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Administration and Programs

Harvard University Archives

Harvard University Archives



The Harvard University Archives supports the University's mission of education and research by striving to preserve and provide access to Harvard's historical records; to gather an accurate, authentic, and complete record of the life of the University; and to promote the highest standards of management for Harvard's current records. To address the mission, staff members anticipate and plan for future record-keeping trends while continuing to build collections of permanent records from the 17th through the 21st centuries. The University Archives' key constituencies are Harvard faculty, students, and staff from across all academic and administrative units at Harvard. In addition, the University Archives supports the wider scholarly community by providing collection access to a wide range of scholars from around the world.

Challenge and Response

Building Strong Research Collections for the Future

Several key factors contributed to the challenge of becoming increasingly more proactive, strategic, and effective in collecting initiatives and meeting the needs of donors and office clients. Among these factors were the lack of enough time to acquire all the collections identified as appropriate for the Archives and the lack of an effective means to reach faculty and staff to broadcast and build awareness of the Archives' mission.

To address these challenges, staff identified workflow elements and standardized the processes of bringing personal papers and other historical collections into the Archives. Staff also formalized systems for creating and implementing certificate of gift forms, developed tools to collect more accurate acquisition information and to track donor interactions, and streamlined the accessioning process. These changes improved both internal communication among Archives departments and referral practices for incoming collections and University records transfers. As a result, the Archives is able to meet the needs of our constituents more efficiently.

Maintaining and Improving Access and Public Service to the Community

Making progress on achieving solid intellectual control over all of the collections and maintaining a high level of service to the community challenged staff this year.

To address these issues, staff began to work seriously on a long-needed shift in approach to the Archives' methods of arranging, describing, and providing access to its collections. With much thought and discussion, staff moved towards the more efficient methods of archival collection arrangement based heavily on provenance and on adopting new methods to emphasize content-rich description optimizing research access to the collections. Staff members experimented with a phased approach to processing by focusing only on the materials in a collection holding high research value. Staff learned skills to support the maintenance of complex digital objects and worked towards the deployment and development of the Archivists' Toolkit as a centralized collection management system. Public Services staff demonstrated their ability to maintain service levels by examining and adjusting practices, workflows, and goals.

Providing a High Level of Records Management Services to the Community

A leadership turnover in Spring 2010 requiring reassessment of FY 2010 priorities, coupled with an increased workload for records management staff during a year of extraordinary change at the University that led to closing offices and departing employees, provided the greatest records management challenges. Staff rose to the occasion by addressing the workload with increased and improved training for staff in Harvard offices. These training sessions reflect the first phases of updating the repertoire of workshop materials as well as new guidance for clients on records management topics/issues. Staff also created specific literature on best practices in the handling of records issues associated with office closings and departing employees.


Collection Development

The Archives accessioned 145 collections totaling 711 cubic feet (both University records and personal papers). These acquisitions add significantly to the scholarly scope of the Archives' holdings. Acquisition highlights include the following paper/non-electronic additions:

  • Papers of Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management (emeritus) Lewis McAdory Branscom, John F. Kennedy School of Government. Until July 1996, Professor Branscom directed the school's Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
  • Papers of Maud Wilcox, editor of the Harvard University Press for 30 years. The collection includes her correspondence and accompanying records relating to her work at the Harvard University Press as well as correspondence with her husband, Edward Wilcox, written to her while he was in a German internment camp during World War II.
  • Papers of Keyes DeWitt Metcalf, librarian of Harvard College and director of the Harvard University Library, 1937–1955. Metcalf was an internationally known library administration consultant, with special emphasis on architectural design.
  • Records of the Harvard Trademark Program, including original trademark licensee records, graphic designs, and program administration records.
  • Records of the Harvard Graduate School of Education Learning and Teaching master's program containing syllabi, course readings/course preparation materials, and videotapes of lectures.

In addition, the University Archives continues to add to the growing collection of "archived" web sites made accessible through the Web Archiving Service (WAX). A total of 94 "harvests" were accessioned, with 253 Harvard web sites now in the collection.

Collection Services

Through a gift from the Sidney Verba Fund, staff organized the digitization of the papers of early presidents of Harvard, 1638–1838. With a gift from the Arcadia Fund, staff completed half of a one-year project, "Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries," to make fully accessible the Archives' 17th- and 18th-century holdings. Among the many collections processed and analyzed, staff completed work on the first phase of the papers of Professor Karl Teeter (1929–2007), a linguist known especially for his work with Algic languages. This six-month project prepared the collection for research use by anthropologists and engaged the staff in forensic work with difficult computer file formats. Staff also completed work on the records of the Harvard Treasurers, 1669–2008, a multi-year effort to establish intellectual and physical control over an extensive unprocessed record group. Staff assisted with a panoramic photograph preservation project conducted by Weissman photo conservation technicians who cleaned, stabilized, and rehoused more than 348 panoramic photographs. Archives staff installed the photographs in a permanent storage area and created new location data. These digitization and processing projects provided better access to materials for Archives' patrons.

Public Services

The Archives assumed responsibility for the Harvard Historical Calendar, a database of Harvard events and activities, 1636 to the present. Public services staff provided curriculum support to Harvard faculty and students in 24 courses, including 13 Archives orientation sessions for over 200 students, the creation of research guides, and ongoing individual reference assistance. Archives staff traveled beyond the reading room to participate in programs relating to a course on the archaeology of Harvard Yard, and connected with graduate students at the GSAS DudleyFest event. Staff provided administrative research services to over 70 University offices and departments, with requests ranging from office file retrievals to full-scale research projects. Starting this past spring, the Archives is participating in planning for 375th-anniversary festivities, coordinated by the University Marshal. Over the summer, the Archives hosted a Harvard undergraduate chosen by the University Marshal to design a historical audio tour of Harvard Yard. The combined efforts of the Public Services staff maintained a high level of access and use by a broad segment of the Harvard community.

Records Management Services

Staff promoted best practices in records management at the University through strategic communications activities, including 27 training sessions for 117 participants, as well as seven targeted presentations. Staff assisted University offices and departments with records-related issues resulting from the economic downturn by providing advice and assistance to offices/departments that closed or lost staff. They worked with Records Center clients interested in cutting costs related to their Records Center accounts by providing a "Managing Your Records Center Account" workshop and issuing account inventories and customized account reviews. Staff leveraged opportunities to address emerging records management issues at the University by sending communications to senior administrators regarding departing employees and office consolidations. Records management and collection development staff together worked on a project with the Office for Information Systems to development a tool to collect electronic mail in a secure environment. The impact of this records management work is to mitigate risk for the University while also helping to build strong and useful permanent collections of records in the Archives.


The Archives serves a broad constituency and engages with faculty, students, and staff at all levels of the University. This past year, projects involved close collaboration with conservators at the Weissman Preservation Center, providing Archives staff with broader knowledge of the physical characteristics and history of the early collections as well improved storage and handling methods. Working with OIS and Weissman staff, ideas were shared and projects conducted that addressed issues of audiovisual media and computer files for the purposes of future reformatting and preservation, as well as the first serious steps in addressing electronic records.


Overall, despite a challenging year at the University, the Archives maintained a high level of service for all its constituents.