CORVALLIS - Oregon State University has received a grant of $350,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to coordinate a project that will create an online catalog of information about archival collections at 13 different Northwest institutions.
The project is important because it will help scholars, students, policy-makers, journalists and others have better understanding of, and access to, historical information about the Northwest.
"What the grant essentially will allow us to do is to bring together all of institutions' catalogs of archival materials into one place so researchers can see how different databases may relate to one another," said Larry Landis, OSU's university archivist. "And it will be in a searchable format."
Landis said a scholar or a resource manager seeking information on Northwest environmental history, for example, would have to make contact with numerous universities and organizations to assess their data. When the new "Northwest Digital Archives" project is complete, it will serve as the "front door," or portal into information about 15 different repositories of information at the 13 institutions.
Participating universities include OSU, the University of Oregon, Pacific Lutheran University, the University of Washington, Whitworth College, Washington State University, Western Washington University, the University of Idaho, and the University of Montana.
Other participating institutions include the Oregon Historical Society, the Montana Historical Society, the Washington State Archives, and the Seattle Municipal Archives.
"Within these organizations is a wealth of resources," Landis said. "Many of the collections pertain to the Northwest's resource-based economy, including forestry, agriculture, fishing and mining."
Several of the participating institutions also have extensive resources on politicians and political history, pointed out Elizabeth Nielsen, senior archivist at OSU.
"There are a number of large political collections," she said. "The University of Montana, for example, has a major collection on Sen. Mike Mansfield, while the University of Washington has a prominent collection on Henry 'Scoop' Jackson."
In most cases, the actual materials won't be included in this new combined catalog, which will take two years to create, the archivists say. But users will be able to effectively determine what resources exist and they will be shown how to access those materials at the site of the host institutions.
Digital versions of materials in many of the collections likely will be added at some point in the future, Landis said.
"One of the biggest benefits for researchers is that all of the catalog will be described in a standard format using a method called 'Encoded Archival Description,' or EAD," Landis said. "It will ensure that researchers using the Northwest Digital Archives will be able to simultaneously search the 2,300 collections housed at the various institutions."
Collections at OSU, for example, include more than 500,000 items from the career of Nobel Prize laureate Linus Pauling and materials from the career of environmentalist/photographer William L. Finley.
University Librarian Karyle Butcher, OSU's deputy vice provost for Information Services, praised the leadership of Landis and Nielsen for tackling the monumental project.
"The grant is exciting for us and the funding will be instrumental in moving forward OSU's digital initiatives for libraries," Butcher said. "It also will dramatically increase the ability of all libraries with archival collections to standardize how they describe those collections."
When completed, the Northwest Digital Archives will be housed at Washington State University, though available online from other locations.