Blog post by Meg Kribble, Research Librarian & Outreach Coordinator; Ed Moloy, Curator of Modern Manuscripts and Archives; and Jessica Farrell, Curator of Digital Collections.
We are very excited about the news that the family of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (HLS, ’60) will donate his Papers to the HLS Library.
It’s an honor for any library to be selected to preserve and make accessible the papers of a Supreme Court Justice, and we are grateful to the Scalia family for selecting the HLS Library. We look forward to sharing periodic updates on our progress and to making the collection available over the years to come.
What happens next?
Justice Scalia served on the Court for nearly three decades. Prior to that, he practiced law, taught at the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago, and served as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Throughout his career, he gave speeches, wrote articles, and received awards. Materials from all of these activities will likely be included in the collection.
Communication methods evolved over the course of the Justice’s career to include documents created on computers as well as traditional print materials. While his papers aren’t the first papers of a Supreme Court Justice to include electronic records, this will be the first time electronic records will be transferred from the Supreme Court to an archive. As you can see, Justice Scalia’s papers, like those of other Supreme Court Justices, are likely to be a large, complex collection that will take years to process.
Many papers of Supreme Court Justices come with restrictions on when they may be made accessible to researchers; Justice Scalia’s are no different. You can compare the restrictions on his papers (mentioned in the article link above) with the restrictions of some of his predecessors on the Court in Susan David deMaine and Benjamin J. Keele’s visual presentation, Access to Justice? A Study of Access Restrictions on the Papers of U.S. Supreme Court Justices.
What’s involved in processing a collection of this magnitude?
The first step is transferring the collection, both physically and electronically.
The method of physical transfer always depends on what’s in the collection–general movers and sometimes special art movers may be involved. Electronic material is either transferred over a secure connection using software that encrypts, virus checks, and establishes data integrity for the files; or it is sent physically in the form of a hard drive or whole device, such as a computer or tablet. This data is stored in a highly secure environment especially before a survey has been conducted to identify types and quantity of sensitive data that exist.
As for the processing itself, while some details are changing to adapt to the challenges of electronic files, the fundamental process remains unchanged:
- First, a survey is done that provides an overview of a collection’s content. For electronic files, the survey is conducted using digital forensics techniques borrowed from the law enforcement community. Information about the files is extracted without altering the files in any way. If the content is on physical media, data is extracted using an arsenal of adapters and write-blockers.
- In the next step, the survey information informs how a collection will be arranged, typically by broad record group (series) such as “correspondence” or “teaching material.” Digital forensics software helps identify topics across the electronic material without the need for opening individual files.
- Arrangement of folders–electronic and physical–takes place guided by the established arrangement’s organizational structure.
- During arrangement, some material is restricted or redacted based on the agreement with the donor, university records policies, and/or privacy concerns identified by the archivist. Again, for electronic material, software aids this process.
- A finding aid is produced describing the scope and content of the collection, biographical information about the creator, information about each series, and an inventory typically broken down to the box and folder level. Researchers use finding aids to guide them to material relevant to their work.
- A HOLLIS (Harvard Library catalog) record is created, which links to the finding aid. Digital content is deposited into Harvard’s Digital Repository Service (DRS) for long-term digital preservation and access. For files that can be released to the public, access links are included in the finding aid.
While you’re waiting for the year 2020, when Justice Scalia’s papers begin to become available, we encourage you to learn about the other collections of Supreme Court Justices that the HLS Library holds:
- Louis D. Brandeis (HLS class of 1877), Papers, 1881-1966 Finding Aid
- Opinions of Benjamin R. Curtis (HLS class of 1831), 1858-1860 HOLLIS (Contains opinions of Curtis on a variety of topics some of which were made outside of his position on the bench. Also contains some correspondence to him requesting his opinion on different issues.)
- Felix Frankfurter (HLS class of 1906), Papers, 1900-1965 Finding Aid
- The John G. Palfrey collection of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Papers, 1715-1938 Finding Aid | Digital Suite
- Joseph Story (HLS Dane Professor of Law, 1829-1845), Papers, 1796-1844 Finding Aid | Digital Suite