next generation of academic archives. To balance the other two sections, more weight should have been given to this area--particularly because the subtitle of the book specifically addresses the future of these collections rather than the present.

In terms of physical format, the book is well organized. Purcell breaks up the sections nicely so that the reader does not become encumbered by long sections of weighty prose and can proceed directly to specific sections of interest. He also has inserted grey blocks throughout the text, containing bulleted lists that highlight important concepts in the surrounding paragraphs. This feature is helpful for the casual reader who is simply skimming the text for the high points or for those who are interested in previewing the content of the book before investing the time and effort to read further.

Purcell includes occasional photographs and diagrams to add visual interest, but these are sporadic and not particularly dynamic. Some of the loss in impact may be because the images are black and white rather than color. Although color illustrations may have been cost-prohibitive, the lack of color prevents the level of detail necessary to appreciate the content of the photographs. As a result, some of the images are more useful than others. His textual descriptions of complicated processes are thorough and effective, however, which make the images superfluous.

Part 1 combines three very different aspects of academic archives under the umbrella of "Archives and the Academic Environment." The first chapter targets one of the primary audiences for which this book would be appropriate--prospective archivists. Chapter 2 is more of a survey of what academic archives are, including a substantial section on the role that technology plays in the modern academic library. Chapter 3 offers an overview of the history of special collections, followed by an examination of their structure today and the types of materials one might expect to find. …

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