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Cataloging Hidden Collections: Grant Terms and Conditions

Between 2008 and 2014, CLIR’s Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program, precursor to the current Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives initative, awarded grants to support 129 projects through a national competition designed to fund the creation of records for unique items of cultural heritage. Records and descriptions obtained through Cataloging Hidden Collections effort already are, or soon will be, accessible through the Internet and the Web, enabling the federation of disparate, local cataloging entries with tools to aggregate this information by topic and theme.

The information below is provided as a resource for the program’s grantees who still hold active grants. For additional information, please visit the About the Program page.

General questions about the program

What is the rationale for this grant program?
The program was designed to overcome the pervasive lack of awareness of special collections and archives held by libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions by making information about these materials accessible to teachers and scholars. Grant recipients and other interested individuals are welcome to view the original grant proposal from CLIR to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

How do you define “special collections” and “archives”?
For the purposes of this program, special collections are any kind of rare or unique materials housed in secure, monitored environments and made available to researchers. Archives are unique, often unpublished materials associated with a specific individual, topic, or organization that is of interest to researchers. By not limiting these terms to particular subjects, media or formats, CLIR hopes to encourage proposals that encompass the broadest possible range of evidence of our historical, scientific, intellectual, and cultural heritage.

What do you mean by “hidden”?
Collections eligible for cataloging through this program were truly hidden to scholars; in other words, scholars and graduate students who have a good command of their fields of study would not reasonably be expected to find basic information about the collections using good, thorough research techniques. Some nominated collections may have a type of documentation that is of no value to scholars, such as an accession record or machine-generated administrative metadata, but collections for which finding aids, catalog records, inventories, or other types of descriptions suitable for use by researchers have already been prepared are not eligible. This remains the case even if such descriptions are only available to researchers on-site in analog form.

How does this program reveal hidden collections?
Award-winning projects use appropriate technology and standards for recording accurate descriptive information about collections quickly and cost-effectively. The resulting records and finding aids are compatible with existing online records for related materials, resulting in a growing body of standardized, web-accessible descriptions that can be built upon over time. Institutions whose projects have been funded through this program have agreed to make all data produced in the course of funded projects publicly and openly available long-term.

The shift to understanding hidden collections as a national problem requires an acknowledgment that in the 21st century, collaboration, coordination, and coherence of response to users is fundamental and takes precedence over local practice.

Was a single technological platform used?
No. Grantees generally employ software platforms that already exist for swift and efficient entry of data, which can then be translated into standard records formats such as EAD, Dublin Core, PBCore, VRA Core, or MARC. Examples of such technologies include ArchivesSpace (or its predecessors Archon or Archivists’ Toolkit), CollectionSpace, PastPerfect, or CollectiveAccess. Further information about the strengths and drawbacks of some applications in use in special collections and archives is available in Archival Management Software: A Report for the Council on Library and Information Resources (Lisa Spiro, 2009). See also the Archival Software wiki that grew out of that project for more up-to-date information.

General guidelines for the program’s grantees

What is the allowable term of a project grant?
Projects may be as short as 12 months or as long as 36 months, or any period in between. Each principal investigator receiving a grant is required to submit annual narrative and financial reports.

Grant recipients who wish to request an extension to their projects should consult the section on Grant Modifications on the main For Recipients page. Requests to extend projects beyond the original 36-month maximum will be considered, but will require an additional level of approval by CLIR and program officers at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Will conservation be an element of grant consideration?
The focus of this program is not conservation, and no funds will be allocated for conservation purposes. This includes requests for reallocation of funds already granted for this purpose.

What may program funds be used for?
Grantees may use funds for:

  • Salaries/wages and applicable fringe benefits for new staff members who will be specifically dedicated to the project.
  • Consultant and/or training fees related to the project.
  • Consumable supplies and materials for the project, including expendable equipment and dedicated software.
  • Other services (e.g. equipment rental, server time, backup charges) related to project objectives.

Requests for the following are discouraged. If requested, they must be specifically and strongly justified in any reallocation request submitted by a grantee to CLIR:

  • Salaries/wages and applicable fringe benefits for current, permanent staff who will work on the project. This program was not intended to provide salary relief for existing staff at institutions. If grantees request a reallocation of funds for current staff salaries, they must explain why grant funds are needed and how the staff member’s normal duties will be covered during the time for which grant funds are requested. If the current staff member is not a permanent employee but has previously been supported through other grant funds (soft funds) that have now ended, be sure to note this in any reallocation request.
  • Tuition remission for student employees.
  • Hardware and peripheral costs such as computers, laptops, servers, etc.
  • Archival supplies for materials, such as folders or boxes.
  • Travel funds (travel for which support is requested must be justified as essential to carry out the proposed project).
  • Conference registration and related travel. Grantees should explain how attendance at a given conference is related to scholarly outreach and should be planning to attend as presenters rather than attendees. In no instance will grant funds be approved for conference attendance in an amount exceeding $5,000 total.
  • Translation, transcription, or format migration services. These services fall outside the scope of the program. Requests to fund digitization of materials are not allowable in any circumstance.

Requests for the following are not allowed:

  • Indirect costs.
  • Indirect costs listed as direct costs. This includes items such as network charges, telephone, photocopying, etc.
  • Retrospective conversion. The simple transformation of existing analog records or finding aids into their equivalent digital form is beyond the scope of the program.
  • Any equipment or activities related to the digitization of materials. This includes digitization activities that may be generally thought of as necessary to the cataloging process, e.g. conversion of audio files from tape to digital format during the cataloging process, digital photography, etc. Costs of any digitization associated with a project must be covered by the grantee institution(s).
  • Membership fees (consortial, professional organizations, etc.).
  • General-purpose items that may reasonably be expected to have a useful life after the project, such as office furniture, shelving, or archival cabinets.

Are grantees required to show a cost share?
Evidence of a grantee’s cost share is not required in project reports. Grantees may refer to their cost share in their reports’ financial narratives.

Will all information contained in the original grant proposals remain confidential?
One section of the application asked for information that has become public as part of the Hidden Collections Registry. All other information in the proposals is held confidential by CLIR and is not released without applicants’ or grantees’ express permission.

For additional information contact CLIR at

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