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Harvard College Library-Report of Nancy M. Cline

Preservation and Digitization Efforts


This past year was characterized by expansion of the range of services offered by the Collections Conservation, Special Collections Conservation, and Imaging divisions of HCL’s Preservation and Imaging Services. Staff members collaborated intensively on efforts to diversify products and services, to streamline and automate procedures, to increase production, and to respond to needs expressed by clients.

Various relocations, the upcoming Google scanning project, and other handling of the circulating collections increased the need for conservation treatments. The closing of the New England Deposit Library (NEDL) necessitated that attention be paid to long-stored newspapers and other materials, and plans to move the social sciences holdings out of Littauer also uncovered many labor newspapers in need of preservation attention. Some are being filmed while others were prepared for transfer to HD.

Conservation efforts on special collections continue. Prior to the move to its new facility at 90 Mt. Auburn Street, the Weissman Preservation Center completed a major project to conserve over 565 rubbings from the Rübel Asiatic Research Collection; the rubbings were cleaned, flattened, and rehoused in a manner that avoids folding. Among other special-collection items preserved were Loeb Music Library scores of students of Nadia Boulanger; an early Ming dynasty encyclopedia, Yongle Dadian, from Harvard–Yenching Library; New England maps;, and many items from collections of Houghton Library, including those from the Harvard Theatre Collection.

Our preservation work enables Harvard’s libraries to maintain and provide access to unique materials that are not available elsewhere and are important primary resources for teaching and research, as is evidenced by the following anecdote. A newspaper from the collections that were at the New England Deposit Library was brought to the attention of the modern Greek bibliographer, and it turned out to be a rare Greek-language publication from Istanbul that was shut down by the Turkish government in 1965. Harvard’s and the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline’s holdings together represent the only complete run of this newspaper in this country, and quite possibly in the world. HCL Preservation is filming this title.

Preservation staff continue to respond quickly and effectively to emergency situations that arise in our libraries caused by leaks, flooding, and other such unplanned circumstances that put our collections at immediate risk of damage, exposure to mold, etc. For example, conservation staff responded quickly this winter when a portion of the sub-basement stacks in Littauer Library was flooded as a result of a broken chilled water pipe. At the end of the year, a new book freezer for use in salvaging wet and insect-infested materials was installed on D-Level in Widener for use in such situations. More generally, disaster recovery planning in HCL is an ongoing priority. This year, Houghton Library began creating a collections emergency plan and establishing a set of preservation priorities.

During the past year, HCL Audio Preservation Services has modified its workflow to increase production and to address several large projects, such as work for the Woodberry Poetry Room and the Iranian Oral History project, in addition to the Milman Parry project. Audio preservation is the focus of the Loeb Music Library’s NEH-funded Sound Directions Project, which is a joint research and development project conducted with Indiana University, designed to develop best practices for archival audio preservation, to support interoperable work environments, and to preserve unique and/or endangered field recordings.

HCL’s Imaging Services has realigned work to meet increased demand due to the number and extent of digital reformatting projects, fueled in part by grants from the Library Digital Initiative (LDI). The production of high-quality digital objects depends upon copyright status and physical attributes of the items. This type of work is dependent upon a technological infrastructure—server capabilities and capacities, state-of-the art equipment, and software resources—that the Library is constantly maintaining and improving. Following is a brief sampling of accomplishments this past year:

  • Selected engineering titles from Cabot Science Library
    Each year, using a preservation fund designated for engineering materials, Cabot Library sends a small number of printed volumes to Imaging Services for digitization. Eleven titles were scanned for Cabot in FY 2006. While this workstream is modest, it is worth noting as an example of what will likely become a common practice: ad hoc selection of individual titles for digitization.
  • Digital Scriptorium
    This was the second year of a three-year project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities to add Houghton Library manuscripts into Digital Scriptorium, an image database of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts intended to unite scattered resources from many institutions into an international tool for teaching and scholarly research. As a result of the NEH-funded project, almost 3,000 Harvard images are available through Digital Scriptorium and have also been linked to HOLLIS records.
  • Jacques Burkhardt and the Thayer Expedition to Brazil
    Through this project, Imaging Services digitized the Ernst Mayr Library’s entire Jacques Burkhardt collection of watercolors and pencil drawings (approximately 1,000 items), as well as Thayer Expedition correspondence, field notes, diaries, sketches, photographs, monographs, specimens, and specimen records.
  • The Nature of Eastern Asia: Botanical and Cultural Images from the Arnold Arboretum Archives Through this project, Imaging Services digitized approximately 4,500 images of eastern Asia drawn from nine collections in the photographic archives, including those of four renowned and intrepid explorers: Frank Meyer, William Purdom, Ernest Henry Wilson, and Joseph Rock.
  • A Project to Digitize Latin American Pamphlets (LDI)
    Through this project, Imaging Services catalogs, microfilms, digitizes from the film, and preserves Latin American pamphlets from Widener Library. Making these items available digitally has opened up new avenues for research…and will keep the fragile originals from being destroyed through use.
  • Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System Online
    This is a project to provide online access to a collection of 764 transcripts of interviews conducted with refugees from the USSR during the early years of the Cold War.
  • Rübel Asiatic Research Collection—Rubbings of Inscriptions from Stone Monuments
    This project involves digitization of the Fine Arts Library’s collection of East Asian rubbings, the majority of which are from China. The rubbings were made from ancient stone stelae, tomb tablets, Buddhist and Daoist scriptures on stelae and rocks, and inscriptions and designs copied from bronze vessels, jade objects, ceramics, tomb bricks, and roof tiles⎯objects dating from the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BCE) to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 CE).

Each one of these projects or achievements improves the library’s ability to carry out its mission to serve the research and teaching programs of Harvard and to extend our resources, wherever possible, to the larger world beyond. It has been exciting in recent years to open our digital collections to the world in ways that we cannot do with the physical library facilities. Likewise, it has been exciting to see users come to our libraries as a result of working with our online catalogs and systems, digital content, or the web. And all of these projects are dependent upon having the collections (having spent the time and money to acquire them), creating the appropriate bibliographic data and metadata, and managing the long-term risks to preserve the digital content. In other words, we must continue to focus on core programs: collecting; making items accessible through cataloging, access services and research services; and preservation…for both traditional and digital formats.