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It Takes a Village: The Digital Alcohol Studies Archives at Rutgers

The Digital Alcohol Studies Archives is an open access collection of searchable full texts and images selected from documents amassed, preserved, and digitized over eighty years at Yale and Rutgers, now freely available for the public.

Significance of the Digital Alcohol Studies Archives

The Rutgers Center of Alcohol and Substance Use Studies (CAS) has been both a vital part of the history of the alcohol research field and a crucial institutional repository for the preservation and dissemination of that history. Given the role CAS played in shaping the field, the Digital Alcohol Studies Archives Collection is the only one of its kind. It aims to preserve a crucial phase in the history of science: the birth and evolution of modern-day alcohol studies through the lens of one of its central institutions, from the founding of the Section on Alcohol Studies at Yale through its expansion into the Center of Alcohol Studies, its move to Rutgers in 1962, and up to the present day.

The Digital Alcohol Studies archive preserves the trailblazing history of the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies for the next generation of scholars and practitioners. Selected from the print collection, digital artifacts, and remnants of the defunct CAS Library and Archives, the collection is designed to foster reflections on past experiences and promote life-long learning by providing context for current trends and helping translate past practices to current issues in addiction research, education, and treatment. It promises to be of value for historians, students, educators, information scientists, and researchers.

Scope and structure of the Digital Alcohol Studies Archives

The Digital Alcohol Studies Archives Collection is divided into five sections: publications, notable people, special collections, Summer School, and images. The Publications Collection includes gray literature, pamphlets, fact sheets, lay supplements, and material related to publishing alcohol literature, scholarly and lay alike, published by the Center at Yale and Rutgers, including texts of historical relevance and seminal articles in the field.

A treasure trove for historians, the Notable People Collection shares draft manuscripts of publications and conference presentations, correspondence, notes, and ephemera related to the founders of alcohol studies, such as Selden D. Bacon, John Anthony Carpenter, Leon G. Greenberg, Howard W. Haggard, Yandell Henderson, E. M. Jellinek, Mark Keller, and Raymond G. McCarthy.

With searchable program brochures, alumni newsletters, and images, the Summer School Collection documents how the Summer School of Alcohol Studies evolved at Yale and continued at Rutgers. The documents not only provide a historical perspective of education and training in the field but also help shed light on the reason why participants often returned several times for refresher and advanced courses: a sense of belonging to this diverse community.

The Special Collections and Images sections share rare documents and images from the Center’s substantial print archives, including documentation and finding aids of the Classified Abstract Archive of the Alcohol Literature (CAAAL), the McCarthy Collection, and the Temperance Collection. Many of the unique images, including photographs, illustrations, and sketches, that had been requested as illustrations in books and in exhibitions in the past, are now available to be downloaded from the collection.

Technology for best access

The overarching goal of the Digital Alcohol Studies Archives is to provide access to materials previously unavailable to the public and raise awareness of this availability via multiple access points. Technical resources include the Omeka digital collections platform, focusing on images and benefiting from its exhibit function to showcase representative or fun content, such as the Summer School of Alcohol Studies collectible t-shirts, available only in this collection.

The RUcore digital platform is used for complex resources such as PDF-borne pamphlets and documents in order to support full-text searching. Each bibliographic record includes subject headings, descriptions, and a persistent URL with a DOI. The record of each archival-quality image features a more detailed description providing information and guidance to related items. The collection is designed to inspire and prompt reflection, pointing researchers to further resources while helping them understand the historical and institutional context from which the field emerged.

With its 1,000+ items, the Digital Alcohol Studies Archives also provide a glimpse into the scope of the sizeable print CAS Special Collections, currently stored off site. One “item” in the digital collection can be a single image, with a detailed description, or a 100-page document collated from several related texts, all indexed, OCR-ed, and full-text searchable.

An appealing and valuable addition, the homepage of the Digital Alcohol Studies Archives remarkably improves the discoverability and accessibility of CAS documents, objects, and artifacts relating to founding of alcohol studies as an academic discipline with its user-friendly  navigation and sustainable design.

The story behind the Digital Alcohol Studies Archives

With an increased focus on online resources during the pandemic, a small team, consisting of  Judit H. Ward, alcohol studies librarian and former director of the Information Services Division at CAS (2007-2016), Nicholas Allred, professor of English literature with a research interest in alcohol history, and Isaiah Beard, digital data curator at RUL, piloted methods and developed digital content while exploring opportunities provided by currently available platforms, such as WordPress and Omeka. Strongly supported by CAS, the Digital Alcohol Studies Archives hit the ground running and soon became one of the priority projects of New Brunswick Libraries.

Metadata librarian Geoff Wood assisted in experimenting with RUcore, the Rutgers University Community Repository, including its in-house Workflow Management System, to upload and ingest items to a Fedora-based platform. With the guidance and hands-on participation of RUL web developers Sam McDonalds and Eva Chan, a public-facing Drupal-based homepage was developed on the RUL site for the collection, featuring a Digital Collections search portal, which helps navigate and access a great deal of the resources on early alcohol studies with ease. Graduate assistant Kate Greenberg from the Master of Information program (archives track) at Rutgers School of Communication & Information was instrumental in the daily work of processing items.

Former CAS librarian William Bejarano worked as a consultant on this project. In 2021, he used the digital archive, which was then a work very much in progress, as a case study for his students in the Digital Libraries course, part of the Master of Information program at Rutgers School of Communication & Information. Its current more completed form will serve as a fine example for the same course in the coming semester. By observing the collection as a case study, it allows students to engage with novel challenges encountered when archiving the emergence of a multidisciplinary academic field, as well as assess its value based on its novelty, rarity, discoverability, navigable design, and intuitive organization.

The end result

From its beginnings, CAS has provided a model for multidisciplinary collaboration among scientists, social scientists, and practitioners; and it has also been a pioneer of socially engaged scholarship to advocate for treating addiction as a disease rather than stigmatizing it as a moral failing. Spanning past and present, the collaboration between information professionals and researchers within diverse units at Yale and Rutgers will continue to assist researchers in the future.

Chronicling the birth of alcohol science as it evolved at Yale and Rutgers, the digital collection of searchable full texts and images now provides access via the following access points.

A few words from the outgoing Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs for conclusion and future relevance:

“With its immeasurable value for historians, students, educators, and researchers, the potential uses of the archives are virtually unlimited in the long run.” – Thomas F. Babor, Ph.D., M.P.H.