Harvard College Library

Houghton manuscript Department Reaches Milestone - 1500 Finding Aids Accessible

November 16, 2004 -With the submission of a group of five finding aids yesterday, the Manuscript Department of Houghton Library passed another milestone: 1500 finding aids are now accessible electronically in OASIS, the University Library's catalog for lists of the contents of Harvard's manuscript and archival collections

The group included one of the College Library's oldest finding aids, the index to the papers of Jared Sparks, and one of its newest, for the letters of Samuel Johnson, part of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection that arrived at Houghton in February 2004.

The Jared Sparks papers were the first "modern" collection to be acquired by the College Library, deposited by his family in 1866.  Sparks, the first professor of history in any American university (1839-1849), was President of Harvard (1849-1853).  His papers include a substantial number of original documents relating to the American Revolution and American colonial period, including soldiers' diaries, the papers of colonial governor Sir Francis Bernard, a dictionary of the Abenaki language, and much more; as well as Sparks's own correspondence.  Access to the collection was provided by an 18-drawer, item-level, card index.  That card index has now been converted into a searchable electronic finding aid in OASIS.

The Sparks finding aid is part of Houghton's ongoing retrospective conversion effort, funded by a Library Digital Initiative (LDI) Access Grant, which has as its goal electronic access to all Houghton's processed manuscript and archival collections.  Concurrent with the finding aid conversion, project staff are creating HOLLIS records for Houghton's estimated 5,000 single-item manuscripts.  Records have been completed for more than 1,000, including the entirety of MS Latin, MS French, MS Portuguese, MS Icelandic, MS Danish, MS Irish, MS Welsh, and MS Norwegian, with work on MS Russian and MS Riant, and the very large classes of MS English and MS American, progressing steadily.

Project Manager Leslie Morris, Curator of Manuscripts in the College Library, remarked, "I'm particularly happy to see Sparks in OASIS.  In 1997, a group of Harvard archives applied to NEH for funding to convert selected finding aids, and Sparks was one of them.  We were unsuccessful, and one reviewer commented that there was no point in converting such an old file; the collection should be reprocessed to modern archival standards.  This seemed unrealistic to me, given a backlog of completely unprocessed collections of more than 6,000 linear feet!  The project's motto has been 'Something is better than nothing' and researchers will find in OASIS a great deal of information never integrated into the old Houghton manuscript card catalog."

This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
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