Special Collections Increases Online Presence

Posted: July 10, 2000 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Hope J Smith

Special collections and archival librarians are in charge of boxes and boxes of information–papers, letters, manuscripts, books, and other documents, none of which have been organized in a cataloging system. The librarians in George Mason’s Special Collections and Archives (SC&A) must sort and catalog these materials so researchers can request what they need. No wonder libraries pioneered the use of computer databases to track information.

George Mason’s collections, outside of the vast university archives, include documents related to public policy, transportation, and the performing arts. The library also houses several collections of photographs; a collection of papers, plans, and other documents about planned communities, including Reston, Va., the best known planned community; and a collection of congressional papers. Information about roughly half of the collections is available online. “We plan to expand our presence online continually,” says Paul Koda, head of SC&A. This plan includes more online exhibitions, some using multimedia capabilities to relay oral histories. “Once you put something up on the web, it generates more use,” says Koda.

There are many benefits to placing materials online. “The greatest wear on a collection comes in its handling,” says Koda. By examining materials online, patrons can determine if they are valuable to their research, with minimal damage to the collection. One of the main goals of any library is to ensure the circulation and use of its materials. In SC&A that means letting researchers both on and off campus know what’s available in the collection and enticing them to come see it. SC&A accomplishes this by placing bibliographic information about its collection, along with collection descriptions, online. This way, researchers can determine before they make the trip to George Mason if the libraries have what they need.

SC&A invites faculty members to work with its collections and librarians to produce exhibits or web pages that support what they are teaching in the classroom. With enough lead time, SC&A also can provide web access to ordinarily inaccessible materials that can enhance students’ learning, such as photographs, letters, or out-of-print books. “This gives students the chance to work with authentic, historical materials,” says Koda, as well as to learn HTML and web aesthetics. “One of the great things about working with students is they see things in different ways,” he adds.

For more information about working with SC&A, contact Koda at x32221 or Bob Vay at x32220.

Write to at