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Update: Findings from External Review of Harvard University Archives

A note from Megan Sniffin-Marinoff, University Archivist.


February 25, 2014

Dear colleagues,

This is a brief report on the findings of an external review of the Harvard University Archives by the Harvard Library. The review, which concluded in fall 2013, looked to the future, with recommendations taking into account governance and organization, current contributions of archives and records management, overall quality and resources. This summary also includes some initial steps recently taken to address some of the recommendations.

First, though—a reminder. The Harvard University Archives is your archives. The staff 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 (including both institutional records and personal archives); and to promote the highest standards of management for Harvard's current records. Guidance and the collection policies for the Archives are derived from a series of votes taken by the Harvard Corporation between 1851 and 1995. The major researchers using the collections are the students and faculty at FAS (as well as all other Schools), Harvard’s administrative offices and governing boards and scholars external to Harvard. Over the past three years, researchers have represented 54 countries.

The external reviewers reported the collections of the University Archives to be among the most important resources in the nation for the history of its intellectual life. The report noted generations of scholars having used the collections of faculty papers and the University’s own records as a primary source for the understanding of central historical questions. The reviewers found a sound program with accomplished and dedicated staff.

The final report does not point to any fundamental weakness with the University Archives. It does, however, provide a number of observations and suggestions that address current challenges. The numerous critical needs cited include:

  • Greater visibility on campus not only for what the Archives has but for what it does
  • Stronger financial support through establishment of a designated endowment
  • Resources to address the large number of unprocessed, legacy "hidden" collections
  • Resumption of staff hiring, on hold for several years
  • Greater appreciation and oversight of the impact of information technology on records production at Harvard as a whole and as a result on the Archives
  • Greater faculty understanding of and support for the scholarly role of the Archives as a cultural resource for the world
  • Greater appreciation of Harvard faculty and administration for the potential of the Archives to make a particular difference in the educational experience of Harvard graduate and undergraduate students
  • Determining a way to address multiple and historically unclear relationships across several University departments and schools. 

Since this report was issued, staff re-hiring has begun (look to ASPIRE now and in the coming weeks). Several positions are being reworked to allow for greater opportunity to work with faculty and students and to hire staff with experience in electronic records management. "Hidden" collections have been identified for potential support in the capital campaign. Efforts are continuing to increase the visibility via digitization of the unique 17th- and 18th-century collections reflecting early American history.

There will be much more to come.  I’ll report back to the Library community in six months to provide further updates on our progress.

Best regards,

Megan Sniffin-Marinoff
University Archivist
Harvard University Archives