Category: Archives and Records Management

Project Archivist Presents at New England Regional Meeting of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance

By , October 8, 2015
3rd Annual New England Regional Meeting of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, held at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, 25 September 2015.

3rd Annual New England Regional Meeting of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance.

On Friday, September 25, Project Archivist Amber LaFountain attended the 3rd Annual New England Regional Meeting of the National Digital Stewardship Alliance, held at the Dartmouth campus of the University of Massachusetts.  The meeting allowed attendees to highlight their institutions’ current digital stewardship work, and provided opportunities for collaborative learning and brainstorming.

The first half of the program was dedicated to short presentations, during which archivists, librarians, and information professionals representing a number of New England institutions shared their current digital initiatives.  Amber presented to the group on the Center’s Bridging the Research Data Divide project, a CLIR-funded collaboration with the University of Alberta Libraries that began in June 2015.  She discussed the CLIR partners’ plans for exposing descriptive metadata about the project’s research data collections through the Dataverse, and for developing best practices for describing research data collections to enable long-term access, use, and repurposing of the data.

Later in the program, attendees broke into informal unconference groups to discuss various digital stewardship topics and concerns.  Amber was able to collaborate with other local archivists and librarians to brainstorm ideas for data wrangling (preparing digital assets for long-term preservation and use) and for creating preservation metadata for digital collections.  Other unconference topics included: issues with saving digital assets in proprietary software and databases; implementing practical preservation practices; file integrity verification; and repositories for access versus preservation.

The meeting was a fantastic learning opportunity, and we’re excited to follow the progress of our local colleagues’ projects over the coming year.

The Bridging the Research Data Divide project is funded by a Hidden Collections Grant administered by the Council on Library Resources (CLIR). For more information on the project, please contact the project’s principal investigator, Emily R. Novak Gustainis, Head, Collections Services.

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Archivists attend launch of “Women and Health: the key to sustainable development”

By , June 23, 2015

Heather Mumford, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Archivist, and Joan Ilacqua, Project Archivist for the Archives for Women in Medicine, recently attended the launch of The Lancet’s report “Women and Health: the key for sustainable development,” at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The report was created by the 15-member Commission on Women and Health, a partnership between The Lancet, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Women and Health Initiative, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.

Archivists Joan Ilacqua and Heather Mumford with a copy of The Lancet's report "Women and Health: the key for sustainable development.”

Archivists Joan Ilacqua and Heather Mumford with a copy of The Lancet’s report “Women and Health: the key for sustainable development.”

The launch featured comments by several Harvard experts including: Julio Frenk, Dean of the School of Public Health, Ana Langer, Professor of Public Health and Coordinator of the Dean’s Special Initiative on Women and Health, Paula A. Johnson, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Women’s Health and Gender at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Felicia Knaul, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative, and Jeni Klugman, lecturer at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Other speakers included Afaf Meleis of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, Ruth Bonita of the University of Auckland, Justine Davies of The Lancet, and Mariam Claeson of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Speakers emphasized that gender inequality continues to be a global problem; this inequality inhibits progress and potential for a variety of stakeholders on a global scale. Health inequities manifest in many ways. For example, addressing women’s health has historically been reduced to reproductive health, while poverty, urbanization, non-communicable diseases and chronic disease disproportionately affect women. Furthermore, women are not solely consumers of health, but are also health providers, often with little to no training, compensation, or recognition. Although women are represented in the workforce, medical professions, and academia, the demand for women to provide domestic work and care outside of their employment to family members has not changed and effectively convolutes a work-life balance.

Gender inequality disenfranchises women, even in wealthy countries. Marginalization and inequity is present in politics, higher education, and other fields. The report concludes that all sustainability goals should be gender-specific and measurable, and that gender equity committees (such as Harvard Medical School’s own Joint Committee on the Status of Women) continue to be necessary to prevent and combat marginalization. Addressing women and health, acknowledging and compensating women as consumers and deliverers of healthcare, and investing in all stages of women’s health throughout life will benefit global economies at large.

The conclusions of the report were underscored by the speakers’ dedication to interdisciplinary work to solve medical, scientific, public health, and economic problems, a mission integral to the Center’s own acquisitions guidelines. We are committed to acquiring, preserving, and making available historic materials to provide context and perspective to the history of medicine, including documenting the developments, experiences, and contributions of public health pioneers and women leaders in medicine. As archivists, we aspire to be responsible and informed stewards of our historic collections, so attending events like this launch are necessary to understanding the contemporary contexts of our collections.

Women and Health: the key for sustainable development” is available to read online at The Lancet’s website.

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Welcome to our new Records Management Assistant!

By , January 9, 2015

Andra Langoussis, Records Management AssistantMy name is Andra Langoussis, and I am happy to be starting a new role as the Records Management Assistant here at the Center for the History of Medicine. As a recent graduate of Simmons School of Library and Information Science and as a part-time employee here at the Center for the last two years, I am very excited about this new opportunity!

I have worn several hats over the last two years here at the Center. I began as an intern during my second semester of graduate school, and since then I have been busy working on processing projects (including the Bigelow-Wallis and Warren-Kaula Teaching Watercolors), migrating the Center’s past exhibits and other digitized collections into OnView, helping patrons with reference requests, and coordinating events.

I look forward to meeting and working more closely with the faculty and staff here at Harvard University. Thank you for your welcome and support as I learn the ropes of my new position!

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Jonathan Beckwith Papers Processing is Underway, as part of Access to Activism Project

By , December 11, 2014
Lecture poster for Jonathan Beckwith's talk on "Genetics and Social Policy: the XYY and Sociobiology Controversies," 28 April 1976.

Lecture poster for Jonathan Beckwith’s talk on “Genetics and Social Policy: the XYY and Sociobiology Controversies,” 28 April 1976, H MS c370. From the Harvard Medical Library in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

In 1969, Jonathan Beckwith and fellow researchers, James Shapiro and Lawrence J. Eron, successfully isolated a gene from a bacterial chromosome.  After considering both the potential positive and negative social implications of his genetics research, he began a lifetime of social activism, advocating for civil rights and social responsibility in science and genetics.  The Center is pleased to report that the Jonathan Beckwith papers (1969-2009), a product of Beckwith’s professional activities, social activism, and genetics research, are currently being processed as a part of the Access to Activism project.

Beckwith (born 1935) is the American Cancer Society Research Professor at Harvard Medical School.  His research has focused primarily on bacterial genetics and microbiology, including disulfide bonds, membrane protein structure and function, gene expression, the lac operon, the mechanism of protein secretion, and cell division.  As a social activist, he has served as: a member of the National Institutes of Health’s and U.S. Department of Energy’s Working Group on Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of the Human Genome Project (ELSI); President of the Board of Directors for Science for the People; and a member of Science for the People’s study groups on genetic screening and sociobiology.  He has also received a number of awards and honors, including: the 1993 Genetics Society of America Medal; the 2005 Abbott Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Society for Microbiology; and the 2009 Selman Waksman Award in Microbiology from the National Academy of Sciences.  The papers, created through Beckwith’s professional, research, publishing, and social activism activities, include professional appointments and teaching records, writings and publications, public speaking records, professional association membership and committee records, research records, and collected publications.  They are expected to be open to research in 2015.

The Access to Activism project is funded by a Hidden Collections grant from the Harvard University Libraries.  In addition to the Jonathan Beckwith papers, the project will also open the collections of other physicians of social conscience: the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War records, 1957-1989 (inclusive), 1980-1987 (bulk); and the Sanford Gifford papers, 1956-1986 (inclusive).  For more information on the project, please contact Emily R. Novak Gustainis, Head, Collections Services.

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Harvard Medical School Launches Submission and Archiving of Electronic Student Theses

By , October 28, 2014

Students logging into ETDs @ Harvard are met with a school specific submission tool. Each submission is estimated to take no more than ten minutes to complete.

The Center for the History of Medicine is excited to be a part of Harvard University’s launch of a new electronic thesis and dissertation (ETD) submission system: ETDs @ Harvard. Bringing together stakeholders from across the Longwood Schools, the Countway Library, and the Harvard Libraries Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC), the project has been over a year in planning and will allow students to submit and archive their scholarly work electronically. The project also aims to bring a new level of visibility and access to student work, through the submission of theses into the DASH repository.

From the OSC’s Open Access Week announcement on October 16th: “The Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication is pleased to use the occasion of Open Access Week to celebrate the adoption of Harvard’s new electronic thesis and dissertation (ETD) submission system: ETDs @ Harvard. The Harvard Medical School (HMS) was the first Harvard school to launch the system, in January 2014. It deposited 20 doctoral dissertations in DASH, Harvard’s open-access repository, and listed them in HOLLIS+, Harvard Library’s new catalog. Since the collection of HMS dissertations went live in DASH in July, these works have been downloaded over 400 times.

As Stephen Volante, HMS Honors Program Coordinator notes, “When I took over [this role] in January 2013, successful students earned an academic distinction and bound copies of their theses went to Countway. There was no evidence of interest in theses beyond each student’s small professional network. [Our program’s] ETDs @ Harvard implementation in 2014 resulted in a collection of 20 theses in DASH that has, in less than three months, generated over 800 previews and 400 downloads. We can now demonstrate to students that by earning Honors, they are not just collecting more recognition. They are making active, substantial contributions to their fields that other physicians and researchers will seek out, study, and value.” A second HMS program, Master of Medical Sciences in Global Health Delivery, is currently submitting student work through the tool.

This fall, six more schools will roll out their own instances of ETDs @ Harvard: the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Graduate School of Design, Graduate School of Education, Harvard Business School, Harvard Divinity School, and Harvard School of Public Health. Three more will follow suit shortly thereafter.

Getting to this point required the collaboration of these schools with one another, and with other stakeholders across campus, such as the Office of General Counsel, Office for Scholarly Communication, Office of Technology Development, Student Billing, Registrars, program administrators, librarians, archivists, and students. Thanks to cooperation from every quarter, Harvard now has a University-wide open-source ETD submission system with the efficiency of central support and the flexibility of school-level customization.

Submitting a dissertation now takes a student just 10 minutes. In the process, students supply some metadata about their work, some contact information for themselves, and a copy of the final text. At the same time, they have the opportunity to submit an ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) and sign Harvard’s license agreement, granting the University a non-exclusive license to preserve, reproduce, and display the work.

Most importantly, these dissertations become open access, enlarging the authors’ audience and increasing their impact.

Garth McCavana, Dean of Student Affairs for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) notes “GSAS students have been submitting their dissertations electronically since 2011 through a tool developed by ProQuest. We were initially cautious of moving our students to a new system, but the Office of Scholarly Communication has made the transition seamless.” He continued that “the new ETDs @ Harvard tool is extremely user-friendly and explains students’ options in a very clear manner. We think that ETDs @ Harvard will allow our students to weigh all the benefits of open access and allow them to promote their research widely.”

OSC Director Peter Suber welcomed the roll-out of ETDs @ Harvard. “Open access removes the cloak of invisibility from this very useful form of research literature. Opening up this work serves readers working on related topics, and serves authors seeking the widest possible audience. Making open access the default, subject to some exceptions and embargoes, is a modern realization of Harvard’s pre-digital policy to make dissertations available to the public, and not to grant degrees for contributions to knowledge that are kept secret.”

The OSC is delighted with the success of ETDs @ Harvard, and looks forward to its further spread across Harvard, helping to realize the vision of One Harvard.”

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September 18: Colonial Governance and Medical Ethics in British India, 1870-1910

By , September 8, 2014

Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education, McLean Hospital and the Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, present:

Colloquium on the History of Psychiatry and Medicine


Colonial Governance and Medical Ethics in British India, 1870-1910

Kieran Fitzpatrick: D.Phil candidate at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford, and Wellcome Trust Medical Humanities Studentship holder 2013-2016

The first in a series of four lectures given as the 2014 Colloquium on the History of Psychiatry and Medicine. The Colloquium offers an opportunity to clinicians, researchers, and historians interested in a historical perspective on their fields to discuss informally historical studies in progress.

September 18, 2014
4:00-5:30 PM

Ballard Room, fifth floor
Countway Library of Medicine
Harvard Medical School
10 Shattuck Street, Boston MA 02115

Free and open to the public.

For further information contact David G. Satin, M.D., Colloquium Director, phone/fax 617-332-0032, e-mail

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Center Archivists and Curators Present at CBMI/Countway Symposium

By , June 10, 2014
CHoM archivist Meghan Bannon presenting at the Countway/CBMI symposium, Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine

CHoM archivist Meghan Bannon presenting at the CBMI/Countway symposium, Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine

Four Center for the History of Medicine staff members were among the fourteen presenters at the CBMI/Countway Symposium on May 29th. The annual event highlighted the research and  projects developed at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine and the Center for Biomedical Informatics throughout the academic year.

The four Center presenters included Processing Archivist Meghan Bannon, Processing Archivist Amber LaFountain, Harvard Medical School Archivist Darla White, and Warren Anatomical Museum Curator Dominic Hall. Bannon illustrated the application of digital forensics tools to electronic records archiving. LaFountain highlighted the Center’s efforts to balance patient privacy and researcher access in manuscript collections. White discussed acquiring research records from the New England Primate Research Center and Hall talked on the Warren Museum’s database migration process from MS Access to TMS (The Museum System).




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Archivist Attends APHA Conference Through Sewell Award

By , November 14, 2013
Heather Cristiano

Heather Cristiano, Archivist for the Harvard School of Public Health, poses in the stacks at the Center for the History of Medicine, Countway Library.

In August, Harvard School of Public Health’s newly appointed archivist, Heather Cristiano, was awarded a Sewell Stipend to attend the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting. This stipend is sponsored by the Grace and Harold Sewell Memorial Fund, which was established with the intention of increasing librarians’ effectiveness at providing reliable/relevant information to public health professionals. Heather was the only (and rumored to be the first!) archivist to receive the award.

As a Sewell Stipend recipient, Heather attended the APHA’s annual meeting in Boston from Sunday, November 3rd until Wednesday, November 6th under the mentorship of David Hemenway, Professor of Health Policy in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). As part of the mentoring experience, Heather attended two sessions that included presentations from Dr. Hemenway on gun violence prevention, and spent time informally connecting with Dr. Hemenway and his colleagues to learn more about public health within the context of Harvard.

In addition to these requirements, Heather also volunteered with the Spirit of 1848 caucus at a late-night lecture given by Winona LaDuke, and sought informational interviews from Spirit of 1848 caucus members Nancy Krieger, Professor of Social Epidemiology Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at HSPH and Anne-Emanuelle Birn, Professor of Global Health/Social and Behavioral Health Sciences at the University of Toronto.


A panoramic view of the expo at APHA’s annual meeting at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, November 2013.

Heather’s ultimate goal for her conference experience was to come away with a better sense of both contemporary and historic public health issues, particularly those outside the context of a university. This knowledge, in turn, would allow her to make better strategic collecting decisions for the newly formed Harvard School of Public Health archives.

Of course, Heather came away from this four day conference experience with much more than she had bargained for! Her main takeaways included:

  1. Public health issues are interconnected.  During his opening address for the conference, Michael Marmot connected income inequality with health disparities; in her presentation Climate Change, Public Health and Indigenous Peoples, Winona LaDuke reported increases in incidents of violent crimes, traffic crashes, and crimes against women in communities exposed to fracking; Food is Medicine and Prevention focused exclusively on the concept that adequate nutrition reduces health care costs; Farm to Preschool  emphasized connecting schools with local growers, which in turn improves the local economy as well as the health of individual families—these are only a few examples of conference sessions that painted a clear picture of how public health issues are interrelated.
  2. How crucial (and visible) an archival perspective is to modern public health research. It was fascinating to note the many different presentations that utilized historic research: Richard Mizelle’s presentation on the relationship of population displacement to obesity and diabetes; Teddy Roosevelt’s pioneering decision to institute “public cooling” during the 1896 heat wave by distributing ice blocks to New York City residents; Dora Anne Mill’s review of the role of Maine public health policies during the 1918 flu epidemic;  the crucial convergence of Medicare, the civil rights movement, and commitment from President Lyndon B. Johnson that led to the desegregation of hospitals in the 1960s. These four examples are only a small sampling of the thought-provoking research presented at this year’s conference that relied heavily on a historical perspective on public health.
  3. The importance of looking back at our history and making conscious departures from the status quo. In the session Sandy Hook Reflections and Solutions, presenting author Timothy A. Akers began with Einstein’s quote “problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” This theme reemerged time and time again—that only through reflection can we move forward to a better solution for the future. Along these lines, David Hemenway stated in  Legal Approaches Targeting Firearm Manufacturers and Distributors  that in order to address illegal firearm use, it is imperative that our culture shift from current methods of blame and political finger-pointing to a change in social norms in conjunction with law. Making a direct comparison to motor vehicles, Dr. Hemenway spoke about how our culture has shifted its perspective on drunk driving; as a culture we now know to recognize a dangerous situation before it happens, and take away keys from an inebriated driver. Could we not also develop a similar concern for friends and family members who are experiencing tough emotional times, and offer to temporarily store their guns away in a safe (and unknown) place?

Heather was grateful for this conference experience, as well as the opportunities afforded to her through the Sewell award, which has further developed her understanding of public health from the perspective of the professional and increased her understanding of public health patrons’ roles and needs.

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Improve the Organization of Your Electronic Files

By , July 24, 2013

We have recently received several requests from departments looking for guidance in organizing (or re-organizing) their shared network of folders and electronic documents. After years of growth, departments are finding that their shared drives have grown and evolved without any real oversight –and now things are messy! It may take a half hour or more to find the document that is being sought… precious and expensive time wasted. The good news is that establishing a new structure, or even cleaning up the old one, is a completely manageable process. The following six steps will help guide you through the process of creating and implementing a new structure in your department or office:

Step 1: Review your existing file structure to identify what isn’t working. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have too many files? Are some redundant?
  • Do you need to establish better naming conventions, because “Jen’s files” doesn’t mean anything to anyone in your office anymore? (for more about naming conventions, see this post on planning for a “paperless office.”)
  • Has the nature of your department’s work changed over time so that now you have a lot of unused folders that you aren’t sure how to manage?
  • Are you frequently unsure which is the “final version”?
  • Does it take too long to find the document you need “right away”?

Also, take some time to think about what DOES work:

  • Do the Finance folks have a good electronic file system, but the Communications folks do not? If so, what can you learn from Finance?
  • Do you have good version control systems for final drafts? Could this method be used department-wide?

You may not need to change everything, but you do need to be able to identify what works well and what needs improvement.

Step 2: Communicate! Creating a new structure for shared electronic files requires a lot of buy-in. A project like this is best undertaken with at least a few conversations about how files are currently managed and used by your staff, and what they think will improve the system. Creating and implementing a new file structure will require time to adjust, and good communication about how things are changing will help mitigate any anxiety about learning to do things differently. Engage your staff in the process so that they are more likely to maintain the changes you are trying to make.

Step 3: Identify a few “big buckets” to serve as a new file structure or as top levels of folders in a new hierarchy. These buckets should relate directly to the main functional areas of your department. While you can theoretically have as many of these buckets as you need, we suggest aiming for fewer than ten to keep things manageable. These buckets should have descriptive names that are clear and intuitive. Avoid personal names, if possible.

Step 4: Depending on how many sub-folders are necessary, identify smaller buckets within each of the top level big buckets. The same principles for naming and number apply.

Step 5: Take a few minutes to document your new structure. Depending on the size of your office and the complexity/volume of your files, documenting your big and little buckets goes a long way towards getting everyone on the same page. This documentation should answer the following questions:

  • What goes in each bucket and why?
  • How do these buckets relate to your paper files?
  • Are there any special naming conventions? (for more about naming conventions, see this post on planning for a “paperless office.”)
  • How do these records relate to the Harvard University General Records Schedule?

Use this guide to train new employees and make sure the conventions and structure you agreed upon will continue to be used and maintained.

Step 6: The final step is to address how you will move your active files into the new structure. The good news is that you have a few options. 1) You could decide to transfer your existing files into the new structure, changing file names as necessary. Undertake this step with care so as not to lose anything. You’ll likely find that you’ve got some files or documents leftover after everything has been transferred. Though we don’t usually advise creating “miscellaneous” folders, you might consider keeping these files together in a folder labeled “outdated,” “orphaned files,” or another title that clarifies these files are no longer useful but perhaps shouldn’t be deleted. Or, 2) you could choose to implement your new system, filing newly created files into it and copying existing records into the new structure as you need them, and maintain the old system as a record of the previous structure and a repository for any unused or outdated files that remain. Both of these approaches have merit, so it will be helpful to consider your office practice and documentation strategies to ensure that files are not inadvertently lost through lack of current use.

You can find more information on managing your shared electronic network in these articles:

The Archives and Records Management staff at the Countway Library has assisted with projects to “clean up” shared file networks around HMS and would be happy to address questions, concerns, and share what we have learned. We even have some nice templates for documenting your new structure. Please contact us at:



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