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Fabulous Finding Aids Now Online! (March 2004)

Suppose you are a writer looking for sources for your work on Gloria Steinem. A search in a national library database or even via Google reveals that her papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection, but you're wondering if there's enough material to make a trip to Northampton worthwhile. Now, the complete inventory of Steinem's papers as well as seven other SSC collections containing Steinem materials are available from the comfort of your own personal computer. But what if your research topic is something less likely to be found in a repository specializing in the history of American women, such as Mahatma Gandhi? A similar Web search will show you that letters, photos and other items by and about the revered Indian leader appear in four SSC collections--the papers of Margaret Sanger, Gloria Steinem, Madeleine Doty, and Elmina Lucke. With a few more keystrokes, you can place an order for copies of the documents in question.

For the past two years, the Sophia Smith Collection has been working with other local colleges to make our finding aids available on the Five College Archives and Manuscript Collections Web site ( The site includes over 700 finding aids to date, representing collections of the archives and special collections at Smith, Amherst, Hampshire, and Mount Holyoke Colleges. and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

SSC finding aids can be found on the Five College
Archives and Manuscript Collections Web site

Finding aids are detailed inventories of archival collections that provide important information to researchers. A typical finding aid includes a biographical or historical note, an overview of the collection highlighting significant topics and people represented, and a detailed listing of the contents of each box. It provides a researcher with an understanding of both the contents and historical context of a collection and allows her to determine whether the collection is relevant to her topic. Until recently the only way to see a SSC finding aid was to visit or request a copy via phone or email. Having finding aids available online allows potential users to preview a collection's folder titles from home and plan a research trip accordingly, saving valuable time.

Perhaps most importantly, the finding aids have been entered in a database that permits users to search across multiple collections by keywords, names, dates, or subject terms. This means that a distant scholar or Smith student (whether on campus or overseas) can explore the Web site for collections with materials on her topic and gain access to detailed information on potential archival sources in the SSC and the other four colleges. Then, she can fill in the electronic reference request formon the Web site to request assistance, photocopies, or more information.

Our reference staff has already felt the impact of having these finding aids available online. Even before they were publicized, researchers were discovering them through Internet searches, and contacting us with their queries. The Five College Finding Aids Access Project, funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has made it possible for the SSC to mount finding aids for all of our processed collections. More are being added as new collections are processed and older finding aids are revised and encoded for the Web. In the meantime, basic information about all of our collections, including our most recent acquisitions, can be found at the SSC Web site and most of our collections have brief descriptions in the Five College Library Catalog where you will see links to the online finding aid, if available.

--Margaret Jessup

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 © 2005 Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063 Page last updated on Wednesday, 11 December 2013