Harvard College Library

Houghton Library Brings 100th Finding Aid Online

May 17, 2001 -- On May 1, Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library reached a milestone in its efforts to put information about its manuscript and archival collections on the Web when it added its 100th guide, the guide to the Amy Lowell papers, to the OASIS catalog. OASIS is Harvard University's union catalog of guides, or finding aids, describing archives and manuscripts in a growing number of repositories in the Harvard system.

The Manuscript Department of the Houghton Library has been involved in the implementation of Encoded Archival Description, the recognized standard for encoding finding aids for Web use, since 1995. All new cataloging since then is available on OASIS and, selectively, older typescript finding aids have been converted to electronic form, encoded, and added.

"It's been a slow process," said Leslie A. Morris, Curator of Manuscripts in the Harvard College Library, "but that situation will soon change." Houghton Library has been given a matching grant under the University's Library Digital Initiative for a two-year pilot project to begin conversion of its older finding aids, providing funds to hire a full-time Conversion Coordinator to investigate and apply 'best methods' for converting typescript finding aids, as well as to manage the project.

It is particularly appropriate that the 100th finding aid to be put on the Web is that for the papers of poet Amy Lowell (1874-1925). One of a distinguished Boston family that includes her brother, Abbot Lawrence Lowell, president of the University 1909-1933, and the poets James Russell Lowell and Robert Lowell, her own poetry became identified with the movement of Imagism, and she was its most prominent practitioner. Her papers show her wide involvement and influence in literary circles, and are central to the study and understanding of early 20th century American literary life.

Amy Lowell.

Photo: Houghton Library

She was also a major benefactor of the Harvard College Library, bequeathing to it her unparalleled collection of manuscripts and letters of John Keats, as well as such treasures as the juvenalia of the Brontë family, the autograph manuscript of Ludwig van Beethoven's An die Hoffnung, Mrs. Piozzi's copy of Boswell's Life of Johnson, with many annotations, George Eliot's manuscript 'quarry' for Middlemarch, and much more. The Library was also the beneficiary of a trust she established to continue to add to the Harvard collections. Many of the Library's most important acquisitions, from the notebooks of Alfred Lord Tennyson to the papers of E.E. Cummings, Robert Lowell, and Wole Soyinka, would not have been possible without the Amy Lowell Fund.

"While 100 out of 2,650 may not seem like much," commented Morris, "for us, it marks the end of a period of struggle to get this work done, and the beginning of a very exciting time. It is crucial that detailed information about unique Houghton collections be easily available over the Internet. More and more, students and faculty make the Web their first research stop."

Added William P. Stoneman, Florence Fearrington Librarian of Houghton Library, "We hope that this pilot project will not only provide improved access to Houghton Library collections, but will also provide the information to move the University forward on conversion of all finding aids within the Harvard system. We estimate there may be 14,500 of them. The Harvard manuscript and archival collections are incredibly rich primary research resources, and those of us who care for them want to make it easier for people to find what is here, and use it."

This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
Copyright © 2004 President and Fellows of Harvard College