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Graduate and Professional School Libraries

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America—Radcliffe Institute

Schlesinger Library


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

In the Schlesinger Library, 2008–2009 was a year of many accomplishments. Despite the waning months of grim economic reality, the library has a story to tell that includes great successes. We pursued a focused program with a full staff from November through June, and the results are gratifying. Record numbers of collections were processed, record numbers of materials were received, new collaborations with the Harvard University Library and instructional programs in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences were forged, and digital collections were completed. In terms of productivity, this was a banner year.


When newly hired backlog catalogers were added to the existing staff, the number of manuscripts cataloged doubled the number in the previous year. Processing of audio and video materials was similarly high, increasing by more than 90%. Photo cataloging as well nearly doubled. Book cataloging increased by 42%. Additionally, a survey of the audiovisual collections was completed, which provided our first reasonable estimate of the processing backlog in this category. The survey has not only enumerated the Schlesinger’s AV holdings, but also has fully described them for the first time. It is particularly gratifying to see so much progress made in the audiovisual and photo areas, which had previously been underserved because of limited staffing.

Collection processing highlights include the collections of

  • author and journalist Barbara Ehrenreich (10.8 linear feet);
  • author, lecturer, suffragist, and traveler Rebecca Reyher (65 linear feet);
  • the Stark family papers from 1683 to 1985 (41 linear feet);
  • the National Women’s Political Caucus (39 linear feet);
  • the feminist literary journal Sojourner (45 linear feet);
  • audio and video tape collections of artist Judy Chicago;
  • audio and video tape collections of author, critic, and radical feminist Andrea Dworkin; and
  • audio and video tape collections of author, poet, and social and political activist June Jordan.

Addenda to important collections also moved through the cataloging units, for example addenda to Betty Friedan, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and the Ms. Magazine letters. The book department moved record numbers into the catalog, adding many foreign-language titles, important culinary gift collections, and more than 100 newsletters of small women’s organizations.


We were pleased to see the cataloging numbers rise so dramatically, and dismayed to realize that in this banner year we added more linear feet of manuscripts than were processed. The manuscript curator brought in 862 linear feet of new material (a record as far as we can determine), while we cataloged 802 linear feet. The flow of collections into the library is exciting and gratifying, but the implications for the backlog are frightening if it continues at this level. Within the 862 linear feet were some spectacular additions: the Catharine MacKinnon Collection, the Catherine Atwater Galbraith Collection, the papers of psychiatrist and advocate for women’s health Marjorie Braude, and the papers of feminist and journalist Ellen Willis. Over the year, 38 personal collections and 49 addenda to personal collections were added, as well as 12 new organizational collections and 18 addenda to organizational collections.

Purchases for the book collection were strong in the area of popular materials and included a collection of Harlequin romances, comic books, graphic novels, and ’zines. Antiquarian titles were also added to enhance the Schlesinger’s etiquette collection, as well as culinary treasures. Additionally, there were interesting purchases in DVD and video: for instance, I Was a Teenage Feminist, Troop 1500: Girl Scouts Beyond Bars.

In oral history the library continued to provide grants to exciting new projects, copies of which will find their way to the Schlesinger Library. Examples of this material include Lost Girls of Sudan Find Their Voices: An Oral History of a Female African Refugee Group in the United States and “This Is Our Home!” Chicanas (Story) Telling Life, Love, and Identity in the Midwest. At the same time, much of the oral history curator’s time this fall was centered upon the Chinese American Oral History Project and completing the Horner Years, an oral history of the Radcliffe presidency of Matina Souretis Horner.

Digital Holdings

On the digital front, the library has made extensive progress. The pilot project that the Schlesinger participated in to harvest, catalog, and make accessible “born digital” materials was successfully completed this year. Following a demonstration of the three projects that advanced the development of the WAX (Web Archive Collection Service) system, the University Library Council agreed to incorporate this new system into the range of systems that HUL’s Office for Information Systems supports. Following this decision, we began to prioritize other materials that will constitute the next Schlesinger collection of materials born digitally and that will include blogs, web sites, and e-newsletters produced by women or organizations for which we currently serve as official repository.

Another exciting success is the completion of the collection of travel writing from the Schlesinger Library that will be available to other libraries beginning in October. The Adam Matthew publishing company digitized more than 90 files from 51 collections at the Schlesinger. Letters, scrapbooks, postcards, travel diaries, and journals are digitally reproduced, indexed, and packaged along with a few essays. After the first round of sales that allows Adam Matthew to recoup its costs for the project, the Schlesinger will share in any profits realized.

In the area of collections, last but certainly not least, the library was greatly excited by our ability to digitize one of our most highly sought-after collections, the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Collection. Work began on this in the spring, and it was mostly completed by mid-June. An assortment of over- or odd-sized materials remains, and they will be completed in the coming fall.

Additionally, the Schlesinger Library is one of three Harvard entities participating in a project to resolve the difficult issue of how to archive electronic mail. This problem that has befuddled the profession simply must be solved, and HUL has committed to do so with the help of the Schlesinger Library, the Harvard University Archives, and the Countway Library of Medicine.


Work continued to go forward in preservation. The number of items treated in the year more than doubled, moving from 215 in 2008 to 459 in 2009. In addition to this kind of care, enclosures were made for nearly 300 items. A total of 91 unbound items and 241 photographs were cleaned and flattened. The efforts of conservator Amanda Hegarty were invaluable in preparing the Adam Matthew materials and the Charlotte Perkins Gilman collection for digitization; 157 hours of conservation went into these enterprises. Additionally, the conservator is very involved in each exhibit, taking responsibility for preparing and arranging the material for display and the design of the exhibit itself.

Efforts to collect, acquire, catalog, digitize, and otherwise preserve materials serve one purpose that is facilitated by the public services staff: to connect materials and researchers. This year the Public Service Department has much to boast about, too. Particularly noteworthy is the department’s program in instruction. Led by Ellen Shea, the program has helped public services librarians to be able to integrate the Schlesinger with the University’s instructional programs and the development of the new general education curriculum. They participated in three new courses: “Working in Archives,” “Feminist Conversations,” and “American Food.” These efforts included supplying material for class web sites, mounting temporary exhibits, and collaborating with the Women’s Center on an exhibit. The overall number of instructional sessions rose by 18% this year, from 71 to 82.

Public Services

The library received 3,452 visits from researchers who made 4,171 requests for Schlesinger Library materials (one request might actually be many, many cartons). E-mail inquiries continue to rise, to a new high of 2,461 (17% more than last year). General statistics from the reference department indicate that they too experienced a banner year, with numbers for all services higher than ever before, topping the previous high reached in the year 2002–2003 by about 700 requests for service or information. Researchers produced scholarly articles or books in a range of topics for which Schlesinger collections were instrumental. Topics included small business, justice, and education in New York City; Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins; modern masculinity and the Boy Scouts; and, of course, suffrage.

One of the highs for the library was to look into the reading room during the Gilder Lehrman seminar that Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Director Nancy Cott brought to the library. This very successful continuing education program brings secondary-school teachers for a week of lectures and curriculum research. While it puts a burden on public services staff, the program puts little strain on the rest of the community and not only provides teachers with an invaluable experience but also promotes goodwill and knowledge of the library in an admirable community.


In summary, the library had a very strong year while gradually comprehending the fierce changes in the financial picture. The end of the year brought about the preparation of an FY 2010 budget that is dramatically different from the previous years in its reductions in acquisitions and the elimination of just about all events, training, and travel. Unfortunately, in the last week of FY 2009, bad turned to worse, and we faced layoffs of four respected and well-liked colleagues who had contributed to the successful year that came to a sad end.