Advocacy: seizing the moment

University of Nottingham Manuscripts and Special Collections


Manuscripts and Special Collections are part of the University of Nottingham Libraries. The University Library has been collecting manuscripts and archives for over eighty years and there are now over 3 million records in over 700 collections. This includes the records of businesses, trade unions, estates, religious organisations and the University of Nottingham, as well as personal and literary papers. The university also has a number of special collections of rare books and published works. Manuscripts and Special Collections are currently based on the King’s Meadow Campus, but are keen to develop a business case and attract investment for new accommodation.

What did they do?

To start with, the Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections and the Director of Libraries met with some university senior managers around the need for new accommodation. One of the managers suggested they run a session on manuscripts and special collections at the University Executive Board away day. In advance of the session, some background information was circulated to the Executive Board about the collections and service (links to virtual exhibitions, the website, and newsletters). The Keeper started the session by giving a short presentation, which included showing them some original collections and display boards. They then facilitated discussions in smaller groups on the opportunities and barriers for the collections around three themes: education/student experience, research, and civic engagement. The session lasted about an hour in total.

What advocacy benefits were there?

  • Awareness – those who took part were very enthused by the session and it has helped raise the profile of the service with the Executive Board. Some people in attendance had very low or no awareness of the collections and service. When they receive the business case about new accommodation, they will be more knowledgeable about the service and hopefully more receptive.
  • Messaging – the Executive Board provided their thoughts on the opportunities and barriers for the collections and service. This will help the Keeper tailor the business case and messaging for the new accommodation.


  • Seize the moment – the meetings with senior managers led to an invite to the Executive Board. This was the first time the current Keeper had ever presented to the Executive Board.
  • Take a colleague – presenting to senior managers can be quite daunting. Taking a colleague can help with nerves and confidence.
  • Mindset – not everyone will be able to get access to the Executive Board like this, but you could try and do something similar with another group of decision makers such as your senior library management team. (See case study on getting buy-in from senior library management)
  • Be patient – the service still needs to develop its business case for new accommodation, and this will take time. This session was just one part of the advocacy process.
  • Use the collections – do not underestimate the wow factor of original collections. Choose collections and stories that your audience will be interested in.