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The Graduate and Professional School Libraries

Schlesinger Library

Report of Marilyn Dunn, Executive Director


Report of Marilyn Dunn, Executive Director of the Schlesinger Library and Librarian of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

The year 2007 was an exciting and joyous one for those of us fortunate enough to be members of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The anticipation and celebration of Dean Faust assuming the presidency of Harvard University was compounded for library staff by the Institute’s commitment to eliminate the backlog of Schlesinger Library’s unprocessed collections. Included in our strategic plan as an initiative that will begin in FY 2008, the project has energized and renewed staff, and promises an extraordinary wealth of new resources for scholars. Along with this initiative, the library adopted a vigorous five-year plan to diversify collections, to digitize collections for preservation and access, to develop systematic plans for conservation, and to reinvigorate outreach efforts to ensure that the Schlesinger Library retains its reputation as the premier repository for women’s historical collections. The library staff participated in the strategic planning process with enthusiasm and insight as they continued to offer the highest levels of service and productivity.

Research visits and email reference inquiries soared, reaching the highest numbers in five years: a significant increase in registrations; 23% increase in the number of visits, and 37% in the number of e-mail questions received. Outreach efforts to involve Harvard University students and strong programming may be the explanation for the greater numbers of interested researchers who crossed our threshold, with a total of more than 3,000 in-person visits and over 1,450 e-mail inquiries. In the coming year we will develop specific plans to build on this momentum.

Nearly 3,000 new titles, including over 200 in the distinguished Whitten Collection on the History of Vegetarianism, were added to the library’s published materials. In addition to this splendid acquisition, the library expanded its collecting scope to include titles that academic libraries would normally eschew. Acting upon last year’s new collecting policy, the book curator added materials that capture and document contemporary popular culture—such as “manga,” graphic narratives, “chick lit”, and ’zines—and cover such subjects as cosmetic surgery, sexual abuse, infertility, and menopause.

The collecting policies approved last year combined with this year’s strategic plan prompted new manuscript-collecting groups in the library, and Manuscript Curator Kathy Jacob began collaborative groups that focused on areas designated for growth. In addition to leading these groups as they began to seek records of African-American and conservative women, she paid innumerable visits to donors and potential donors. Valuable new collections were added, such as the interviews of noted psychologist Nancy Chodorow with several founders of psychotherapy; the Women’s Community Cancer Project records; the Herrick–Chapman family papers (a multi-generational collection providing evidence for the study of many topics including spirituality and religion); and the papers of the first woman cartoonist, Marge Buell.

Cataloging of books and manuscripts reached a level the library can be proud of; 4,139 titles catalogued, including purchases, gifts, and items from the accumulated backlog, plus approximately 540 linear feet of manuscripts. Among the collections completed were the papers of poets June Jordan and Jean Valentine, the records of the Women’s Economic Round Table, and the papers of noted archaeologist Theresa Goell. Additionally, over 500 photographs were cataloged, digitized, and added to Harvard’s Visual Information Access, or VIA, catalog.

In the Radcliffe College Archives, planning began for integration of all collections and records into the larger, previously separate, Schlesinger collection. Finding aids for Radcliffe Archives materials were re-keyed and will be completely “marked up” in XML by the time this report is completed, rendering them fully searchable in Harvard’s OASIS catalog of archival finding aids. The archivist, supervising a team of students from Harvard, Simmons, and other library schools, continued to enter images from the Radcliffe Historic Photograph Project into VIA, bringing the number of images scanned to 12,450 and the number cataloged to 14,800. This project will be completed by January of 2008, the anticipated date of Radcliffe College Archivist Jane Knowles’ retirement. Another important achievement in the Radcliffe Archives was the completion of processing of Matina Horner papers.

“Style and seven sisters: Radcliffe as the impetus for Women’s Fashions, 1900-1960” was the topic of just one of the 42 projects funded this year in the Schlesinger Library grants and fellowships program. Led by Nancy Cott, five members of the library staff read over 80 applications and distributed $67,250 to researchers whose work would benefit from extended research stays at the Schlesinger Library. Research topics varied widely, including “Allegory as Gender Politics: Suffrage performance, Modern womanhood, and the Garb of tradition”, “Ourselves Unborn: Fetal Meanings in Modern America”, and “Alice Hamilton and the Changing Face of Industrial Toxicology.”

The Library Council met twice this year. On October 27, 2006, the Council focused on the Library’s ongoing strategic planning process, and heard presentations on three areas of the strategic plan: diversifying the collections, outreach, and digital initiatives. On April 12, 2008, the Council had a visit with Radcliffe Institute Dean and Harvard University President-elect, Drew Faust, and heard presentations on the library’s Oral History Project by the Schlesinger’s Ruth Hill and Dorothy Yep and Ai-li Chin of the Chinese American Women Oral History Project. They also viewed a draft of the Strategic plan.

Nancy Cott also assumed the lead in programming activities for the library this year, organizing the outstanding panel discussion “The Modern Girl Around the World,” as well as the Rothschild lecture by Catherine McKinnon, “Women’s Status, Men’s States,” and the extremely successful Summer Seminar on Gender History, “Writing Past Lives: Biography as History” that drew distinguished scholars from across the country and large numbers of interested writers and readers to the plenary sessions. Many staff contributed to the great success of the Barbara Wheaton Symposium, “The Cook’s Oracle,” which attracted experts and amateurs alike from across the country and Europe. In all of these efforts the library received willing and expert assistance from Educational Programs and the Communications Department. The Institute’s conference on “Food and Gender” also involved many Schlesinger Library staff and attracted participants with a keen interest in the library’s collections. To accompany last year’s event programming, the library mounted two exhibits: “The New Woman,” which complemented the Modern Girl symposium, and “A Taste of History,” which complemented the “Food and Gender” conference. A marvelous display of rare culinary titles that were Barbara Wheaton’s favorites complemented “The Cook’s Oracle.” Last year’s Film Series was very successful, with an increase in attendance and a series of excellent guest moderators to lead discussions after each film.

FY 2007 was indeed a liminal experience for the library. Our attention alternated between unresolved issues of the past, imminent changes in the profession, and the heightened expectations of researchers for technological solutions to research problems. We spent the year on the threshold looking both to the past and the future, and as we cross over into the new fiscal year we have a plan that is focused on the road ahead but provides a solution for the salient unresolved roadblock of the past the collections backlog. Two years of analysis and planning have placed us on a path which will lead to greater uses of technology in digital projects, the re-thinking of the HUL catalog, and the expansion of a program to acquire born digital materials adding greater diversity to our collections.