Space, The Final Frontier: Next Generation Special Collections

In 2016 UCC launched an internal funding call to enable next generation learning spaces across the campus. UCC Library's Special Collections spatial design is optimised both for environmental standards (BSI PD5454) and for users examining items in this controlled environment. However there are pedagogical limits to this type of spatial design; limits which correspond to changes in Special Collections' teaching and learning trends in the last decade. Special Collections have moved away from ‘show and tell’ presentations to a more conscious engagement with academics, as evidenced by Bahde et al. and Mitchell et al. At UCC such a trend has manifested in undergraduates and postgraduates alike using Special Collections in new ways, including research-led teaching on early printed books and Irish language manuscripts, and a focus on online public engagement (Harrington, 2015 and 2017).

In this presentation, I address how this known spatial design obstacle is mitigated through the use of various existing technologies: GIS, 3D printing, social media, document camera, microscope and iPads. Using these technologies on a pilot-basis not just as stand-alone tools but also in combination with each other means that within the Special Collections' environment they are used in an innovative manner. The combination of using traditional reference sources including manuscript bibliographies and catalogues, almanacs, directories, maps and existing digitised collections such as Irish Script on Screen and Early English Books Online with these innovative tools mean content and use of material are reshaped and the combination ensures that students gain critical thinking and analytical skills in relation to a variety of formats.

I demonstrate how such technologies are used by focusing on the fruitful collaborative modules and projects between Special Collections and various UCC departments: English, Music, History and Irish, who each have embraced the ethos of using technology to drive engagement and engagement to drive the use of technology. This is in order to provide a rich user learning experience and for students to understand that there is a potential for multiple points of inquiry. This symbiotic relationship between the judicious horizon scanning of technologies and equipment and the desire to optimise different pedagogical methodologies ensures that Special Collections continues to function as an experimental “lab for the humanities” as well as providing best-practice evidence for adapting existing spatial design models.