Veritas Huloar
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Report of Nancy M. Cline, Roy E. Larsen Librarian

Hidden Collections

Hidden Collections


The Association of Research Libraries defines hidden collections as "uncataloged or inadequately described materials that are hidden from the view of library users for that reason" (The Hidden Collections of North America, Alice Prochaska, University Librarian, Yale University, RLUK First Conference: The Power of Knowledge, 22–24 October 2008).

Over the past several years, the Library has made it a priority to catalog its hidden collections to ensure that users have access to the widest array of collections possible for use in their teaching and research. An important component of Houghton Library's 2008–2009 Strategic Action Plan was a focus on its hidden collections, as the Library has found that this material, once cataloged, is much used by researchers. On the manuscript side, the focus was on what are commonly referred to as the MS Storage collections, which had little to no descriptive information known about them and were not represented in any online catalogs. A concentrated effort was made to catalog these collections, 34 in total, and to develop new, lighter cataloging/descriptive standards. For printed materials, the focus was on areas of the "cataloged" collections where a high percentage of materials were either lacking or had only brief HOLLIS records. Retrospective accessioning of Harvard Theatre Collection materials continued, so that many collections are now represented by a HOLLIS record that formerly had none. All of this would not have been possible without the improved automating of many work procedures. The expanded use of Macro Express to speed end-processing procedures is especially noteworthy; there has been a 30–40% increase of productivity in that specific area. The conversion of Excel spreadsheets to EAD finding aids has also proved a boon to creating photograph inventories of previously inaccessible visual materials.

The Judaica Division's Israel Vendor Records Program (IVRP) has allowed the unit to catalog more readily the types of ephemera that all too often languish in hidden collections. For example, the Israeli cultural sector produces large numbers of printed non-book materials such as programs of theatrical, musical, and other cultural events. These pamphlet-like materials are the primary source of documentation for these events, yet few libraries in Israel (and no others in the US) are able to obtain them, let alone catalog them. The IVRP produces full catalog records for each of these individual items, making HOLLIS the largest database of such materials anywhere. The religious sector in Israel also produces elusive pamphlet-like materials on a variety of topics and representing a wide spectrum of thought. Here, too, the IVRP has been able to catalog these materials that are often the only recorded copy. A third example is the Division's digitization of some 10,000 videotapes documenting Israeli society, particularly in kibbutzim in the Galilee, within the framework of a joint project with the Yigal Alon Institute in the Galilee. These unique materials, initially recorded on unstable videotape and housed without proper archiving, faced inevitable deterioration with a resultant loss to future research. The Judaica Division was able to include this material in its Israel digitization project, relying on the IVRP to assure that these films would each be cataloged. In each of these three cases, there would be little or no point to collecting these unique research materials if we could not properly catalog them and thus make them known to scholars through HOLLIS. The partnership with IVRP has enabled the Judaica Division to bring such collections of ephemeral materials to light.

Harvard-Yenching Library processed over 1,200 volumes of old Japanese materials that had been stored in the sub-basement for several decades—truly an example of hidden collections. The majority of these were cataloged and placed in its Rare Books Room.

The Loeb Music Library's large Sema Vakf Collection of Ottoman Turkish Music is now completely cataloged and has already become a valuable research tool for the study of Turkish and Ottoman classical music. Comprised of more than 1,000 reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, LPs, and CDs; over 9,000 written musical notations; and hundreds of books, dissertations, and videos, as well as Turkish musical instruments, the collection represents the largest archive of Ottoman Turkish classical music in the world. This vakf, or trust, is named for the art of listening (sema), specifically the engaged listening of the connoisseur to wonderful music. Loeb Music also cataloged a hidden collection of vintage recordings of American musical theater and a large collection of jazz and Afro-American recordings, and created finding aids for several others, including a small collection of rare jazz contracts dating from a well-known Philadelphia club in the 1950s, the Frank Loesser Archive of materials relevant to his work on Hans Anderson, and the Jeanne Beauvais Collection of Virgil Thomson scores.

The Fine Arts Library's relocation to Littauer Library and the Sackler Museum required that every item had been accounted for and physically examined. As a result of these collection management efforts, FAL now has a much more accurate inventory than ever before of its books, periodicals, auction catalogs, prints, photographs, and media materials. One-third of FAL's books and periodicals and over three-quarters of its special visual collections are housed at the Harvard Depository, but they are better housed and identified than before, with updated holdings records. For FAL's 1.5 million prints and photographs, this increase in access is all the more dramatic. When staff began surveying the collections more than three years ago, holdings for works on paper did not appear in HOLLIS at all and appeared only infrequently in VIA. As a result of the relocation project, there are now over 200 records in HOLLIS, plus VIA group records representing these collections. In the absence of individual cataloging for these 1.5 million images, FAL created finding aids in OASIS for some collections. Patrons are now able to find subject-related photograph collections in their catalog searches.

Until recently, Harvard Film Archive (HFA) titles could only be accessed through the Archive's locally held in-house database. HFA now has approximately 1,800 records in HOLLIS, making its collections accessible to the world. Titles are cataloged with subject and genre headings, along with original descriptions of the films based on HFA source materials, distribution catalogs, etc. HFA film titles can be readily found on HOLLIS by limiting one's search to "Harvard Film Archive" under Location.

The investment in cataloging and processing recently acquired special collections ensures that they will not become the hidden collections of tomorrow. Last year, Widener Library, the Fine Arts Library, and the Harvard Film Archive jointly purchased the Lothar and Eva Just Film Stills Collection, an impressive library and legacy of approximately 800,000 film stills, press books, posters, and other ephemera assiduously gathered by Lothar Just, a Munich-based film publicist. Processing of this collection is well under way, with approximately 44,000 items rehoused and included in a comprehensive finding aid. The HFA also recently acquired the film collections of Howard E. "Doc" Burr, a lifelong film collector based in Central Massachusetts. Dr. Burr's collection of over 2,500 films, principally 16mm American feature-length films, stands out because it is unusually large and includes several rare film prints; the HFA was very pleased to be able to gather not only the films, but also all of the accompanying ephemera. The Burr collection, which has been processed and is accessible by researchers, provides an exceptional, fascinating resource for anyone studying film collectors.