Workshop Blog – Felicity Howlett
I attended the Introduction to Archival Research workshop on Wednesday, October 13 at 3 p.m. Beth Posner, Head of Library Resource Sharing, summarized the breadth and depth of current activity in digitizing archival resources, techniques and protocols involved, the larger collections of archival materials, and aids not only to reaching certain collections but also in understanding how one might best sort through them. The examples she offered were extremely helpful. By searching with salient keywords and subcategories, she could reduce a response of several hundred thousand items, to several thousand, then to several hundred, and finally a few dozen.
Despite my reasonable familiarity with OneSearch and the World Cat, she provided examples for use that I had never thought about, including some that were staring right back from the topics page: “Dissertations at CUNY and Beyond,” for example, in OneSearch. While I have happily come across useful dissertations online, I was oblivious to the availability of this option on OneSearch as well as what it could mean in terms of archival research. As she pointed out, it is very possible that someone doing doctoral research on a specific topic may have gained access to or unearthed archival material that is not yet in circulation. Looking through bibliographies of such research may provide valuable leads to important material. In addition to the “Dissertations at CUNY and Beyond” label, the same tab provides opportunities to explore other dissertation collections.
She discussed the power of the WorldCat collection and also a program specific to archived materials called Archivegrid. That collection lists 7,000,000 records from 1400 institutional archives. Ninety percent of the records are from the WorldCat, and ten percent have been obtained using Finding Aids.
In the Library of Congress categories under Archives, you can see how many collections are in which category.
Finding Aids, fairly standard among collections, include:
Collection Overview; Biographical/histories; Scope and Arrangement; Administrative Info ; Key Terms; Using the Collection.
Subheadings/electronic terms are hyperlinked. To discover collections that do not have Finding Aids, you need to search at the Repository level.
She talked some about the New York Public Library (NYPL) Archives and Manuscripts Collection, including a Guide to locating MS and Archives, and a helpful article, Getting Started with Archives. She spoke of the value of browsing the lists of collections, simply to become accustomed to how they appear, and then to learn how to search across collections, and the value of using Date Filters as well as Limit by Division.
In addition, she reminded us to search using the library’s regular catalog collection as well. For example, one might find a trove of unarchived microfilmed materials. And most important, she directed us to bring questions and issues directly to the library staff.
With regard to online archival materials, she pointed out that there is a distinction between analog and digital. She suggests that at this point, items that can be found online are probably just the tip of the iceberg. She discussed the DPLA (Digital Public Library of America) which includes specialized areas such as a Native Northeast Portal, a digital Transgender Archive, and a hub called Biodiversity Heritage Library where three of the most outstanding collections are contained in the NYPL, the Library of Congress, and Tulane University.
In the past couple of years, I have installed Zotero and started to use it as a research tool, but I have much more to learn about it. The incredible augmentation of available and accessible material through digital processes still leaves me in awe at how we can now search, connect to, and obtain information.
Just this past week, as I was wrapping up a search for photographs of Paris in the 1920s, I came upon the news that a collection of museums in Paris has recently combined resources to make approximately 62, 500 of their photographs free and accessible to the public. I scrambled to sign up to visit such a resource. On my first try, I landed in the area to purchase admission tickets for museum visits. On my next attempts, I arrived at apologetic notes about Covid restrictions and then a denial of the validity of my email address. So I understand there are still some flaws in my basic skill set, but it certainly was a thrill to learn that such a collection is going to be online and shared! Sooner or later, I’ll visit it!!