Harvard in mid June

I spent all day Saturday travelling from the West Coast to the East. San Francisco airport was a circus on Saturday morning, and I needed almost all of the 2 hours prior to flight that the authorities recommend. The increased security issues were not really the issue – just too many people wanting to travel on a Saturday in June, and terrible organisation of the check-in processes. Still, everyone was cheerful, so can’t complain.

My dear friend Cathy was waiting for me at the airport and returned me to her family’s home in Brookline. It was wonderful to catch up with her husband Mark, three teenagers – Lily, Max and Sam – and five month old puppy Amos. Sunday was a day off for me, and I enjoyed celebrating a combination of Father’s Day and three Year 8 graduations (the end of ‘middle school’) with the family. A walk in the gorgeous Arboretum – including seeing Bonsai grown from 1767 – and then a ‘potluck’ supper with neighbourhood friends, topped off a great day.

A beautiful Boston summer morning saw me catching the ‘T’ into Harvard, where Leslie Morris, Curator of Manuscripts at the Houghton Library had organised a great program for me. I had anticipated talking just about Harvard’s recent project to convert 1500 finding aids from hard copy and EAD, and around 5000 catalogue cards to MARC. But the discussions ended up ranging over three very interesting areas.

Houghton Library, Harvard

First, Leslie gave me a run-down on the multiplicity of libraries at Harvard, and the many lines of reporting and direction in place. This was important information, as it has a major impact on the various libraries’ and archives’ ability to work together for collective aims. We then met with Skip Kendall and Kate Bowers of the Harvard University Archives. Skip is running a new project to start collecting the University’s own websites. Even as a non-PANDORA specialist, I felt I was able to contribute quite a lot about the National Library of Australia’s website archive, begun way back in 1996. We discussed the Library’s two-pronged approach to website collection – selective collection using the PANDAS softwared, and the two whole of domain web harvests undertaken with the Internet Archive. I suggested that Skip contact Paul Koerbin, as the Library has much expertise in this area.

Kate then outlined Harvard’s involvement in the Archivists Toolkit (AT) project. Harvard was not a development partner, but will be a significant testing partner. 10 libraries and archives at the university are just about to start training in using the AT, followed by a rigorous testing phase. This is obviously important to Harvard – who are as much in need of collection management tools as we are at the NLA – but it is also important to the AT developers. Harvard will be the first ‘test case’ for deploying the AT over distributed repositories – each of the Harvard archives has its own identity, collection development policies, repositories etc.

Widener Library, Harvard

Widener Library at Harvard

Over lunch at the rather grand Faculty Club, Kate, Leslie and I were joined by two reading room managers from different libraries. We managed to talk the whole hour away about the changing needs of researchers, the benefits of having all materials available to researchers in a single place, the pros and cons of digital cameras in reading rooms, the extraordinary difficulties in fulfilling copy orders in archives etc. etc. I hope I was able to give a flavour of our desire to revamp our onsite and offsite reader services over the next few years.

After lunch, Leslie and I had a very ‘tin tacks’ discussion about their conversion project. It was just fantastic to hear about the different approaches they tried, what worked, how long it took, which vendors they used and how much various aspects cost. Leslie is in the happy position of having no regrets about the way the project was planned and implemented, and I felt very cheered and heartened by their success. This project gives us a very clear ‘blueprint’ for how to plan our own, and I was very grateful to Leslie for sharing some important project documentation with me, right down to the level of workflow documents. This kind of exchange is invaluable, and we got more done in a couple of hours than many months of emails would have achieved.

I finished the day by being a guest at the Harvard AT implementers Working Group. With just a week or so before the first training tutorials for librarians and archivists from across campus, the group was discussing many details of how to ‘get started’ with this new tool. I took careful notes of this, as I remember well how little of this kind of implementation detail was available when EAD was introduced in Australia in 2000. Enormous amounts of time can be wasted when instructions about installing and running a new tool are not available. Interestingly, I learned that few of the Harvard archives plan to use the AT for EAD authoring at this stage – they are much more interested in the collection management functions. Most of them use XMetal – a very expensive product that most of them feel is an excellent tool – with a few using other tools.

June in Harvard

June in Harvard

I have written up these ‘AT implementers’ notes elsewhere – they will be very handy when we come to test the tool ourselves at the Library. The day at Harvard, then, ended up being even more valuable than I had anticipated. Once again, I was made very welcome and much appreciated these colleagues’ generosity in giving up so much of their time for me.

Back ‘home’ at the end of the day on the T. I am very glad indeed to be staying with this special family in the middle of my trip. Hotels are all very well, but homes are much nicer. Especially when there is a very affectionate puppy – 5 month old Amos – to play with and walk at the end of the work day!

Cute Amos

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