REFERENCE SOURCES SPOTLIGHT: Fantastic Archival Collections and Where to Find Them

Following is an overview of different and complementary ways to look for archival collections, particularly regarding music. Some may be familiar, but readers will hopefully find some avenues that are off their beaten paths.

Archival Consortia
Archival consortia are often organized around geographical areas, such as ArchivesWest, or Texas Archival Resources Online. The scope of collections in these consortia offers a partially overlapping Venn diagram of 1), collections that are held in a given repository in the consortium, and 2), collections concerned with the history and culture of a geographical area. They also offer pooled resources and economies of scale that allow discoverability of smaller libraries, museums, and archives. Other consortia are organized by topics or physical formats, including UCLA’s Sheet Music Consortium. The Society of American Archivists provides a useful list, including the aforementioned consortia, at the link below.

Music Treasures Consortium
The Library of Congress’s Music Treasures Consortium focuses on rare music materials from libraries around the world, offering access to digital copies where they are available. This collection brings together items from many music libraries within the United States, as well as international ones.

WorldCat’s Cousin
Many librarians are familiar with WorldCat as the “mothership” catalog of catalogs, but the mothership has a close relative in the OCLC family for archival collections, known as ArchiveGrid. ArchiveGrid takes in catalog records of archival collections, as well as Encoded Archival Description finding aids like the ones from consortia mentioned above, maximizing discoverability in a single search. With over five million records, ArchiveGrid is useful for casting a wide net to search for archival collections, with the ability to narrow searches by people, location, and other parameters under the “summary view” tab.

Across the Pond
ArchivesHub brings together the archival collections of over 350 institutions in the United Kingdom. As with ArchiveGrid, the archival collection is the basic unit of organization, and it is also possible to filter searches by repository, creator, subject, and the availability of digital material, among other criteria.

For the European continent, Europeana offers item-level searches as well as galleries and blog posts that feature collection highlights. Notably, Europeana offers a considerable amount of digitized media, so that one may search for and view illuminated manuscripts and other rare and antiquarian materials.

Another angle
While most archival discovery tools focus on collections, the Social Networks and Archival Context project (SNAC) brings together archival authority records for persons, corporate bodies and families. As the archival description of material differs from library cataloging, archival authority records also represent a different (but complementary) set of priorities. This approach groups collections associated with a creator or contributor in a broad context, often detecting smaller, incidental appearances of individuals found in a creator’s correspondence, or interpersonal associations that may be established from other sources, and bringing them together under one record. SNAC also offers a visualization of the interpersonal associations it records, and it can be very enlightening to discover who turns up in a social network, suggesting new avenues for exploration.

Coming soon
In an effort to better serve users and optimize the use of resources the California Digital Library is coordinating with OCLC and other stakeholders in an ongoing IMLS-funded grant project to plan a National Finding Aid Network (NAFAN).

Room for growth
By nature, archival description is an iterative process. There is always more to be done, but urgent action items include increasing the diversity of representation in our institutions and collections, in order to represent the musical life that those collections chronicle in a more complete context, and better serve library users and the surrounding community.

Maristella Feustle
University of North Texas