ArchiveGrid.org – the boon of my existence

Archives, the historical records, documents, evidence created by people, families, organizations and governments are essential for understanding our achievements and failures, our social and ethnic heritage. These resources are used to transmit our culture from one generation to the next and help us have a tangible connection to the past.

Like the people and organizations that create archives, the documentation has moved with them through their journeys across countries, and around the world. Their preservation, especially in the New World, has been both deliberate and serendipitous. And these stories, these records are scattered and dispersed across the country and around the world.

Back in the day, when I was a graduate student in American History, I had the somewhat amusing but mostly frustrating experience of trying to find archival materials to support my research on “American Geological Survey”, spending days combing through the printed volumes of the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (lovingly known as NUCMC), with no cumulative index and by the way, finding very little.

ArchiveGrid.org is a service designed and developed by RLG to help serve the needs of researchers – writ large – and also to help all those archivists out there to promote access to the truly remarkable collections they have acquired and preserved over time. We are a non-profit organization dependent on the subsidy of our members and others who need and want our offerings. An angel has afforded us this year to make the service better and deliver it free to all for the next three months. We continue to seek additional support for making this exceptional tool free or cheap for institutions and individuals who need it.

I think it’s great but don’t just take my word for it see what others are saying and try it out for yourself:

Sample comments received in the past three days:

“I am impressed! A great innovation to add to the growing number of online research facilities. It is especially important to people who are unable to make regular visits overseas to have ease of access to the existence of valuable material. In one stroke this morning, using the trial package, I found a map of a city in China that no longer exists in original form, as it is below 60 metres of water. Thank you.”

“This is massively impressive.”

“I have been researching Colonel Henry Wilson since 2002. He was a veteran of the War of 1812, First Seminole War, Second Seminole War, Creek Removal, Cherokee Removal, Mexican War, Comanche Uprising, and the Utah War. He served from 1814-1861. His papers are scattered from LSU to UWF to Univ. of Florida to Fla. Hist. Soc.

I did the search on ArchiveGrid for him and WHAM! Yale also has a set of his papers. Now I can add to my research activities.”

“As I’ve just been compiling an exhibition on Vita Sackville-West I used her name as a search term and found over 40 entries, most of them directly relevant so, although I’m in England, I think the site could be a useful tool.”

“Well, I tried out archivegrid last night and I really like it. It’s much more intuitive and simpler to use than other archive catalogs or databases that are currently available.”

“I went to the site yesterday afternoon and found an important collection for a study I am doing which I did not suspect existed.”

Please share your own comments, questions, and suggestions. And watch this site for continuing news.

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5 Comments

  1. ArchivesGrid is great, and is a useful update to the RLG Eureka search service, however, anyone who might need to do serious manuscript research should never replace searching the print edition of the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) and the Index of Personal Names in the NUCMC 1959-1984 as well as many other trusted sources and indexes of Manuscript Collections with an ArchivesGrid search. The bottom line is that ArchivesGrid represents one way to search, and is NOT a replacement for other methods of locating Manuscript Collections.

    As a Manuscripts Librarian, I cringe at the thought of researchers finding locations of materials in ArchivesGrid that have been available to them for years if they had just opened the print NUCMC. Especially assuming that those who researcher using manuscript collections are learned, expert or scholarly patrons.

    Also, I have noticed that it is hard to link to the Finding Aid at the repository directly from the search result in ArchivesGrid? Can this be changed?

    Thanks RLG!

  2. Thomas,
    Thanks for the comments. It will be interesting to see how people use this resource now and into the future. You should know that most of the NUCMC records if not all are included in ArchiveGrid.

    If you click on the title of the finding aid in your search result, it should take you directly to the finding aid. If this is not working for you, please comment to the service where we encourage this kind of feedback.
    Best regards,
    Anne

  3. Anne, thanks for replying…here are two scenarios I came up with show some pros and cons of ArchiveGrid.

    1) ArchiveGrid is a beneficial way to brainstorm on subjects, for instance, to find MSS collections on broad topics such as ‘civil war surgeons’ However, if you know the name of a civil war surgeon, for instance, ‘John Theodore Heard,’ ArchiveGrid can be misleading. A search for ‘John Heard’ or ‘John Theodore Heard’ yields mixed results (67 ‘relevant results’ for John Heard, but no relevant results for John Theodore Heard, turning off relevant results yields 237 collections for John Theodore Heard) However, John Theodore Heard is in the Index of Personal Names in the NUCMC 1959-1984 and Northwestern Medical Library has a collection of his papers. The papers do not show up on ArchiveGrid, most likely due to some idiosyncrasy in the catalog record for these materials at Northwestern.

    2) Another positive of ArchiveGrid is the ‘Archives’ and ‘Location’ boxes to the left of the search results that allow users to whittle results by repository or geographical space. However, the ranking of results often seems irrational. For example the search results for ‘Lillian Wald’ rank citations to single letters by Wald higher than collections of Wald’s Papers at NYPL or Columbia???

    Please understand that I believe ArchiveGrid to be a necessary tool, and one that clearly shows evidence of RLG’s tech staff understanding the needs of today’s computer-prone research. Linking researchers to the materials they need is a good thing. However, I do believe that NUCMC print indexes continue to offer librarians and researchers a clear gateway into MSS collections and should not be thought of as having been replaced. (The NUCMC is still a scholar’s friend!!)

    I hope that RLG continues to develop their ArchiveGrid service, and this period of free access until May 31 is indeed, quite a boon. However, I wonder if a free ArchiveGrid may unfairly give people the idea that they can gain access to archival materials as easily as linking to them. The fact is that individual repositories have differing guidelines about public access to their collections.

    Thanks.

  4. Hello:
    You have published in the inbox of your website, the following sample comment:
    “I have been researching Colonel Henry Wilson since 2002. He was a veteran of the War of 1812, First Seminole War, Second Seminole War, Creek Removal, Cherokee Removal, Mexican War, Comanche Uprising, and the Utah War. He served from 1814-1861. His papers are scattered from LSU to UWF to Univ. of Florida to Fla. Hist. Soc.

    I did the search on ArchiveGrid for him and WHAM! Yale also has a set of his papers. Now I can add to my research activities.”

    I am very interested in that historical character (Colonel Henry J. Wilson). I would really appreciate if you could contact me with the author of that sample comment. I know you cannot give me his (or her) e-mail, but you can give him (or her) mine.
    Thank you very much.

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