Archiving Student Life: HLS Community Capture Project

This past semester, Historical & Special Collections (HSC) continued its efforts to collect material documenting student life at HLS. These efforts began in Spring 2016 and our commitment to the project has increased since then, thanks in large part to a Harvard Library S.T. Lee Innovation Grant. Student organizations are a vital part of the HLS community and we hope to capture and preserve as much as we can to help document the impact students have on HLS and support your work!

HSC currently holds only a few student organizations’ records, along with a variety of student organization newsletters and event flyers. In order to capture today’s campus activities, we need to think more broadly about collecting student-created material. Today, that broad mindset involves grappling with the vulnerability of digital material. Building relationships with both individuals and the organizations (that means you!) that create digital content is urgent if we hope to help preserve this material for the future.

Harvard Law School Women's History Month calendar, March 1994, HLS Ephemera Collection, box 4, folder 6
Women’s Law Association (WLA) Women’s History Month calendar, March 1994, HLS Ephemera Collection, Box 4, Folder 6

With funding made possible by the S.T. Lee Innovation Grants, Historical & Special Collections is investigating better methods for collecting born digital material from student organizations through the HLS Community Capture Project. A part-time project assistant started working with us in March of this year, which has enabled us to offer flexible meeting times with student organization leaders outside of the traditional 9 to 5. So far, we have talked to close to 30 student leaders about preserving student organization material and have created a LibGuide that brings together much of our existing student-created content.

Through our conversations with student leaders, we have learned that by improving our student life collection, we can serve as a better resource for student organizations. We are interested in becoming a part of on-boarding and off-boarding of new leadership to contribute to the collective memory of student organizations. We recognize that this new partnership will require us to develop relationships with student leaders and the staff that works closely with them.

As you prepare to leave campus for the summer, we would be happy to meet to talk or email with you about preserving student organization records in HSC. (If you’re interested in talking to us but don’t have time now, let us know and we can make sure we follow up with you in August or September!) In the fall we hope to build on our current momentum to partner with organizations and staff to be present at start of the semester annual programming. We look forward to working with you to determine how we can collect born digital material both ethically and easily!

This work is situated within the larger context of student collecting efforts in the archives community. Check out recent work at Princeton University’s Mudd Manuscript Library (Archiving Student Activism at Princeton), Duke University Archives (Your Organization Lives On at University Archives), and ongoing efforts at the University of Illinois Student Life & Culture Archives to see what other colleges and universities have been up to. We are grateful to our many colleagues for their easily accessible information on their practices and willingness to connect with us to provide insight on improving student created material in our collections.

Many thanks to Micha Broadnax for her contributions to this post AND this project! Micha is the HLS Community Capture Project Assistant. 

Want to talk to us about this work? Email Micha ([email protected]) or Jane ([email protected]) to ask us questions or set up a meeting time that’s good for you.

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