Thursday, March 10, 2016

During the last decade, the Schlesinger library has been involved in a series of projects and grants to digitize some of the library’s most popular collections. Some of these collections include the Blackwell Family, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Susan B. Anthony, the Beecher-Stowe Family, and Dorothy West.

In 2013, the Schlesinger Library began working with SuiteSpot, an application that had been previously developed for Harvard’s Law School Library. This new application allows researchers to view images of all the digitized documents in the collection. Images can be later grouped by folder, document type, names, etc. This tool also provides researchers with a flexible mechanism to rearrange the documents focused on their research and to find new patterns and relationships within the documents.

Capture a user's custom selection and arrangement of documentsCapture a user's custom selection and arrangement of documents

While the collection retains the traditional archival arrangement, the interface of the new delivery system provides researchers with a new layout to display documents. Researchers can also use the faceted filters provided on the sidebar to further refine the set of results displayed on screen. For example, researchers can select a document type, associated to a person, and a location. These filters are quite useful when working with specific datasets (e.g., looking for a letter, from a particular individual, in a folder containing only correspondence), or when working with complex collections composed by multiple finding aids.

New interface displaying documents and faceted filtersNew interface displaying documents and faceted filters

A good example of a complex collection is the Blackwell Family Papers. This collection is composed of 22 different sets of documents (finding aids), 1,623 folders, and a total of 128,996 different items (personal correspondence, legal documents, publications, photographs, etc.).

Using faceted filters, user can reduce the time spent searching for items in these large datasets. E.g. Looking for correspondence between Alice Stone Blackwell and her father, Henry Browne Blackwell. Selecting both of their names under the name filter will reduce the total number of items to review from 128,996 to 378. By selecting postcards as the document type, the number of results is reduced to 13 items, and the total number of results can be reduced further if an additional filter is added.

Search results indicating the filters usedSearch results indicating the filters used

The case presented is only a small example of the capabilities and opportunities presented by these new digital collections. Currently, along the Blackwell Family papers, the Schlesinger Library has also made available online the papers of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Dorothy West. We invite you to explore our new tools and find your very own needle in a haystack.


Pablo Morales Henry