The Chapin Library (conceived 1915; opened 1923) supports instruction and research at Williams College by acquiring, organizing, cataloging, and preserving primary and related secondary sources, which are made available under the guidance of expert staff. The Library embraces works of significance which document the peoples, ideas, and events of civilization, and which serve the whole of the Williams curriculum. Because of the international importance of its holdings, the Chapin Library also serves as a resource for scholars outside of the College, for local elementary and high school students, and for the general public. (An extended mission statement and the founding deed of gift of the Library are posted elsewhere on this site.)
The Chapin Library is a collection of rare books, manuscripts, and other materials within the Special Collections Department of the Williams Libraries. With the approval of the President and Trustees, Alfred Clark Chapin, Williams Class of 1869, gave to his alma mater some 12,000 volumes, broadly divided into incunabula (15th-century printed books), Americana, English and American literature, continental (European) literature including Greek and Roman classics, Bibles and liturgical works, illustrated books, and scientific texts. Mr. Chapin also provided a selection of manuscripts and broadsides, and the nucleus of a major reference collection. Since Mr. Chapin’s death in 1936, the Library has grown to some 70,000 volumes, with more than 100,000 manuscripts, maps, bookplates, and other ephemera, and has expanded into further subject areas, such as African, Caribbean, and African-American history, women’s and gender studies, and modern fine printing and artist books, as materials have become available and interests at Williams have moved in new directions.
In addition, since its founding the Chapin Library has acquired separate prints, paintings, photographs, and artifacts which act as historical or cultural documents. Often these are related to book or manuscript holdings, are an integral part of a larger collection, or are in an area in which the Library specializes, such as book illustration. The Library has also received archives of artists, with books and papers used most efficiently in a library setting, and with original works of art which are used most successfully alongside the artist’s business records and working library. In regard to such acquisitions, Chapin staff may confer with their colleagues at the Williams College Museum of Art, who also have a significant interest in the use of art to support learning, or with the staff of the Williams College Archives and Special Collections when prints, photographs, etc. offered to the Chapin Library are related to the history of the College.
- The Chapin Library’s collections are developed primarily to support current or projected educational and curricular needs at Williams. Acquisitions also may be made with regard to the broader scholarly and intellectual interests of the College community.
- Preference is given to acquisitions which fill gaps in the Library’s existing collections relative to curricular needs, which have more than one possible use for teaching and research, which support more than one part of the overall curriculum, and which are held to have lasting literary, historical, social, or artistic merit.
- Materials purchased on the Library’s endowed funds, or from monies specially raised, are selected according to the funds’ specified purposes and their donors’ intents.
- Reference books and periodicals are selected primarily as aids to the use and interpretation of the Library’s collections of rare books, manuscripts, and prints.
- For purchases, when multiple copies of a desired item are available on the market, preference is given to whichever reputable vendor provides the best copy at the best price.
- Since the Chapin Library emphasizes materials in their original form, as artifacts as well as containers of texts and images, rare books and manuscripts are not rejected for acquisition solely because an electronic alternative is available. At present, most reference books in the Library’s fields of interest are not available in electronic form.
- In addition to usefulness in learning, ancillary factors are considered when purchasing an acquisition or accepting a gift-in-kind, such as costs of repair or rebinding or of archival enclosures, relative to available funds.
- In general, the Library acquires only materials which are in very good or better condition, and rejects those which would require costly restoration or unusual care.
- When a large number of books or other items are offered as a gift, of which the Library wants to retain only a portion, the whole of a collection may be acquired provided that it has been made clear to the donor(s) that some portion of the gift will not be added to the Chapin Library, and a formal agreement has been made whereby the Library is permitted to give away, transfer, sell, trade, or otherwise dispose of those items not wanted, within the terms of any tax law which may apply to the donation.
- When considering the acquisition of a larger collection, defined as one with more than 250 items or which occupies more than 15 linear feet of shelving, factors such as potential processing and cataloging workload and available storage capacity are weighed in addition to the appropriateness of the collection and its research value.
- The Special Collections Committee (formerly the Chapin Library Committee), in consultation with the Provost, reviews in advance, and recommends to approve or reject, any proposed acquisition of a larger collection as defined above, or whose purchase price would be greater than $20,000, or any acquisition for which there would be significant costs to conserve, process, catalog, or store. Under ordinary circumstances, the Chapin Librarian, after consulting with the Head of Special Collections, proposes such major acquisitions in writing to the Committee, offering pros, cons, and any mitigating factors in regard to costs, before making any commitment to a vendor or donor. If, in the Chapin Librarian’s judgment, the full Committee cannot be consulted as quickly as needed for an acquisition of special significance, e.g. during a period of College vacation, the proposal is directed to the chair of the Committee or to the Director of Libraries.
- The Williams faculty at large are invited to suggest additions to the Chapin Library and new areas of collection development. Individual faculty are consulted as appropriate to gauge the potential usefulness of proposed purchases or gifts.
- The Chapin Library cooperates with other parts of the Williams Libraries, especially the Collection Management department and Archives and Special Collections, to minimize duplication of acquisitions and ensure that gifts-in-kind are directed to the most appropriate department for administration.
Expenditures for acquisitions are made within an annual departmental budget approved by the College. This includes a general operating fund which is used in part to purchase reference books and periodical subscriptions; thirteen income-producing funds which may be used for acquisitions; and three non-income-producing acquisitions funds. The sixteen current acquisitions funds are:
- The H. Richard Archer Fund for modern fine printing
- The W. Edward Archer Fund for unspecified acquisitions
- The Pauline Baynes Fund in support of the archive of artist Pauline Baynes
- The Tobias Cabot Fund for natural history books
- The Class of 1940 Americana Fund for American history and culture
- The Robert A. DeVilbiss Fund for angling literature
- The Field Family Fund for works by or related to clergyman-historian David Dudley Field (1781–1867) and his descendants, especially David Dudley Field, Jr. (Williams Class of 1825), Cyrus W. Field (Williams hon. 1859), Stephen J. Field (Williams 1837), and Henry Martyn Field (Williams 1838)
- The Thomas A. Frank, Class of 1963 Memorial Americana Fund for pictorial Americana
- The Bruce Healy, Class of 1968 and Alice F. Healy Fund for rare books in the field of French cuisine
- The J. Brooks Hoffman, M.D., Class of 1940 Americana Fund for American history, emphasizing manuscripts and broadsides
- The John S. Van E. Kohn Fund for American literature
- The Hugh M. MacMullan, Class of 1928 Fund for works by or concerning poets T.S. Eliot, Rupert Brooke, and James Elroy Flecker
- The Mary L. Hurt Richmond Fund for “any items that Mr. Chapin might have acquired”
- The Herman Rosse Fund in support of the Herman and Helena Rosse Archive
- The John T. Snyder Library Fund for works by or concerning author Edwin Arlington Robinson and literature contemporary with Robinson
- A fund for miscellaneous gifts
The Chapin Librarian is happy to discuss with donors, in collaboration with the College Development Office and other appropriate parties, the creation of additional funds to help the Library compete in an increasingly expensive rare book marketplace.
The Chapin Library frequently is offered gifts of books, manuscripts, and other materials, from single items to collections. Over the years, gifts-in-kind have enhanced the Library’s ability to support teaching and research at Williams as much as acquisitions made from restricted funds. Every gift offered to the Library is weighed on a scale of usefulness, and judged also by factors mentioned in the guiding principles given above. The Chapin Librarian is always pleased to confer with potential donors, to view possible gifts, and to advise if suggested gifts are not suitable for addition to the Library’s collections.
Decisions to withdraw (deaccession) materials in the collections of the Chapin Library are made infrequently, and only after full and scrupulous consideration of the public interest and the needs of researchers. This is done in as open a manner as possible, ensuring that withdrawal of the material is not restricted by conditions of its receipt, or if there is a restriction, that any procedures which follow are carried out correctly and with expert advice from the Special Collections Committee, the Provost, the Development Office, or legal counsel, as appropriate.
The Chapin Librarian has primary responsibility for approving acquisitions. The Special Collections Committee is informed of acquisitions on a quarterly basis. The Committee annually reviews the Chapin collection development policy and works with the Chapin Librarian to make any needed revisions. The Committee submits an annual report on acquisitions and policy to the Provost for review and approval. Faculty and other members of the Williams College community are likewise regularly informed of recent acquisitions, and are encouraged to suggest possible additions to Chapin holdings.
Areas of Collecting
The Chapin Library collects primarily, though by no means exclusively, the following subjects, authors, and artists, to a greater or lesser degree according to the curricular needs of Williams College, the availability of funds, and the purposes of established endowments:
Art and architecture
Bibles and liturgical books
Classics (Greek and Latin literature)
Cookery and food history
European literature (French, German, Italian, Spanish)
Fine printing and artist’s books
History of books and printing
Incunabula (15th-century printed books)
Maps and atlases
Performing arts (dance, film, theatre)
Photography (including stereo views)
Science and technology
Sporting and fishing books (including mountaineering)
Women’s and gender studies
Individual authors and artists:
William Cullen Bryant
Samuel (“Erewhon”) Butler
Winston S. Churchill
James Elroy Flecker
Daniel Chester French and family (Chesterwood Archives)
Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe
Edwin Arlington Robinson
Frank Lloyd Wright
The collection development policy of Williams College Archives & Special Collections guides the department's staff in making informed decisions regarding potential acquisitions. The policy is a component of the department's appraisal process through which material is acquired for the College's collections. The guidelines ensure an appropriate balance between the department's resources and its commitments.
Williams College Archives was established to appraise, collect, organize, describe, preserve, and make available the College's records of permanent administrative, legal, fiscal and historical value. It facilitates the efficient management of the recorded information produced by the College's units and offices. The Archives serves as a repository for non-official historical materials relating to the history of the College, its founders, faculty, students, administrators, staff and alumni. The department administers several of the College's special collections, most notably the Paul Whiteman Collection, the Shaker Collection, and Sawyer Library's rare book collections.
As part of its mission, the Archives provides facilities for the retention, preservation, and research use of its collections. The department serves as a research center for the study of the College's history, and for the investigation of select topics of regional, national or international significance. Collections are made available, College and donor restrictions permitting, to members of the College community, as well as undergraduate and graduate students, scholars, and the general public.
The Archives promotes knowledge and understanding of the origins, programs and goals of the College, and strengthens the College's curriculum in offering primary historical sources for study. The department accomplishes these goals through the acquisition, processing and preservation of collections; its reference and research services; and such outreach activities as the development and installation of exhibitions, the production of publications in a variety of formats, and offering tours, classes and workshops dealing with topics such as the history of the College, research methods, preservation management and conservation techniques, and archival programming.
General collecting guidelines
The department collects in areas that:
- support the College's curriculum and the research interests of its students and faculty
- anticipate future research needs
- support the Archives' existing collections
- extend the Archives' research strengths, interests, and needs
- show a high ratio of use to volume, condition, and processing costs
- complement rather than compete with the collecting priorities of other regional special collections repositories
Acquisitions are normally made through transfer from a College office or department, donation, or purchase. Prospective donors of material outside the scope of the Collection Policy will normally be referred to other repositories that collect in the area/s described by that material.
College archives: the official records
As part of its mission, the Archives collects and preserves College records possessing permanent administrative, legal, fiscal and historical value. The purpose of collecting such records is to provide documentation of the development and growth of the College, in particular its primary functions of teaching and research, its role in the community at large, the activities of its student body and alumni, and the development of its physical plant and grounds. Records are also collected in order to adhere to federally- and state-mandated records retention requirements.
The Archives works with offices and departments of the College to appraise the records that they create in the course of their activities and to select those that should be preserved for future use. Priority is given to those records that reflect the activities of College officers and committees that formulate or approve College or division-wide policy as well as faculty and administrative involvement in these activities.
Recorded information documenting College activities is collected regardless of format, and may include: paper, microforms, films, discs, or electronic files. The Archives acquires a variety of document types: administrative papers and files; publications, reports, and other printed material; photographs, and other pictorial material; maps and blueprints; sound recordings; moving image material; and ephemera and memorabilia.
Archival records deemed not of permanent value are held in storage until they can be legally destroyed by shredding or incineration, depending upon the information contained in those records.
Williamsiana: supporting historical materials
The department acquires a wide variety of historical material, or "Williamsiana," to support and augment the official records of the College. This material may include, but is not limited to: manuscripts, student theses, visual materials, oral histories, artifacts, works published by faculty and alumni, student newspapers and periodicals, local history collections, and published reference works.
The department collects manuscript material, including:
- students' personal papers, especially those that illuminate life at the College
- personal and professional papers of Williams faculty and administrators that document their teaching, administrative and/or research careers and the development of the College's curriculum
- records of clubs, societies and institutes established and maintained by Williams students and other College personnel
- papers of select noted alumni, especially those who have been active in the areas of missionary work and the ministry,
- international affairs, art history, and higher education
- course syllabi
- materials relating to the Williams family, the French and Indian War in our extended geographic area, and the founding of the College
- Bachelor's theses in all disciplines, Master's theses in Art History, and the major papers of students in the Development Economics course. Papers in other undergraduate courses are ordinarily not acquired unless they document Williams College, the history of our region, or a significant shift in curricular trends.
The department acquires a variety of visual material, including photographs in all formats, slides, negatives, films, videos, prints, scrapbooks, albums, postcards, and letterheads. Subject matter must relate to Williams College, our geographic area, or the lives of our students, staff and faculty. Every effort is made to forward offers of fine art, such as oil portraits and exclusive printings of intaglio or lithographic processes, to the Williams College Museum of Art.
The Archives maintains the recordings, transcripts, and records produced by the College's Oral History Program, and may accept oral histories of Williams individuals produced by other Williams College students, faculty or staff, or by other colleges and universities.
Artifacts are acquired for the College's historical collections if the Archives judges it can properly preserve and provide access to them. Priority is given to items that document College life. Due to storage and preservation issues, offers of fine and decorative arts are normally forwarded to the Williams College Museum of Art.
Acquired and/or made available are published works, regardless of format, which concern the history of the College, its alumni, faculty and staff, and our geographic area. These may include:
- newspapers, journals, magazines, handbooks and yearbooks produced by the student body, student clubs, and alumni classes
- material pertaining to the history of our local geographic area, especially that which supports inquiries into the relations between the College and its community (in this area, every effort is made to complement rather than compete with the Williamstown House of Local History)
- works authored by tenured members of the faculty
- works by Williams alumni, especially if they relate to missionary work or the ministry, international affairs, higher education or the history of Williams College
- biographies and autobiographies of Williams alumni, staff, faculty and donors
- reference works and databases that support research performed with primary sources.
The Special Collections arm of the department supports several topical collections with few or no connections to the history of Williams College.
Rare book collections
Special Collections maintains materials acquired by the College Library that are deemed rare and/or difficult to replace due to their value, age, condition, format or subject matter. In addition, the department collects books and pamphlets, from primarily the 18th century through the present, in such topical areas as:
- William Cullen Bryant
- the French and Indian War
- life, especially missionary activities and education, in 19th-century Hawaii
- slavery and abolition in the United States
- international law and diplomacy
Special Collections also maintains the libraries of the Philologian and Philotechnican Societies, comprising titles acquired by the student members of this literary and debating club.
Paul Whiteman Collection
The department collects material that documents directly the life and career of Paul Whiteman, and may acquire collections pertaining to the careers of associated composers, arrangers and band members as they relate to Whiteman. Such material may include manuscripts, pictorial material, motion picture film and videos, sound recordings, ephemera and research materials.
Special Collections acquires material produced from the 18th through the 20th centuries both by and about the Shakers. Acquisitions may include manuscripts, photographs, microforms, printed material and ephemera, and are especially sought in the areas of:
- general Shaker theology
- the history of the New Lebanon community
- spirit messages
- Shaker hymnals
While the Archives maintains no official cooperative acquisitions agreements, the department works unofficially with other repositories and College offices to ensure that prospective donations are offered to the institution/office that may best be able to preserve the material and to provide access to it. Institutions and offices with which the Archives currently works closely include the Chapin Library of Rare Books, the Williams College Museum of Art, the Williamstown House of Local History, the North Adams Public Library, and the Berkshire Athenaeum.
Policy review and de-accession
The Collection Development Policy will be reviewed periodically to ensure that it reflects the College's collecting needs. If at any time donated material is deemed outside the scope of the Archives' collecting plan or otherwise unsuitable for the collections, it will be considered for de-accession. The Archives will normally consider several options for de-accession: return of the material to the donor, return of the material to the donor's family, donation of the material to another College office, donation of the material to another repository, or destruction of the material.
The digital collection services of the Williams College Archives and Special Collections (Archives) seeks to collect, manage, preserve and disseminate digital objects that support the educational mission of the College, are in need of preservation, are part of the history of the College, and are rare and unique.
The development of digital collections is in keeping with the Archives' intention to describe, arrange, digitize, and disseminate our collections and to provide "the retention, preservation, and research use of its collections." Digital collection development involves the Archives and others as appropriate.
Digital Collections are composed of digital objects, whether born-digital or digitized, regardless of item type. Text, audio, still and moving images, datasets, etc. are all included. Collecting activities focus on content that can be made accessible to a wide audience. In some cases we may need to restrict access to the College's records in order to adhere to copyright laws or restriction periods.
The focus of the Williams College Archives Digital Collections is unique or rare content from collections owned by the Archives or the College at large. Unique and rare content may be created through digitization of selected analog materials or through the transfer of born-digital content. Williams College Archives Digital Collections may also include other types of open access scholarly materials (for example, data sets, creative works, publications, etc.) as the need arises.
Items and collections encouraged:
- Be produced, submitted or sponsored by Williams College faculty, staff, or students.
- Be scholarly, research-oriented, pedagogical, or illuminate the history of the College and support the overall educational mission of Williams College.
- Have enduring value.
- Have copyright clearance if the copyright is not held by the submitter/s or Williams College.
- Comply with local, state and federal content and privacy laws, and with College policies and standards of conduct.
The Archives is highly supportive of collections that:
- Represent the cultural, geographic, economic, and political diversity of Williams College.
- Constitute objects for which access would be improved by inclusion in the Archives: linking between items, innovative ways to comprehend the material, etc.
- May be difficult to access physically.
- Comprise materials that are in need of preservation.
- Complement existing digital content.
- Have materials that are dispersed.
As a rule, we do not digitize or accept digitized versions of inactive analog records of enduring value that have not been officially transferred to the College Archives and Special Collections, though the Archives reserves the right to make exceptions if warranted. While the Library and the Center for Educational Technology (CET) will continue to digitize non-unique images for teaching based on faculty demand, those materials are not in scope for this document. This document will be reviewed periodically and updated as needed.
The Archives is responsible for the selection, creation, delivery, and preservation of the Williams College Archives digital collections. We adhere to national and international community-based standards and best practices, including A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections (NISO) and the Federal Agencies Digitization Initiative Still Image Working Group's Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials (FADGI), in all our work.
Through our small digital production studio and the outsourcing of special formats, the Archives is responsible for programmatic digitization of rare and unique materials. In other words, we produce preservation-quality digital objects as part of the development of coherent digital collections that support the mission of the Archives and the College. Digitization decisions will be guided in part by the Collection Development Policy for Archives & Special Collections, which outlines specific subject areas collected and states the department's commitment to "to appraise, collect, organize, describe, preserve, and make available the College's records of permanent administrative, legal, fiscal, and historical value."
Selecting content, whether born-digital or digitized, is only one piece in the ongoing process of building digital collections. The development and management of digital collections also involves project management and strategic planning; metadata architecture, creation, and management; the development and use of UNBOUND: the Williams Digital Commons and ArchivesSpace to create, manage, preserve, and deliver digital content; and the ongoing assessment of digital collections and the previously mentioned services. We work closely with other units in the Williams College Libraries and the Office of Information Technology (OIT) to develop and realize our goals, and collaborate with other units in the College and with external institutions and organizations when appropriate.
We encourage potential contributors interested in digitizing their own content in preparation to be added to the Archives, to coordinate with the Digital Resources Archivist/Records Manager in advance to establish the correct digitization methods.
Associated Analog Material
Inactive records of enduring value, held in analog form in offices and departments on campus (regardless of whether those records have already been digitized by the current holder), must be transferred to the Archives before that content can be added to the digital collections. This is in keeping with the ongoing role of the Archives, allowing staff to have continued access to analog original materials in case re-digitization is ever necessary.
Organization and Metadata
The Archives will collect and produce metadata to describe collections and items in the Archives. Different schema may be employed to support different projects/collections. Metadata Object Description Schema (MODS) is Archives standard schema.
Collections must be organized and described before it can be digitized. Books must be cataloged. Archives and manuscript materials must be processed and have a resource record in ArchivesSpace, though item-level metadata may be created as part of the development of a digital collection. Metadata must follow current digital collections standards, as well as guidelines developed by Archives.
Digitization activities will likely fall into one of three categories:
- Ongoing digitization of entire collections or large portions of collections- Ongoing digitization is carried out by the Digital Resources Archivist/Records Manager and student workers. These projects are generally not subject to specific deadlines.
- Specially-funded digitization projects made possible through grants or gifts- These may involve additional short-term staff and will likely be subject to specific deadlines and special project parameters.
- Scan on Demand- Digitization based on user requests of materials that are rare or unique, fit the selection criteria, and receive regular use. This includes material requested by researchers using the Archives and by faculty for teaching purposes.
Maintenance and Removal
These guidelines are designed in part to ensure the development of digital collections that are of high quality, useful and usable, and cohesive. It is possible, however, that individual objects or entire collections may need to be removed or de-accessioned for reasons of violation of copyright or copyright dispute, inaccurate data or facts, collection weeding, storage, or the material is no longer in support of the Williams scholarly community. These decisions will be made in conjunction with the Digital Resources Archivist/Records Manager, College Archivist, Director of Libraries, and others as appropriate and will be handled on a case by case basis. Under some circumstances, objects will be removed from view, but to avoid loss of the historical record, all such transactions will be traced in the form of a note in the metadata.