The Primacy of Primary Materials for Research

As the internet continues to drive innovation in information service, perhaps one of the most profound opportunities and areas for growth is in the ability to serve original primary research material to anyone with an internet connection around the world. Whereas, true research once required physical travel to often far-flung libraries and archives, now synthesis of material can be done from one location, connecting repositories of material together in relative ease.

In the online world, we often take for granted the work that it takes to deliver original source material in digital form. From the original work to care for and preserve the physical object, to the work to digitize and manage digital copies, to the effort to translate and make content machine-readable, to the maintenance of internet infrastructure to index and serve material, there are many hands that work together in order to deliver good original content for research online.

USMA Library is pursuing many tracks in order to better position ourselves to deliver primary research materials for our own users on West Point, in addition to other researchers around the world. Here are a few of the ways we are accomplishing this:

  • Our recent staff reorganization allows for much broader engagement across our staff to serve and support original materials – With continued integration of primary sources into the curriculum at USMA, we continue to see high demand for classroom instruction. Working with unique materials is no longer a side business – these items are now central vehicles through which we accomplish our larger mission of supporting and encouraging research and scholarship. While many libraries divide off their Special Collections and Archives operations into standalone units, we seek to integrate this function as the centerpiece of our service across our staff.
  • We are significantly enhancing our metadata and cataloging of manuscript materials – Through a multi-year project with contract partners, we are working to make many of the one-of-a-kind manuscript items held in our collections more accessible and discoverable through our own discovery tools as well as more broadly through the internet.
  • We are implementing a new interface for researchers to request access to materials and for us to manage those materials – Accountability is critical when working with unique materials. Our new system will provide better visibility on who is using our resources, and how they are being used.
  • In 2016-17, we will fully occupy our new research center for unique resources on the fourth floor of Bartlett Hall North – While our collections have been resident in Bartlett Hall since 2013, our patron services and staff have continued to operate out of Jefferson Hall. In Fall 2016, all operations will finally be co-located, allowing for better access and safer management of materials.

As we work to expand our services and capabilities with regard to primary research materials, we do not lose focus on acquiring and delivering outstanding general use materials to support the curriculum. Our work to modernize staff workflow and assignments helps to make sure we are effective and efficient in continuing to make use of all of our collections – general use and unique – in new and exciting ways.

Published in USMA Library Program Review 2015-2017