Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


Preserving the Library in the Digital Age

Librarians, educators, journalists and others often rave about the potential and promise of electronic databases. Let's face it, I rave, too. For my previous book, Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution, and my current book on the Boston Tea Party, I have found Readex collections like America's Historical Newspapers and Early American Imprints invaluable for discovering new sources, learning more about eighteenth-century readers, confirming citations and drawing new comparisons.

I've had a lot of chances to reflect on how I gain access to sources. As a scholar whose sources are over 200 years old, it still amazes me how much I can read without ever leaving my study. Sometimes there are frustrating gaps in the available electronic databases, which can be unwieldy or misleading. Still, on occasions when I need to check a fact or a footnote without leaving my study, they're massively convenient.

Preserving the Library in the Digital Age


In Praise of Librarians and Archivists: Appreciating the Colleagues Who Make Professors' Jobs Easier

Since I was a child begging my mother to take me to the library on a daily basis, I have appreciated the designated keepers of books. Conducting research as an undergraduate student made me aware of the specialized jobs that academic librarians did every day to make life easier for the clueless young people like me who wandered into the building with no idea about how to find academic journal articles or primary sources. As a graduate student, my appreciation for academic librarians only grew. I also became acquainted with archivists, primarily at the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Library of Congress, who explained the mysteries of microfilm readers and emerged out of “the stacks” with the material necessary for me not only to complete my graduate degrees but also to satisfy my intellectual curiosity. Becoming a faculty member has allowed me to work with academic librarians as colleagues. Over the past few years, I have appreciated not only their willingness to assist my students with searching for and acquiring sources but also for the different perspective that they bring to the inner workings of a university.

In Praise of Librarians and Archivists: Appreciating the Colleagues Who Make Professors' Jobs Easier


Of Presidents and Papers

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, established at Princeton University, is preparing the authoritative and comprehensive edition of the correspondence and papers of our nation’s third president. As historians editing Jefferson’s incoming and outgoing correspondence, we are responsible for gathering documents and making them available to posterity in an accurate, transcribed, and contextualized format through our published and digital editions. Our “humanities laboratory” (as our general editor Barbara Oberg refers to it), consists of folders of more than 70,000 photocopied manuscripts gathered from over 900 repositories and private collections. These manuscripts line every wall and fill almost every surface area of our small space and are the core of our collaborative scholarly enterprise.

We never tire of sharing with others the process of producing a documentary edition. When we hosted an annual documents-based seminar for high school students last year, the teenagers looked incredulous when we explained that our compilation of Jefferson correspondence, some in multiple versions, is the single most comprehensive resource of its kind in the world. The techno-savvy students were equally intrigued by the clunky object that, until recently, occupied a corner of our office. We explained that this microfilm reader had enabled us to search thousands of documents from federal repositories and other smaller collections. As we demonstrated this alien technology to a texting and tweeting generation, we were reminded that not long ago these microfilmed manuscripts or microcard collections were the only access points to archives short of in-person visits.

Of Presidents and Papers


Resolving a Stolen Past: The General Allotment Act, Individual Indian Money Accounts, and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set

In December 2009 and at the end of a thirteen-year journey through three administrations and an array of proceedings against four Secretaries of the Interior, a Class Action Settlement Agreement was reached in Cobell v. Salazar before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. This accord recommends a two-part resolution to claims of alleged federal mismanagement of American Indian tribal funds and other assets, resulting from the government’s failure to meet its fiduciary responsibilities as specified by the General Allotment Act of 1887. These paths consist of a payment to individual tribe members to address monetary claims, and of a land program to consolidate more than 140,000 individual Indian allotments and over four million fractionated interests derived from the land distribution process of the Act and subsequent legislation. The Department of the Interior’s summary of this decision included a pertinent 40-acre allotment example. This example was originally described in Hodel v. Irving (481 U.S. 704, 713 [1987]) as “one of the most fractionated parcels of land in the world,” a parcel that produced roughly $1,100 of annual income for its 439 unequal owners. 1 Such fragmentation is systemic and has been censured in studies such as the 1928 Meriam Report.


Elouise Cobell filed her class action suit in 1996 and originally thought it would take only three years to resolve the issues. She joined Secretary Salazar and Attorney General Holder in making the announcement.
(Photo credit: Tami A. Heilemann-DOI)

Resolving a Stolen Past: The General Allotment Act, Individual Indian Money Accounts, and the U.S. Congressional Serial Set


Supplementing Early American Imprints: The Extraordinary Collection of Michael Zinman

Many of the hitherto unknown early American imprints now being digitized by Readex at the Library Company of Philadelphia were acquired in 2000, a mere ten years ago, from Michael Zinman, a private collector who surely ranks among the greatest Americana collectors of all time. Zinman’s collection of some 11,500 books, pamphlets, and broadsides printed in the thirteen colonies and the United States through the year 1800 was the largest such collection assembled in the 20th century, and larger than all but a handful of institutional collections. Not counting a great many duplicates, the Zinman collection added roughly 5,000 imprints to the collections of the Library Company. Including materials on deposit from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, its holdings then stood at over 17, 500 imprints, second only to the American Antiquarian Society, which has about 22,000. The total number known is over 45,000.


At a Council held in Boston January 8. 1679. The Council doth upon further Consideration judge meet to alter the day of Thanksgiving. [Boston: J. Foster, 1679]

Supplementing Early American Imprints: The Extraordinary Collection of Michael Zinman


The Importance of Newspapers in Chronicling the American Revolution

I used to think I knew quite a bit about the American Revolution—until I became a re-enactor. I certainly knew that the war consisted of more than the battles of Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, Trenton and Princeton, Saratoga, Camden, Guilford Courthouse, and Yorktown. I soon learned that even the most detailed history books don’t cover all the military engagements.

When I participated in the 225th anniversary re-enactments, I overheard fellow interpreters commenting about some of these events they knew nothing about. There had been no guidebooks published about the Revolutionary War since the nation’s bicentennial in 1975. Moreover, those guidebooks only covered the major, better known events. This compelled me to begin work on what I intended as a comprehensive, if not exhaustive, military history of the American War for Independence.

The Importance of Newspapers in Chronicling the American Revolution


How Libraries Can Win in Today's Web 2.0 Environment

When librarians talk about developing patron services in the Web 2.0 environment, I often wonder if they are simply expressing a desire to deliver more engaging services, or whether they are truly embracing the Web 2.0 philosophy. For most, it’s likely the former, but over the past 18 months, a growing number of library administrators have been actively searching for ways to capture the fast-paced development environment utilized by Web 2.0 organizations.

In October 2008 at the Readex Digital Institute, Dartmouth College’s David Seaman presented "From Ponderous Perfection to Perpetual Beta: Library Services and Superabundant Information." He talked specifically about his institution’s desire to develop a more nimble infrastructure for creating and testing new patron services. In a sense, Seaman was asking if a library can become a Web 2.0 organization.

It’s an interesting question, as the Web 2.0 concept is, in many ways, more about a philosophy itself than the technologies or services that the philosophy has spawned.1 More specifically, Web 2.0 is grounded in the idea of perpetual development, or “perpetual beta,” and of treating users as equal partners in the development process. Seaman’s talk raised two important questions that I o;d like to explore further: first, what happens within this environment when library services are not successful? And second, what is that one thing—that “big win" for libraries—that will keep users coming back, even if new services fail?

How Libraries Can Win in Today's Web 2.0 Environment


Originalism in a Digital Age: An Inquiry into the Right to Bear Arms

The quest for original intent has dominated Second Amendment scholarship, a trend further solidified in the Supreme Court's recent gun case, District of Columbia v. Heller. In the majority opinion, Justice Scalia insisted that the "normal meaning" of the words of the Second Amendment must be used to understand the Framers' intent, not "secret or technical meanings that would not have been known to ordinary citizens in the founding generation."1 But how can scholars (and justices, for that matter) determine the normal meaning of words? How can we divine what the Founders meant when they recognized the right of the people to keep and bear arms?

The debate over the Second Amendment has largely revolved around whether the right to bear arms protects an individual right to self defense or a collective right to keep arms for service in a militia. To date, most scholarship has sampled select quotations from a relatively narrow set of sources to determine the meaning of key phrases like "bear arms." Readex has now made it possible to search the historical record in a systematic and comprehensive way. Indeed, digital archives with keyword search capabilities can help us understand the meaning of historical phrases with relative certainty.

Originalism in a Digital Age: An Inquiry into the Right to Bear Arms


What's Cooking in the Library? Tested Recipes for Building Digital Libraries

In addition to the ever-increasing interest in digitizing materials for preservation, access and sustainability, interest in creating new digital collections is also on the rise. Digital collections are natural extensions to the idea of the library, an idea which itself has expanded rapidly in recent history—from physical collections to the concept of a collection. As with building physical collections, creating digital collections is arduous and richly rewarding.

For those beginning to create digital collections, the technicalities of digitization are only a small part of the larger process. The larger process requires planning all aspects of the project, especially accessibility and sustainability. Luckily, we can learn from the digitization work of others who have already documented their process. However, the individual requirements of projects emerge from specific collections and institutions and vary accordingly. 1 Those variations require extensive planning time even when using existing models.

In The Mythical Man-Month, Frederick P. Brooks offers a general recipe for software development, comprised of:

  • 1/3 planning
  • 1/6 coding
  • 1/4 component test and early system test
  • 1/4 system test, all components in hand (p. 20)

While Brooks focuses on software engineering, the planning required to develop a digital library project is similar. The longest single chunk of time for the first project iteration should be in planning. Planning is essential to project success because poorly planned projects are difficult to salvage. Brooks' law, "Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later," is equally applicable to many digital library projects.2 Proper planning plots the necessary infrastructure so that time-consuming and costly conversions do not become necessary.

What's Cooking in the Library? Tested Recipes for Building Digital Libraries


Indexing Congressional Publications: The Grasshopper's View

Representative Alexander Hamilton Stephens, 1812-1883, and U.S. Senate Librarian, Alonzo Webster Church, 1829-1909, though on different sides of the aisle and separated by almost two decades in age, had at least one thing in common besides being Southerners, Georgia natives, and graduates of the University of Georgia: a deeply held concern about the indexing of and access to U.S. Congressional publications.

In the Jan. 19, 1880 report "Indexing the Publications of Congress" (H.Rpt. 128, 46th Congress, 2nd Session), Stephens noted that his recent reports from the Committee on Rules have "had the effect of calling the attention of members to the real nature and importance of index-making…and developed an appreciation of the fact that the want of a proper system of indexing has detracted very greatly from their value and use." He then went on to say "the application of a uniform system of indexing, based on well-established principles, would enable the compilation of general indexes at stated periods hereafter a matter of very little trouble and expense."

Stephens also focused on the practices, current at that time, of indexing the Congressional Record, which were making access to the Record far from easy. He quoted one index entry which begins "That the rules of the Last House of Representatives shall be the rules of this House until otherwise ordered, with the following amendments thereto; namely: Rule 76 shall be amended so as to read as follows…" and then the entry goes on for another 660 words making a total entry of 690 words. From that exaggerated case Stephens drew the conclusion: "Measured by the standard of Sir Henry Thring, that 'an index is perfect in proportion as it is concise in expression,' we doubt if a more extreme example of what an index entry should not be can be found in the history of index-making since the art of printing has been practiced."

Indexing Congressional Publications: The Grasshopper's View


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