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Century-old documents made more accessible

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Century-old documents made more accessible


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Century-old documents made more accessible NEWPORT, R.I. – When U.S. Sen. John McCain was asked to deliver a speech at U.S. Naval War College (NWC) earlier this year, he mentioned that his grandfather had been a student here while in the Navy.

Word trickled down to the basement office of the NWC library archives to the desk of Teresa Clements.

“My boss asked me to ‘see if you have anything in the archives by McCain when he was a student here,’” Clements recalled.

Clements did what archivists do in the digital world of the 21st century - went to the paper card catalog and looked up McCain where she found the cardboard note card referencing McCain’s (the elder) paper from 1929.

“OH WOW! We’ve got to have this,” she said. And then found the nearly century-old document in the stacks.

Due to a project Clements has just completed, she will no longer need a paper card catalog to locate papers.

Clements cataloged the entire student thesis collection - more than 5,500 papers spanning more than a half century from 1912 to 1966 – into a searchable finding aid that will speed all future searches.

She happily took on the project even though she knew that the project of cataloging the papers would likely take at least a year to complete.

She sailed through the project in less than four months.

“I can multitask,” she says with a modest smile.

The project required manually keying in the relevant information - title, author, year, location - into the archives so future needle-in-hay-stack hunts could be done with a simple document search.

Because of Clements’ efforts, researchers, family members, historians, and anyone else interested in searching for these documents will have much easier access to them, many of which have historical significance.

For example, a paper on tactics in the collection was authored by future Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz while a student in 1923. Nimitz played a major role in winning World War II as commander of the Pacific Fleet.

In fact, the list of student authors in the collection reads like a Who’s Who of naval greatness including Spruance, Stark, Kalbfus, and the list goes on.

Several student papers discuss one of the most influential strategists in the history of the Navy, Capt. Alfred Mahan and were cataloged by Clements ... from her office in Mahan Hall.

Clements couldn’t resist pulling a couple papers from the shelf to read as she was typing in the information.

“There was a paper by Vice Adm. Gravely that I read. He was the first black admiral. That really caught my eye,” Clements said, who is African-American.

Gravely’s paper titled Naval Amphibious Forces in Limited War is significant in that he became the first African-American to command a combatant ship, be promoted to flag rank, and command a naval fleet.

NWC archivist Scott Reilly felt that this project will make many unsearchable records and document easier to locate.

“Teresa's project is a great step toward improving access to the rich resources in the Naval Historical Collection,” said Reilly. “The NHC is just beginning to move from long-standing, paper-based systems to a digital system. That will have tremendous benefits, including giving researchers here at the college and beyond the ability to discover information in the archives much more easily.

“Right now, a lot of the information is contained in card catalogs, some of which are nearly a century old. Making this information available digitally is going to give researchers the ability to find information that they may not have otherwise found, and make connections that they might otherwise have not seen. It's very exciting.”

The project is one part of a long process to make the library archives searchable and manageable, according to Allen Benson, library director.

“The Naval Historical Collection is designing and developing a single, electronic archives information system capable of archiving and making discoverable NWC materials for which no finding aids exist,” said Benson.

“Key parts of this initiative include helping ensure long-term storage, preservation and access to the NWC's electronic records and fulfilling the responsibility of transferring permanent electronic records to the National Archives and Records Administration. The system is expected to go live in the fall of 2015.”

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