ArchiveGrid’s RBMS activity recap

Today the American Library Association conference in Anaheim ends, marking the end of a Southern California summer for the non-local travelers to ALA and the smaller group (approximately 400 people) who attended the preceding Rare Books and Manuscripts Section conference 100 miles south of Anaheim in San Diego.

At RBMS June 19-22 at the Westin hotel in downtown San Diego, I learned how much ArchiveGrid in the last year has emerged as a more widely-known service for primary source research. When we exhibited ArchiveGrid for the first time last year at the Society of American Archivists conference in Chicago, most people, simply put, didn’t know what it was.

Fast forward to a week ago today, when we demonstrated ArchiveGrid at the RBMS technology petting zoo. Enthusiastic conversations about ArchiveGrid replaced last year’s quizzical glances toward our demo at SAA. Most visitors this time to our booth knew, first of all, what ArchiveGrid was and they showed interest in learning more about it. People wanted to know whether their institutions were represented in our system and how they can get included if not. We heard suggestions and resolved questions and issues people had regarding the appearance of their records in ArchiveGrid. Opportunities came up for us to acquire new contributors and we encouraged people to use our system to train others in primary source research.

One reason ArchiveGrid was successful at RBMS is we have more to say about it. Its first anniversary as a free service coincided with a surge from 1 million collection descriptions in our index in February to 1.7 million as of this month. We have learned to be forthright about our intention to improve the service while keeping it in the OCLC family by identifying archival materials in WorldCat and putting those MARC records in our index. Our research of archives and special collections users and how we will use those findings to improve ArchiveGrid makes it the test kitchen of discovery interface development and design.

A second reason why people knew about ArchiveGrid and wanted to learn more about it is how we marketed it through social media, email, and online groups. Amid the RBMS Twitter coverage, riveting plenaries, and session discussions and coffee break chats, we made sure ArchiveGrid came up in conversation. Events and activities associated with ArchiveGrid reach people through Twitter, online groups, and when people congregate in person.

Be sure to visit the ArchiveGrid demo booth at this year’s SAA conference in August in San Diego, for those who didn’t get enough of SoCal the first time. Or look in Twitter for the ArchiveGrid hashtag (#archivegrid) and use it when you Tweet about us. Learn about how linked data, name recognition, and more are in store for our role in archives and special collections discovery.

Thank you!

Understanding Special Collections: A first look at the survey results

In April and May of 2012 we conducted a survey to update our understanding of how special collections research is carried out by faculty, graduate students, genealogists, and unaffiliated scholars. We’re currently analyzing the 695 survey responses, though one clear finding is the importance of librarians and archivists as a source for recommendations.  Over 80% of survey respondents identified librarians and archivists, when answering the question “Is there a particular type of user whose comments, recommendations, etc. you find most valuable?”

The full set of survey questions and choices is listed here. They are also downloadable here.



Expect to hear more on the ArchiveGrid blog as our analysis of the survey responses continues.

  1. Have you used special collections materials?
    Special collections materials are defined as library and archival materials in any format, generally characterized by their value, physical format, uniqueness or rarity. For example: rare books, manuscripts, photographs, institutional archives including digital items.
  2. What kind of special collections materials did you use?
  3. What are the important attributes of these materials for you?
    Unique, Primary Source, Digital, Other
  4. In the last year or so, what have been the subjects of your research?
    Family History, Genealogy, History (unaffiliated/conducting personal research), History (conducting professional research), Academic Coursework, Instruction/Lesson Planning, Other
  5. What is the intended purpose of your research?
    For publication, for degree or coursework, for hire, for personal interest, other
  6. When using special collections what is your usual role?
    Faculty affiliated with a college or university, Post graduate/Graduate student, Undergraduate, Unaffiliated Scholar, Genealogist (professional), Genealogist (conducting personal research)
  7. Remembering your research in the past year or so, as you begin the research process where do you typically go for help in your initial investigations?
    Web search engines, Library catalogs/databases, Colleagues and friends, Email lists/discussion boards, Print materials, None of the above
  8. When you are in the middle of, or completing, your research, which resources are the most useful to you?
    Web search engines, Library catalogs/databases, Colleagues and friends, Email lists/discussion boards, Print materials, None of the above
  9. When you complete your research, do you need to make sure that all potential sources have been checked?
    Never, Sometimes, Always
  10. How do you discover new websites and other research resources?
    Colleagues and friends (via email, word of mouth, etc.), Professional/trade literature, Events and meetings, Email/posts from communities and groups (listservs, chat boards, etc.), Twitter, Facebook, None of the above
  11. When you want to share information about a new website or research resource, how do you usually identify it?
    Website name, Website URL, URL from a search engine, The resource’s institution name, The resource’s collection name, Finding aid or collection description, Library catalog reference, Other
  12. When you want to share information about a new website or other research resources what are your preferred ways to communicate?
    Word of mouth with colleagues and friends , Professional/trade literature, Email with colleagues and friends, Email/posts to communities and groups (listservs, chat boards, etc.), Twitter, Facebook, Other
  13. Which of these website features are valuable for your research?
    User comments, Tags, Reviews, Recommendations, Saving to a list, Connecting with others, None of these are relevant for me
  14. Comments, tags, reviews and recommendations can come from a variety of sources. Is there a particular type of user whose comments, recommendations, etc. you find most valuable?
    A scholar whose reputation I know, Faculty affiliated with any college or university, Faculty affiliated with a specific college or university, Library or archive staff, Undergraduate, Post graduate/graduate student, Genealogist (professional), Genealogist (conducting personal research), Colleagues and friends

Five new contributors included in June ArchiveGrid index update

We at OCLC Research are pleased with the new additions to ArchiveGrid after our most recent index update, which took place on Saturday, June 9. Along with five new contributors in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom, our index size increased by 6,032 collection descriptions. Here is how that number breaks down: 4,953 of those descriptions are MARC records from WorldCat, and 656 EAD files and 423 HTML files were harvested from contributors.

How those numbers compare with our February 2011 index report is shown in the graph below. Two things account for the growth of MARC records (blue): Work we have done to identify and include additional WorldCat data contributors, and the general on-going growth of WorldCat. Dips in MARC records happened after we improved our selection algorithms to identify archival collection descriptions.

On a deeper level, these numbers represent a greater wealth of historical content for people to discover in ArchiveGrid. Our inclusion now of 237 MARC records from Lincoln Memorial University tells people what’s inside each collection about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War at LMU’s prestigious Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum. Also, 357 finding aids for moving image archival collections from Northeast Historic Film are now getting greater exposure on the web after we harvested their finding aids directly from their website.

We would also like to welcome and show appreciation for our other three new contributors:

California State University, East Bay

University of Calgary

University of Essex, Colchester Campus

As all of our contributors continue to put more collection descriptions online, we look forward to seeing those higher numbers represented in ArchiveGrid after each of our monthly and bi-monthly index updates.

Archives in the News, 6/8/2012

  • Proving how fun it is to strike gold in an archival sense, researchers with the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project found in the National Archives the report Doctor Charles Leale wrote hours after he tried to treat Lincoln from the gunshot that killed the president. Credit for its fine penmanship goes to a clerk who re-wrote the letter before it was filed and likely not seen since.
  • A professional genealogist who is also a retired high school teacher in Bozeman, Mont., plans to start a project to digitize her county’s older public records and put them online for family historians to easily research their roots.

What was digitized, 6/8/2012

  • Recalling the start of when most archaeological excavations in Egypt occured, American University in Cairo added a new collection of 101 photographs of Egypt in the 1890s to its Rare Books and Special Collections Digital Library.
  • While the Detroit Historical Society is closed for renovation, 6,000 images of artifacts from different periods in motor city history in its collection will be online, while the overall goal to put 70,000 images online continues for the next two years.
  • Anyone wondering what small-town Indiana life in the 1970s was like now can get a vivid picture. Around 200 images shot by newspaper photographer Jerry Joschko around Muncie, Ind., are now in the Ball State University digital media repository.

Pinterest exhibit makes Man Men connection

University of Iowa is using Pinterest to exhibit digitized archival and special collections materials that recall the mid-20th century advertising scene, and to connect them to the cable television show Mad Men. Characters and content in the show that take after actual people and happenings in the 1950s and 1960s are referenced in a small paragraph accompanying each of the 27 “pins,” and linked to where at UI they are housed and how they can be accessed.

For example, there are digitized costume and set design sketches in collection of papers for David Swift, who directed the musical film “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Set in 1967, the same year as the current season of Man Men, the movie starred Robert Morse, who now plays a lead character as a veteran advertising firm partner in Man Men. Although the sketches are only one part of the whole David Swift Papers collection, the images recall a time that Man Men has now depicted for almost five complete seasons.

At the heart of Mad Men and the 1950s and 1960s Madison Avenue advertising industry in New York City are, of course, the ads. Pins displaying those nostalgic advertisements that ran in The Daily Iowan link to the newspaper’s digital archive at UI.

Occasions in pop culture like Man Men are perfect occasions for archives and special collections to pull out relevant artifacts and to teach people about primary source materials. Pinterest, in all its addicting splendor, is too a perfect occasion to solicit some new archival user groups, or at least fans of archival exhibits like UI’s.

Top 5 collections with Alex Haley materials found in ArchiveGrid

The powerful value of a four-leaf letter that Malcolm X wrote to Alex Haley in 1964 from a Saudi Arabia hotel room has been making headlines. Written 10 months before his assassination, the letter documents Malcolm X’s conversion that fueled, in Haley’s iconic The Autobiography of Malcolm X, one of the most profound climaxes in literary history, when Malcolm X urged the Nation of Islam to abandon its hatred toward whites. Syracuse has had the letter for more than four decades, during which scholars have been lured by its historical significance. Now Haley’s son wants it, and it’s uncertain how that tussle will be resolved.

In the meantime, an exact search for Alex Haley in ArchiveGrid turned up 88 hits for other collections around the country containing various amounts of Alex Haley material just as worthwhile for different researchers.

Here are five:

1. Most well-known among Alex Haley scholars would be the Alex Haley Papers in the special collections department at University of Tennessee in Knoxville, which is about 360 miles from Henning, Tenn., where Haley lived as a child. He donated his collection in 1991 and the university bought more materials the next year when his estate was auctioned. Now the collection about his literary life and career fills 80 boxes. In the article mentioned above, Haley explained why the university got his papers: “Now they’re not just my private works and recollections, but a part of the fabric of our state to eventually be shared with other researchers, writers, explorers and dreamers.”

2. In New York City, which is about 223 miles from Ithaca, where Haley was born, the New York Public Library has a special collection of 15 boxes of materials about the activities Haley was involved in between 1969 and 1990. According to the finding aid, the collection has files related to Malcolm X with letters he wrote to Haley. One file also contains copies of letters Malcolm X wrote from Cairo and Mecca in 1964 to M.S. Handler, a reporter who wrote the introduction to The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Photographs and audio recordings are also part of the collection but they are in the library’s photographs and prints division and the moving image and recorded sound division.

3. A recording of Alex Haley in the Stanford Program for Recordings in Sound collection at Stanford University captured his voice around the time when he was probably working on Roots: The Saga of an American Family. A graduate English student started the project in 1972 to professionally record poets and novelists reading their work, so other English literature scholars may enjoy these recordings. This collection is mostly on open reel tapes of different sizes and there are 14 boxes of them in the Archive of Recorded Sound. The recordings were also produced on six vinyl LP’s and the archive has those available for listening. There are detailed notes about the recordings in an annotated discography, but many of the master reels remain unnumbered.

4. Thoroughbred horse racing fans will enjoy a special collection at University of Virginia with annotated manuscripts and research notes by Alex Haley when he wrote “Dark Secret’s Last Race: A Drama In Real Life” in the early 1960s. During the time when Haley was working on Malcolm X, he had profiled champion thoroughbred racehorse Dark Secret and his final race at the 1934 Jockey Club Gold Cup, which he won despite broken leg. Purchased in 1995 from a Los Angeles book shop, this 19-item collection also has materials about Dark Secret’s trainer, James Edward Fitzsimmons.

5. Anyone looking to compile an Alex Haley biography need look no further than the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina. An unpublished biography of him sits among the 4,500 items in the Anne Romain papers collection about the Civil Rights activist, musician, historian, and writer who helped create the Southern Folk Cultural Revival Project. Her collection includes the Haley biography she wrote yet never published, materials from her research about his life and career, and posters, photographs, and slides of him that she collected. Romain also curated the Alex Haley House in Henning, Tenn., a role she was obviously well-suited for because of her passion for and roles in bringing about social change, especially in the south. A look at this collection will reveal knowledge about the person Haley inspired.

What was digitized, 6/3/2012

  • More than 60 volunteers are helping with a project at the National Archives to digitize case files of pension applications from widows of deceased Civil War Union soldiers. The project recently completed case number 100,000, out of the 1.28 million case files the archives holds. Records can be searched on Fold3, a database of military records.
  • Oregon State University is hosting a new digital archive of materials about 19th-century Chinese immigrants to the Northwest, which was assembled in cooperation with Portland State University, Oregon Multicultural Archives, Northwest News Network, and Oregon Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.
  • A new website set up by the Toronto Star makes columns Ernest Hemingway wrote as a young man in the early 1920s for the paper publicly accessible.
  • In 1911, a landscape architect for St. Louis, Mo., and Kansas City, Mo., proposed a 66-page plan for Dallas, Texas, that is still debated but yet to be fulfilled. A city archivist found the document in the municipal archives and put it online, while a graphic designer extracted words to make searchable.

Archives in the news, 6/1/2012

  • New guides Simon Fraser University archivists produced for its arts and cultural materials are part of a goal to have everything researchers and archivists who are, are not, or are somewhat, concerned about provenance need. Divided into six subject areas, the guides supplement SFU’s provenance-based finding aids in an effort to make its collections more accessible.
  • Photocopies of documents housed at the New York State Archives about the War of 1812 are now on file for researchers in the Genesee County, N.Y., history department. Genesee County and western New York were directly involved in the War of 1812 and some related documents had been destroyed in a fire at the state archives in Albany.
  • Catholic media featured the Catholic University of America’s archivist and her enthusiasm and projects to make collections easy to find online and to get students excited about primary sources, especially those the university has which are timely to modern social issues.