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The Harvard-Radcliffe Online Historical Reference Shelf

The Harvard University Archives and the Radcliffe Archives have launched the Harvard-Radcliffe Online Historical Reference Shelf. A Library Digital Initiative project, the Reference Shelf is a joint venture with the Office for Information Systems (OIS) of the Harvard University Library (HUL). This new web site, located at, provides electronic access to frequently consulted sources on the history of Harvard and Radcliffe. To date, the Reference Shelf includes:

  • Annual reports of the presidents and treasurers of Harvard and Radcliffe, from 1825 to the present;
  • Narrative histories;
  • Access to the Harvard Fact Book, from 1997 to the present;
  • Founding documents concerning Harvard, from 1642 to 1814.

According to University Archivist Harley Holden,"It is a great satisfaction to observe and to use the ever-expanding online tools for access to a universe of information. Foremost for the researcher seeking information about Harvard is the Harvard-Radcliffe Online Historical Reference Shelf. The information about Harvard available at this web site currently is an auspicious beginning. As this site expands its content, it will become an even more important resource for those seeking information about the University."

By browsing or searching the Reference Shelf, anyone interested in the history of Harvard and Radcliffe can find a wealth of information, including such details as:

  • what classes Harvard sophomores attended on Saturdays in 1825 ("History, and Declamation, or English Composition");
  • that in the 1938-39 academic year, Radcliffe's Department of Health Education offered a senior elective on marriage;
  • what President Pusey had to say about the academic year 1968-69 ("...a dismal year").

To create most of these online resources, the Harvard College Library Digital Imaging Group scanned more than 105,000 pages of text from the Harvard and Radcliffe archives. The resulting digital images were sent to a vendor for full-text conversion using OCR software, and structural metadata was added using XML (Extensible Markup Language). All of the digital files are stored in the Digital Repository Service.

From its inception in 1999, the Reference Shelf was designed as an access point for electronic resources created by the Harvard and Radcliffe archives and as a link to relevant resources created by other units at the University and beyond. Thus the Shelf is a work in progress that will expand as new resources become available.

In addition, the project was designed to demonstrate two new Digital Library services: the Page Delivery Service (PDS) and the Full-text Search service (FTS). With the launch of the Reference Shelf, OIS is making both services widely available to support online delivery of full text material at all Harvard libraries, archives, and other repositories, where text materials can be delivered effectively on the web. The Page Delivery Service is a web-based "page turner" system for reformatted print material such as books, journals, reports, letters, diaries, and notebooks. The Full-text Search service is a web-based system for searching the full text content of digital library material, such as OCR files derived from the scanned page images delivered in the PDS. Material delivered by the PDS can be secured to the Harvard community if necessary, using the normal ID/PIN mechanism.

As the Harvard-Radcliffe Online Historical Reference Shelf demonstrates, PDS can deliver page images online, while the FTS enables full-text searches of the text on the pages. The two systems can be used together or independently. To use either of these new services, the digital objects, including all necessary structural metadata, must be deposited in the Digital Repository Service (DRS). Note: the HCL Digital Imaging Group is developing a service to prepare structural metadata files in XML on behalf of collection owners as part of the scanning process.

For more information, contact Julie Wetherill ( or Wendy Gogel ( in OIS at 5-3724.

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Last modified on Thursday, April 18, 2002.