|Postcards from Ernst Mach to E. Kulke|
The Smithsonian Libraries’ first major foray into the stewardship of manuscript collections was launched in 1974, with the gift of over 10,000 rare books and manuscripts from the Burndy Library, the private collection of industrialist and philanthropist Bern Dibner. The Burndy donation became the core collection of the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology. Bern Dibner’s printed book and manuscript collections document the growth of European and American scientific and technological advances between the thirteenth and twentieth centuries, featuring correspondence, drafts, sketches, and ephemera by luminaries including Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Marie Curie, and Albert Einstein, among others. The Dibner Library currently has approximately 2,000 manuscript groups, having acquired additional items from other Smithsonian units and curators as well as gifts received from outside the Institution.
In 2006, the Smithsonian Libraries received its second major collection of archival and manuscript materials with the acquisition of the Russell E. Train Africana Collection for the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History. Featuring approximately 6,000 archival and manuscript items, including handwritten and typed correspondence, draft novels, photographs, sketch books, diaries, original artwork, ephemera, and both man-made and natural artifacts, the Train Africana Collection highlights the adventures of explorers, missionaries, conservationists and other travelers in Africa between the late seventeenth and twentieth centuries. The manuscript and archival materials of the Train Africana Collection are a rich trove of insights into the lives and activities of David Livingstone, Henry Morton Stanley, Ernest Hemingway, and Theodore Roosevelt, among others. Thanks to the help of contract archivists and the Smithsonian’s EAD coordinator, a detailed finding aid of the Train Africana Collection, including digitized content, is available on the Smithsonian OnlineVirtual Archives (SOVA) website.
|Chandeliers from Caldwell & Co.|
The National Museum of African American History & Culture Library, the newest unit of the Smithsonian Libraries which opens to the public in late fall 2016, is embracing archival materials as a focal point of its collections: in addition to the head librarian, the NMAAHC Library staff includes an archivist and a genealogy specialist.
The National Collections Program’s Collections Digitization Reporting System (CDRS), a Smithsonian-wide initiative to get a grip on documenting significant materials that have not been described adequately even at the collection level in the various online catalogs of the Smithsonian, has spurred the Libraries’ staff over the past couple of years to identify and describe various pockets of archival and ephemeral materials scattered across its locations, in an effort to make these formerly hidden collections (as the Council on Library and Information Resources would refer to them) findable and properly preserved, and, where appropriate, eventually digitized.
Several recent Smithsonian-wide developments are helping the Libraries to transition into a unit where its archival and manuscript collections are nearly as accessible as its printed and digital materials:
• We have multiple options for online discovery of collections: At the Smithsonian, the Libraries’ holdings are available through its dedicated SIRIS catalog, the Collections Search Center with over 10 million records of museum objects, archives and library materials from across the Institution, and the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA), which came online in 2015 and contains finding aids for more than 8000 diverse collections of primary resources from more than a dozen repositories at the Institution. The Libraries’ collections are also indexed in OCLC’s Worldcat, a global union catalog of library resources in all types of formats, and some of our digitized materials are available through the Internet Archive and the Digital Public Library of America, as well as more specialized thematic web projects like the the Biodiversity Heritage Library and Livingstone Online. To take full advantage of these various outlets, the Smithsonian Libraries has been prioritizing efforts to upgrade the description and access points for its archival and manuscript materials and, where possible, make them available in digitized form, since these unique collections hold the greatest interest for researchers who would otherwise be unaware of their existence.
|Aeronautica scrapbook page|
• We have the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers Transcription Center, which went online in 2013 and has now had over 1,000 projects transcribed from fourteen participating museums, archives and libraries. The Smithsonian Libraries has so far contributed fourteen of its manuscript and archival holdings for transcription, including the commonplace book of a late eighteenth century English woman interested in scientific topics; a scrapbook of papers related to physicist Ernst Mach; a notebook of pressed butterfly specimens collected in East Africa during the second half of the nineteenth century; and a parallel vocabulary of the English and Potawatomi Indian languages, to name a few. Currently, the Transcription Center is featuring a fifteenth century Latin manuscript of Boethius’ De institutione arithmetica, complete with intricate palaeographical markings and abbreviations. The international community of Smithsonian Volunpeers, or digital volunteers, has diligently and accurately transcribed the various works made available through the Transcription Center, and thanks to their efforts, these texts are now keyword-searchable in the Collections Search Center.
|Cropped section from page 125 of Boethius' De Institutione Arithmetica|
Diane Shaw, Special Collections Cataloger