Monday, October 20, 2014

In Celebration of Open Access Week: Enhancing Discovery and Access to Historical Collections at the State Library

For the past two years, the Special Collections Department has been working on a project to standardize descriptions of its manuscript collections, so that more people can find them and use them for research.

The project started in early 2012 when intern Abigail Cramer joined us as an intern from the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. There were two major components of her work:
  • to locate the existing guides, or “finding aids,” to the collections, and reformat them so they conform to current standards, and then deposit those findings aids in our digital depository, DSpace
  • to update and improve the descriptions of those collections in our online catalog

The project was much more complicated than it may appear to non-archivists! Finding aids, when they existed at all, were in so many different formats (handwritten, typed, created in WordPerfect, or in MS Word) and in so many different styles that researchers couldn’t be quite sure what they were looking at. Even more important: researchers couldn’t find descriptions of the collections online, so they had to contact staff and have descriptions photocopied and mailed. Not efficient, and not conducive to research.

Old guide to Salvatore Albano Papers (Ms.Coll. 43)

Updated guide to Salvatore Albano Papers (Ms.Coll. 43)

Thanks to Abby’s hard work, that situation has changed. She not only completed work on over 140 collections, now all described in our online catalog with finding aids available with a single click, and findable through major search engines, but she also wrote out clear, comprehensive instructions for all aspects of the project, so it can be continued by Library staff and interns.

Example of an old catalog record 

Example of an updated catalog record

Results of improved accessas shown by increased use of the collectionswere immediate, and extremely gratifying to Library staff.  Improving access to our collections is why we come to work every day!

Special thanks to Abigail Cramer for the superb work she did on a very complicated project.

Beth Carroll-Horrocks
Head of Special Collections