In 2008, with the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Council on Library and Information Resources began investing in innovative and efficient approaches to describing rare collections through Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives: Building a New Research Environment. The impetus for this program was a widely shared acknowledgement of the need to rethink cataloging methods toward greater standardization, efficiency, and scholarly impact. The urgency of this need, explored through a decade of research beginning in the 1990s, compelled the Foundation and CLIR to create a national program that would fund the creation of records for unique cultural heritage that would be available through the internet and the Web. The Cataloging Hidden Collections proposal (pdf) submitted by CLIR to the Foundation is available to view.
By 2014, when the program announced its final awards, CLIR had provided 129 cataloging grants totaling over $27.5 million to a wide variety of institutions in the United States and Canada. A report of the program’s full outcomes was published by CLIR in September 2019.
Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives was conceived as a kind of incubator which, if successful, would contribute to a shared understanding within professional and academic communities that while all special materials are by nature local, creating standardized descriptions of them that can be accessible anywhere and anytime alongside related but dispersed collections is an exceptionally important goal. Grant recipients have generously shared their experiences, resources, and lessons learned with others through the Hidden Collections Registry, program symposia in 2010 and 2015, and publications such as Innovation, Collaboration and Models—Proceedings of the CLIR Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Symposium, March 2015. CLIR also created an educational resource called Strategies for Advancing Hidden Collections (SAHC), centered around a series of six 90-minute recorded webinars and a resource library of references related to techniques and best practices for increasing the visibility, usability, and sustainability of collections in the gallery, library, archive, and museum community.
Large amounts of materials still await cataloging in cultural heritage institutions, and CLIR recognizes that this work remains an important priority. However, in keeping with CLIR’s mission to inculcate innovations in practice that support the creation of new knowledge, CLIR designed a new program in 2014; its goal is to facilitate complete access to rare cultural artifacts online.
In January 2015, CLIR launched Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives: Enabling New Scholarship through Increasing Access to Unique Materials. Like its predecessor, Digitizing Hidden Collections was designed to fund projects in which locally executed protocols contribute to a national good, using methods that are thoughtful and subject to wider adoption. By encouraging strategic collaboration and communication among this program’s grant recipients, CLIR expects to help broaden understanding of the complexity of these issues in the professional communities responsible for rare and unique collections. The Digitizing Hidden Collections proposal (pdf) program is available to view.
The first awards for the Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives program were publicly announced in January 2016, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has generously agreed to support additional rounds of funding since that time. In February 2021, CLIR announced the transition of the program to Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives: Amplifying Unheard Voices. This new iteration of the longstanding program funds projects to digitize materials that deepen public understanding of the histories of people of color and other communities and populations whose work, experiences, and perspectives have been insufficiently recognized or unattended. By funding a cohort of academic, independent, and community-based organizations to digitize now-unavailable or underutilized collections, CLIR will cultivate broad recognition of the value of creating access to resources that document historically marginalized people to the advancement of social justice.. Information about any future iterations of the program will be posted on the program website as it becomes available.