Exploring Northwestern’s “Special” Library Databases

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Northwestern University’s Transportation Library reached a milestone on December 27, 2012, when Ron Carrier, NUTL’s Cataloging Assistant, created the 375,000th record for the TRAN Article File, also known as TRANweb—a web-based periodical index of transportation and law enforcement articles and conference proceedings. TRANweb is a service of the Transportation Library relied upon by industry, government, and researchers in the field of transportation.

This milestone offers an opportunity to draw attention to Northwestern’s other remarkable special databases, which are “special” not only for their specialized content, but also because they are not regularly indexed in Northwestern’s other main discovery tools, NUcat and Primo. First-time users obtain access by clicking the “Special NU Databases” tab at the NUcat site, opening a page from which each database can be accessed separately. Repeat visitors can then bookmark the resource of their choice for future consultation.

Northwestern’s Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies maintains two special databases. The first of these is the Africana Conference Paper Index, which provides detailed information on individual conference papers in Western languages held in the Herskovits Library collections at Northwestern University Library. As of the end of 2012, this resource contained 145,129 records, reaching back to the 1920s. The second Herskovits Library database is the Africana Vertical File Index. It is an index to most of the materials found in the vertical files of the Herskovits Library. Its 23,467 records may represent many more individual items, so the actual size of this resource is not known. A single record for a trade union in Ghana, for example, may refer to 50 or more separate pamphlets in the file.

The Visual Media Collection (VMC) catalog contains searchable records for 205,890 images. Of these, 116,115 are digital (and can be viewed online) and 89,775 are analog slides. Analog slides referenced in the VMC are digitized as requested by members of the Northwestern community. The VMC record is updated accordingly. Access to the VMC is restricted to the NU community. The VMC will be migrating to the Digital Image Library (DIL) in the course of 2013. The current interface will shut down by the end of the year. Public access will then not be through Voyager/NUcat, but through the new DIL search and discovery interface. Details will be announced in the course of the next few months.

A final important database that opens up access to “hidden treasures” of Northwestern’s Special Libraries is the Archival and Manuscript Collections Portal. As of the end of 2012, this site included 993 cross-searchable finding aids, indexing such popular resources as the Melville J. Herskovits Papers and the Leopold & Loeb Collection, all prepared in accordance with the “Encoded Archival Description” standard, or EAD—the current state-of-the-art cataloging standard for archival collections. Many of these finding aids are indexed by Google and some of them—a growing number—are also available through NUcat. Through UNCAP, a recently launched collaboration between Northwestern and the University of Chicago, about 130 of our most popular EAD finding aids can be searched simultaneously with a large number of finding aids from the University of Chicago and other Chicago-area libraries.

J. Garrett, Special Libraries, March 8th, 2013