Call for Papers

Rare Books and Manuscripts Section

The Public Face of Special Collections

An off-site meeting of the IFLA Rare Books and Manuscripts Section and Special Collections of Documentary Heritage to be held in the National Library of Finland in Helsinki, on August 13th 2012.

Organizing committee:

  • Sirkka Havu (National Library of Finland)
  • Eric Holzenberg (Grolier Club, New York)
  • Garrelt Verhoeven (Special Collections of Amsterdam University)


The special meeting of the Section is devoted to the changing role in society of libraries and institutions with 'documentary heritage' collections. These have developed from research centers focusing on Rare Books and Manuscripts for scholarly use, to 'special collections' with a far wider audience. The treasures of these libraries are promoted by means of both physical and virtual exhibitions, and through multimedia presentations. Some libraries now maintain permanent displays of their treasures, and are developing a museum-like context for their holdings (including museum restaurants, shops, etc), in combination with the more traditional, scholarly use of the collections. Special Collections are used more and more to represent a parent institution (university, nation, city, company, private owner), and contribute to a positive image of that governing body. These collections may also act as magnets for further gifts of collections, or of funds. Curators are the 'ambassadors' of these collections, the essential mediator among various constituencies, balancing the expectations of administrators, donors, and funding agencies on the one hand, and the needs of researchers, scholars, and the general public on the other.

How should these new developments be viewed? How do we weigh the benefits of this new role for documentary heritage libraries against the risks? What consequences do these changes have for library staffing? What new competences are necessary if curators are to act as 'ambassadors of the book' and how should they be trained in these competencies? Finally, how can we make best promote these collections of documentary heritage so that they reach the broadest possible audience?

This special session on the IFLA-conference will focus on these dynamic new outreach initiatives in special collections and the changing roles of their caretakers. Keynote speakers will be invited to present their thoughts on this topic, while others will be asked to submit proposals for 20 minute papers, that will be thematically clustered. The session will be closed with a panel discussion on the topic with the keynote speakers.


  • Changing views on Special Collections and society
  • Reaching a wider audience for Special Collections
  • Best practices for exhibitions on documentary heritage
  • Heritage as representation
  • Special Collections materials as Education, Information & Entertainment
  • The curator as an ambassador of the book
  • The education of 'new curators'? Is the knowledge of the history of printing still needed? What about that of analytical bibliography?
  • The library as museum


Submissions are invited for 20 minutes presentations on the subject as described above. The deadline for submissions is 29 February 2012. Submissions received after this date will not be considered for acceptance.

The definitive program will be made in the beginning of March.

Please send the submissions to:

Sirkka Havu
Fax: +358 9 191 24089
Postal address: National Library of Finland, Box 15 (Unioninkatu 36)
00014 University of Helsinki, Finland

Proposals will be reviewed by the organizing committee of the session.


All proposals must be in before 29 February 2012.

Please note

All expenses, including registration for the conference, travel, accommodation etc., are the responsibility of the authors/presenters. No financial support can be provided by IFLA, but a special invitation can be issued to authors.

Congress Attendance Grants

The Finnish National Committee and IFLA have worked hard to secure funds for Conference Participation Grants. Up-to-date information is available on our Conference Participation Grants webpage.

Last update: 19 January 2012