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CLIR Report Examines Impact of Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Program

Arlington, VA, September 11, 2019—A new report from CLIR analyzes the impact of the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program. The Foundations of Discovery, by Joy M. Banks, presents the results of a comprehensive analysis of final reports from all 128 projects funded through the program. 

Running from 2008–2014, the program granted more than $27.4 million to academic, cultural heritage, and other collecting institutions to catalog “hidden” collections of high scholarly value. The program brought more than 4,000 collections to light in more than 160 institutions in the United States and Canada.

coverThe report describes the methods and findings of the analysis, including cataloging outputs, as well as the impact on hiring, policies and procedures, communication tools, and research and outreach. According to the study, nearly 98% of respondents reported an increase in the use of materials cataloged or processed as part of a Hidden Collections project. Nearly 65% reported an increase in users or visitors to the collections, and 92% reported an increase in reference queries. Some 44% reported that, because of these grants, cataloged materials were used in publications and other projects.

Several of the recipients have shared their methodologies and models to help other institutions adopt more cost-effective, efficient data-creation techniques. In many institutions, the projects led to improved internal operations, as well as the permanent hiring of new staff, upgrades in physical spaces available for processing materials, and investments in the continued cataloging and metadata creation for materials previously hidden. 

“A time of focused reflection on the Hidden Collections program allowed us to celebrate the many accomplishments of our recipients and think strategically about CLIR‘s future role in supporting a sustainable environment of accessibility to cultural heritage materials,” said Banks, who is also program officer for CLIR’s grants team. 

The report draws four main conclusions about the program:

  • The investment made in cataloging materials across the United States and Canada made a significant impact on the culture of collecting institutions and the attitudes held about the importance of historic collections and the people that work with them.
  • Recipient institutions represented a diversity of types and sizes of gallery, library, archives and museum (GLAM) organizations, which allowed for an impressive breadth and depth of item types made accessible through the program.
  • Long-term sustainability of online catalogs is challenging for many of these institutions. Library support organizations like CLIR must determine what, if any, resources or advice they can offer to constituents facing difficult financial decisions affecting the availability of collection descriptions over time.
  • In an increasingly digital research environment, there is a pressing need for search and discovery systems that bring together descriptions of both physical and digital artifacts so that researchers can learn about them alongside one another.

The Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program and the final analysis were funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The Foundations of Discovery is available at

The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning.

legal tree drawing
Drawing from a Litchfield Law School student notebook, Litchfield Historical Society. Cataloged through “Litchfield Historical Society’s Revolutionary Era and Early Republic Holdings,” funded by CLIR in 2008.


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