Organized Labor: Promoting Access to the Slichter Industrial Relations Collection

Project Summary

Submitted by Barbara Burg of Widener Library/ RSLT/SAP.

The Slichter Industrial Relations Collection was developed in the late 1930’s by renowned economist and Harvard Professor Sumner H. Slichter in support of his seminars at the Harvard Business School and the Graduate School of Public Administration. This collection comprises both United States and foreign trade union agreements, contracts, labor organization pamphlets, employee handbooks, and labor arbitration awards from the early to mid-20th century. The collection provides a glimpse of the working conditions in a variety of organizations such as the circus, the auto industry, the airline industry, the electrical industry, the screen actors guild, and more.

Originally known as the Industrial Relations Library, the Slichter Collection was incorporated into Littauer Library in 1946 and then moved to the Harvard Depository when Littauer closed in 2007. Though the collection contains approximately 120,000 items, it is spread across multiple HOLLIS records, which are difficult to locate and are not robust (e.g., HOLLIS Nos. 8889298 and 8876127).

We propose digitizing the collection's labor agreements card catalog along with a pilot to digitize selected labor agreements of several major industries. This would allow for keyword searching of relevant material within this large collection and would provide researchers with a more detailed view of its scholarly potential. We also propose creating a guide or portal, with the history of the collection, more information about the individual parts of the collection (industries covered, types of materials included, etc.) and guidance on locating the different parts of the collection in HOLLIS.

Amount requested is $6,500-$7,000.

Expected Results with Partial Funding

If only partial finding were given we could digitize the labor agreements card catalog without the additional pilot project. This would provide researchers with an overview and guide for the collection. However the catalog cards are not detailed and do not capture the richness of this collection.

Estimated Follow-on Activities and/or Costs

The collection is in good condition, so no preservation costs are anticipated at this time. Harvard College Library would cover DRS storage cost centrally.

Benefit to Harvard Scholars and Patrons

The impetus for this project grew out of a request from a researcher who wanted to create a documentary about labor struggles. She needed access to these primary materials but was unable to locate them herself. In addition to this student, various members of the Harvard faculty do research related to labor studies, including Sven Beckert and Lizabeth Cohen in History and Claudia Goldin in Economics. By beginning to digitize this collection we hope to make these materials accessible to the wider Harvard community in a number of disciplines. A similar collection at Cornell University’s Catherwood Library has been well-documented and partially digitized. Cornell’s labor collection has been used by scholars across many disciplines to publish nearly 70 works in the past two decades.

Ways the Project Supports Cross-Unit or Cross-Discipline Activities

This value of the collection spans across multiple disciplines in its application to research. We believe scholars in the fields of History, American Studies, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, African American Studies, Economics, Law, and Education would all find use for these primary materials. The collection also represents an important piece of Harvard history. Professor Slichter was the first Lamont University Professor at Harvard and integral in the founding of the Harvard Trade Union Program, a forerunner to The Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School.

Resources the Sponsoring Library Can Support or Will Need Support For

The Imaging Services staff would manage the digitization process. Members of the History Liaison Team would create the portal and guide for the collection.

Other Approaches to Achieving Goal or Result

The project could carry forward with only the digitization of the labor agreements card catalog.

Risks if Proposal is Not Approved

The collection would remain hidden at HD and underutilized. Though it is always possible to digitize the collection in the future, part of the urgency in the project comes from the fact that there is still one research librarian on staff (semi-retired) who worked with this collection at Littauer and can provide useful context and institutional knowledge.

Additional Information

Barbara Burg suggested this project for submission, but given her part-time status, Research Librarians Anna Esty and Susan Gilman, would take the lead on the project’s implementation.

Evaluate Proposal

Please evaluate this project by the four criteria below and provide comments in the comment field.