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Systems & Planning: Office for Information Systems

Library Digital Initiative--Collections and Resources

Library Digital Initiative


The Library Digital Initiative (LDI) was initially a five-year effort, internally funded by the University in 1998. Funding now continues through 2010. The purpose of the Initiative was to create an infrastructure to support the collecting of digital resources at Harvard similar to the infrastructure the libraries have long had for the collecting of research resources in other formats. “Infrastructure” was defined broadly to include not just automated systems, but also staff expertise and service facilities. The intent of the Initiative was twofold:

  • for libraries, to reduce the complexity inherent in making digital research materials available; and
  • for library users, to make University’s digital resources as well-organized and accessible as traditional, print collections.

In 1998, Harvard’s libraries had been acquiring digital materials for some time. The University’s decentralization, however, meant that in the natural course of things these separate acquisitions involved overlapping and uncoordinated solutions to the technical and organizational challenges of digital collections. The Library Digital Initiative was planned to address these issues in a general, sophisticated, and coordinated way.

Many other institutions had established new, separate facilities to develop their digital collections. Harvard’s Initiative was consciously constructed on a different model: the integration of digital resources into the existing library structure. While there were many exciting developments happening in the area of electronic information that would be important for the students and scholars of Harvard, the University had existing traditional collections of enormous wealth, and would continue for the foreseeable future to collect significant new materials in traditional formats. Integrated access to the collections, regardless of format, was a key aim of the Library Digital Initiative.

The LDI Web Site

In November 1998, a web site was launched to keep the community apprised of LDI activities. The site was expanded in early 1999 and then redesigned in October of 2000. Harvests of each of the versions of the web site are available through the Internet Archive, including these representative harvests:

December 1998€
August 2000€
October 2001€

By 2007, LDI activities were sufficiently integrated into the work of the Office for Information Systems (OIS) that the main content of the web site was transferred to the OIS web site at

Internal Challenge Grant Program

Since 1998, LDI has funded 49 grant projects that have covered such wide-ranging subjects as art, architecture, religion, history, culture, botany, biology, landscape design, music, politics, law, and advertising. The great majority of these projects have involved digitizing analog materials. Projects have created digital texts of books, pamphlets, letters, manuscripts, reports, diaries, interviews, legal trial documents, and more. Digital images include photographs, slides, lantern slides, prints, drawings, paintings, sculpture, coins, and archaeological objects, among others. Audio files have documented ethnomusicology, poetry, and epic songs. Musical scores and medieval manuscripts have been digitized, and geospatial data has been captured, including geo-referencing of maps.

Participation in LDI collaborations has been University-wide, with the faculties of Arts and Sciences, Medicine, Public Health, Business, Design, Divinity, and Law, as well as the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, all participating in the grant program—most of them with multiple grants and many with joint projects. For several grants, museums and centers partnered with libraries.

In May 2007, LDI announced the conclusion of the Internal Challenge Grant Program. Given that the original LDI grants program has accomplished its goals of seeding and testing the LDI infrastructure and of educating many library staff in the intricacies of digital conversion projects, the LDI Executive Committee and the University Library Council have decided to end the grants program. Remaining funds will be used to support new developments and initiatives responding to changes in the larger digital environment.

Activity in FY 2007

In FY 2007, nine projects were completed. Four projects were initiated. Four projects employed LDI’s Management Assistance and Planning programs (LDI MAP), a cost-recovery service that has provided customized, hands-on assistance to managers of LDI grant-funded projects.


Projects Completed in FY 2007

Architectural Views of the World, 1870–1920: Digitization of Lantern Slides from the Fine Arts Library Collection
Fine Arts Library (Harvard College Library/FAS)
Search for “lantern slide” (enclosing the two-word phrase in quotation marks) anywhere in the record and restrict the search to images held in the Harvard Fine Arts Library.

Cataloging of Antiquarian Cartographic Materials
Harvard Map Collection (Harvard College Library/FAS)

The Geospatial Data Access Project
Harvard Map Collection (Harvard College Library/FAS)

Harvard College Library Finding Aids Conversion Pilot Project
Houghton Library (Harvard College Library/FAS)

Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System Online
The Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies with sponsorship from the Slavic Division of Widener Library (Harvard College Library/FAS)

Image Digitization and Cataloging Project to Support Core Course Offerings at the Harvard Design School
Frances Loeb Library (Harvard Graduate School of Design)

Jacques Burkhardt and the Thayer Expedition to Brazil (1865–1866)
Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology (FAS)

New Testament and Archaeological Slides
Andover–Harvard Theological Library (Harvard Divinity School)

Orchidaceae Type Specimen Project
The Harvard University Herbaria (HUH) with sponsorship from the HUH Botany Libraries


Projects Awarded in FY 2007

The Artemas Ward House and Its Collections
Harvard University History Department with sponsorship from Widener Library Collections Development (Harvard College Library/FAS)

View objects from the Ward House in VIA by visiting, choosing “General Artemas Ward House Museum” in the “Limit Repository to:” box, and entering “objects” in the “Search for:” box. To view photos of rooms, use the search term “interior views.”

Digital Scores from the Collections of the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Part III
Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library (Harvard College Library/FAS)

Harvard Forest Digital Classroom
Harvard Forest with sponsorship from Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library and Harvard Forest Library (FAS)

Medieval Manuscript Digital Project at Houghton Library
Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library (Harvard College Library/FAS)


Collection Tools

Through LDI, OIS provides two collection-creation tools for curators: Virtual Collections (VC) and Templated Databases (TED). VC creates a customized web presence for selected items already cataloged in the HUL union catalogs, while TED builds new online catalogs for collections that prove to be a less-than-optimal fit for any of the existing HUL union catalogs.

Two collections were created and a third was relaunched using the Virtual Collections Service (VC):

Studies in Scarlet: Marriage and Sexuality in the US and the UK
Harvard Law School Library

Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930
Open Collections Program (HUL)

Women Working, 1800–1930 (relaunched)
Open Collections Program (HUL)

Two collections were created using TED:

Archived Harvard University Online Course Catalogs (A-Cats)
Harvard University Archives (Harvard University Library)

Harvard Iranian Oral History Project
Harvard University Center for Middle Eastern Studies

Communication and Outreach

OIS keeps the Harvard library community informed about access to resources, infrastructure development, digital library projects, and related activities through articles and announcements in Harvard University Library Notes, presentations throughout the University, and two web sites.

The Office for Information Systems (OIS) web site contains information about available Harvard University Library systems and services. The web site was redesigned this year based on a user study and now incorporates information about the Library Digital Initiative.

A Selection of Web-Accessible Collections provides easy access to many of Harvard’s publicly accessible collections.