Veritas Huloar
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Harvard College Library‚€”Report of Nancy M. Cline

Supporting Teaching and Research through Collections Acquisition and Acccess

Supporting Teaching and Research


It is the Library’s primary responsibility to build collections, to organize them and make them accessible, to preserve them over time, and to facilitate their use. In these efforts, the libraries are stewards of culture and history that provide resources in support of research and learning over time. Collecting, making accessible, and preserving research materials are core responsibilities—and these extend into the digital realm as well.

Collection Development has been developing better data and reporting mechanisms in order to more effectively analyze HCL’s entire collection development program. As a result of this concerted focus, we are developing a better knowledge of what we are acquiring from different sources, evaluating dealer and vendor performance, reviewing trends in publishing output and pricing, and evaluating other factors that have an impact on how we expend budgets.

Each library or collecting unit is affected by new areas of research or new courses, which generate requests for materials that we have not routinely acquired. Given the extensive—and rising—interest in the Middle East, it will serve as an example of collecting issues in this report.

One might ask what the following items have in common:

  • the first Arabic translations of Darwin’s Origin of the Species and early-to-present-day commentaries on the theory of evolution;
  • a new genre of Arabic-language literature—comics and graphic novels—portraying Arab heroes in a post-9/11 world;
  • the modern Quranic commentary of Abubakar Mahmud Gumi, a prominent Nigerian religious scholar;
  • journals and magazines published in Najaf, Iraq; and
  • Syriac books and magazines with distinctive type fonts.

These were among the numerous requests that the Middle Eastern Division (MED) received from faculty and students during the course of the year. A History of Science professor is studying the transmission of the theory of evolution and scientific thought in the Arab world from the first Bulaq translations to modern-day interlocutors; a junior thesis writer looks at “Arab/Arab-American identity and the representational idea of a ‘hybrid-hero’ as manifested in post-9/11 literature and visual art”; a professor peruses Najafi journals for a book on the modern history of the Shiah of Iraq; another researches modern Quranic commentary; while another produces a study on pre-World War II Syriac font types in the United States. Clearly these research interests demonstrate the ever-increasing transdisciplinary nature of intellectual inquiry and the pivotal role the MED plays in advancing this research.

Pursuing one specific item often leads to the discovery of others. A search for additional volumes of the 1844 Bulaq title Ilm al-tahlil (The Science of [Chemical] Analysis) on eBay led to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s web site and information on an exhibition on the Bulaq Press, which led to an article on the exhibition in ME Printer, a journal targeting the Middle Eastern graphic arts industry. The journal’s web site also highlighted its sister Persian-language publication, Sanat-i chap (Print Industry), the most influential source of information in the field of printing and graphic arts in Iran. Among the many interesting articles in ME Printer was one on the launch of a new Egyptian journal, Risalat al-tibaah (Printing Letter), dealing with these same subjects. No library in this country holds these journals.

Newly established academic programs, as well as varied areas of research, also impact our collecting efforts. Following the initiation of the Brazil Studies Program in 2006, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies initiated a new Cuban Studies Program. The goal of this program is similar to the Brazil program: to expand and facilitate research and teaching about Cuba, and to promote cultural exchanges with Cuban institutions. A group of undergraduates participated in a study abroad program in Havana in the spring of 2007. Widener’s Cuban collections are fairly strong and consistent, despite the difficulty of obtaining materials from a country subject to a US trade embargo. We continue to receive many serial titles as gifts from Cuban agencies. The librarian for Latin America, Spain, and Portugal traveled to Havana this past year to renew existing as well as to establish new contacts with cultural institutions, which should aid in our collecting efforts.