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Full Text Happiness in the Catholic Portal

Special collections and archives existed long before we had computers. How did people find out about them in those dark decades of the twentieth century? Repositories often sent descriptions to the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, managed by the Library of Congress. These collection-level descriptions appeared in bound volumes and on cards for the catalog.

In the 1960s, if you had an interest in one of the writers associated with the New England Transcendentalists, specifically Orestes A. Brownson who later became a Catholic, you could check the NUCMC and find that Notre Dame has his papers and published a microfilm edition of them. If you were flipping through Notre Dame's card catalog looking for books by Brownson, you would discover that we also have his papers.

Once we had computers and a machine-readable catalog, conventional wisdom recommended that librarians treat archival finding aids as if they were books to provide a way for people to find the more detailed description that would allow them to do research. Eventually we had a MARC format specifically designed for archives and manuscripts, and the papers themselves became the objects cataloged.

The Digital Access Committee has been using existing systems and developing new mechanisms to allow for full-text indexing and access through CRRA's Catholic portal. We have harvested resources from repositories that encourage open access by using OAI (Open Archives Initiative), from members' systems such as CONTENTdm that foster such access. We have also offered members advice on how to provide links to full-text objects in their MARC records.

Some might think of the inclusion of EAD (Encoded Archival Description) finding aids as the first phase of the full-text indexing process, since in the early years they were themselves regarded as books to be cataloged. We should recognize, though, that EAD finding aids consist entirely of metadata describing collections, and therefore do not fall within the intentions of scholars who ask for full-text access. Still, our success at including these finding aids suggested that EAD might be used as a mechanism to provide full-text access to a whole collection digital objects.

As our first experiment along these lines, using the CRRA EAD template, we developed a finding aid <> describing an online collection of philosophical papers delivered at the annual meetings of the American Maritain Association. Scholars can search CRRA's Catholic Portal for full-text access to hundreds of papers presented between 1980 and 2014.

Let's search for Happiness and see what happens <>. Presently the full-text filter does not work for the papers available through EAD, so once we have searched for Happiness and discovered that the Catholic portal has thousands of happy records, we must resist the impulse to check "Limit to full text". Instead we have to click on "Jacques Maritain Center" under "Library" on the right.

We found 153 papers that have to do with happiness. The titles of the first four papers include the word Happiness. The rest of the papers have the word somewhere in the text rather than in the title. Some of them are actually only the tables of contents for volumes of proceedings.

If we want to read one of the papers, we can click on "View this PDF file". We can also view the whole finding aid on the Jacques Maritain Center's website or in the Portal. Having found happiness in the Jacques Maritain Center, we can now check "Limit to full text" to see 829 other works presently available.

As for Orestes Brownson, a search of the Portal turns up nine American Maritain Association papers and eleven other full-text items that have something to say about him.

Blog post written by: Kevin Cawley

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