Veritas Huloar
Red Spacer

Harvard College Library-Report of Nancy M. Cline

Collection Development


With limited budgets, rising expectations from academic departments, and relentless price increases, we have spent more time developing an understanding of the various aspects of HCL’s collecting. Harvard’s traditional model of collecting can be summarized in a four-tier model. The first tier comprises the materials needed for instructional support; i.e., the core items supporting the curriculum. The second tier, the record of scholarship, provides the foundations for new research, which is generated by an array of sources, such as institutes, universities, etc. The third tier encompasses what is necessarily a partial representation of all recorded human expression—music and manuscripts, pictures and popular magazines, newspapers and film, web sites, blogs, etc. These materials form the primary resource base for new work in the humanities and social sciences. The fourth tier is made up of raw data—numeric, geospatial, images, audio, and text—which are being generated in the humanities and the social sciences, as well as the sciences. Achieving appropriate levels of selection, across all disciplines, requires continuous interaction with stakeholders within and beyond the University.

In many areas of the world, we depend on periodic acquisition trips in order to acquire the distinctive research materials that are essential to our collecting programs. In regions where the book trade is not well developed, or where personal connections help us to identify and acquire important works not publicized beyond local sources, these trips are very important. Often these carefully developed relationships extend beyond collecting. It has been through such ties with other institutions and individuals that we have been able to process small caches of older materials found in our libraries, to build collaborative approaches for cataloging rare and unique titles, and to digitize rare texts (Naxi, Korean, Chinese) or to find creative ways to acquire digital copies of audio, etc. Among the regions visited this year:

  • Southeast Asia—Singapore, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam
  • Africa—Cape Town Book Fair and Nigeria
  • Latin America—Caracas, Venezuela, and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic…where conferences/book fairs were the base for meetings with vendors and library colleagues with local knowledge of the book trade
  • Russia—the Moscow Book Fair and meetings with Russian book vendor

We are often asked if we need to be as aggressive as we have been in seeking out the quality research publications and in striving to expand the collections. In actuality, we are often acquiring less than would be desired. As one case in point, the German publishing market produced nearly 90,000 titles in 2005—of which 78,000 were new titles. While Harvard has purchased steadily in Germanic, as result of higher prices, an unfavorable exchange rate, and little growth in the library’s budget, this past year we acquired only 12,135 monographs…a decline from previous years’ rates of acquisitions.

For Harvard to continue its strong research and teaching—where topics span all areas of the globe, from time immemorial to the science of the moment—requires that we collect well beyond the established research publications. It is through specialized primary resources that a student can understand the conflicting viewpoints between a majority position and that of an independent observer, can delve into a level of detail, can understand the complexity of issues. And, over time, these specialized resources become the distinguished research collections that Harvard faculty and often international scholars depend upon.

Circulation data, reshelving, and other usage indicators show that readers are delving into the depths of our collections—spending hours reading old foreign newspapers or sorting through layers of geospatial data. Libraries such as Tozzer, Houghton, Harvard–Yenching, and Fine Arts are finding that they have busy reading rooms and that users are working with older publications, arranging to view rare materials, and exploring archival and other specialized collections of the sort that continue to be developed even as digital materials become more prevalent. Following are highlights from a few collecting areas in the College Library.

The Americana Section has benefited from substantial and relatively flexible endowments. New faculty, research, and teaching interests drive demand for the purchasing of Americana materials in all formats. For example, more than 700 films, television programs, and documentaries on DVDs, plus various databases, were added to the collections. Endowments in the Judaica Division support an aggressive program of acquiring ephemera both from Israel and also documenting Jewish communities throughout the world.

The Latin America, Spain, and Portugal Section was fortunate to have additional funding this past year from the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies for acquisitions. Among its most noteworthy acquisitions was the purchase of the Documentary Archive of Chilean Protest Murals, a collection of nearly 700 photographic negatives taken between 1983 and 1990 throughout the city of Santiago de Chile by Andrés Romero Spethman. The murals were painted by distinct mural brigades that belonged to different political parties and muralist groups opposing the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Today, many of these murals no longer exist, but this visual record is important for the work of scholars.

In contrast, collecting in English-Language Social Sciences was impacted by the unusual pressure of high prices for UK publications. Also, budgetary shortfalls required the French, Italian, and Scandinavian Division to make serious reductions in the selection of special items, reduce the scope of its approval plans, and cancel serials (some were highly specialized titles, such as local histories, but these, accumulated over time, comprise important research materials for scholars).

The depth of collection development activities in the Slavic Division is constantly being adjusted to meet teaching and research needs. Even in an area where we have been collecting for decades, a new faculty emphasis can cause a shift. For example, this past year, considerable effort has been made to fill in historic gaps in the Polish collections to meet the needs of the academic programs. At the same time, the unit faced unpredictable changes in acquisitions, with three of the major Czech and Slovak vendors going out of business.

Collecting efforts by the Middle Eastern Division (MED) have also been affected by emerging academic needs and relationships with vendors. To meet needs of a new faculty member, staff acquired various Urdu-language Quranic commentaries from India and Pakistan, one in Turkish and another in Romanized Ottoman. MED regularly works with a number of vendors in collecting materials in over 50 languages; however, for the broad range of languages and cultures and countries, there is little organized “book trade.” Vendors and suppliers are found in such diverse sites as Sweden, Germany, Baghdad, Bushahr, Syria, Cairo, New Delhi, Islamabad, Beirut, Istanbul, and even a monastery in Venice.

Sub-Saharan African acquisitions continue increase, particularly in our African-language holdings (with orders in more than 75 languages). For several years such acquisitions have been funded through a gift, allowing a focused response to the needs of new faculty.

Across many units of HCL (e.g., Germanic, Judaica, Latin America and Iberia, Harvard–Yenching, Loeb Music, Morse Music and Media, Americana), there are increased demands for audio and visual materials. Images, still and moving, are used in many courses, fueling a demand for both contemporary materials and historical items.

Harvard–Yenching Library’s collection of ephemera that visually document aspects of East Asian history and culture continues to grow through gifts and identification of materials already in the library’s collections stored in the Rare Books Room. One of the most significant undertakings this year was the publication of Hedda Morrison’s Hong Kong: Photographs and Impressions 1946–47 (Harvard–Yenching Library Studies, No. 5). Similar projects on other topics are under way with the library’s extensive photograph collections. It is our hope that, through this publication program, scholars can learn of and gain access to the library’s photograph collections and that these historic photographs will receive the proper conservation and preservation care.

Other recent acquisitions include:

  • the gift of a group of important and rare photographs of Mecca, Medina, and Damascus from Emeritus Professor James Ackerman;
  • the gift of nearly 2,000 photographs and negatives of Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran, largely taken in the 1940s and 1950s, by Emeritus Professor Richard Frye;
  • the gift of a significant group of 131 albumen silver prints from the 1860s and 1870s, particularly of Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, most notably a group of large-format photographs of Egypt by Felice Beato, and first-series photos of Palestine and Lebanon by Felix Bonfils;
  • Sir Theodore C. Hope’s  Architecture at Ahmedabad, the Capital of Goozerat (London: Published for the Committee of Architectural Antiquities of Western India by J. Murray, 1866)—a rare and important photographically illustrated book;
  • a group of 18 rare albumen silver prints representing Alexandria, Egypt, before and directly after (principally the latter) the infamous British naval bombardment of July 11, 1882;
  • Point of View: An Anthology of the Moving Image (New York, 2003). An 11-CD set of seminal art video, compiled by the New Museum of Contemporary Art; and
  • a set of videos by Sonia Andrade, a major video artist from Brazil, created between 1974 and 1983.

In addition, active collaboration among bibliographers has resulted in collective licensing of online resources including Analecta Hymnica and African-American Song, and joint funding of the purchase of rare primary-source materials for American musicals authored by P. G. Wodehouse.