The Research Archives of the Oriental Institute
Text, graphics, design and layout by Foy D. Scalf
Based on previous editions by Charles E. Jones and Terry G Wilfong
Oriental Institute, 2009
"The existence of an Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago implies further that the ancient cultures of the Near East are worthy of special attention as the record of man’s earliest attempts to organize human life on a comprehensive scale, to unfold its higher potential, and to give it a cosmic frame of reference."
-Oriental Institute Annual Report 1959-1960
The Research Archives of the Oriental Institute is the scholarly reference library for the research needs of the faculty, staff, students and members of the Oriental Institute. The library materials constitute a non-circulating collection of publications covering all the fields of Ancient Near Eastern Studies from the beginnings of civilization through the Late Antique period, reflecting the interests and work of its users and benefactors. The Research Archives is not a part of the University of Chicago Library System and its holdings bear no relationship to the holdings of the wider university library system. As a non-circulating collection, the library materials housed in our collection are never permitted to leave the Oriental Institute building, either for personal or inter-library loans, thus preserving the fundamental intent of the collection as a reference source for in-house scholarly work.
Through the Years: A Short History of the Research Archives
Haskel Hall, circa 1920
A library was an essential element of the Oriental Institute since its foundation under James Henry Breasted in 1919. Originally situated in the north room of the third floor of Haskel Halli, at one time referred to as the Divinity Library of Haskell Hallii and partially funded by Ms. Frederick Haskeliii, the library itself consisted of a sole room with a relatively small collection, in modern terms, reflecting not only the youth of the institute but also the vastly reduced size of the fields in Ancient Near Eastern Studies as compared to todayiv. We know very little about the staff of the library from the first few years of the institute, but Albert S. Wilson worked in the Haskell Hall library before becoming director of the state library school in 1907v
Oriental Institute Librarian
In 1931 with the construction of the new Oriental Institute building, the library was moved into its new home. Upon writing his account of the Oriental Institute, Breasted had the following to say about the new library: "The most beautiful room in the building is the library reading-room in the west wing, where for the first time the entire specialized group of books representing the field of research with which the Institute is concerned is conveniently accessible."vi The earliest history of the library has been overshadowed, and rightly so, by the tremendous scholarly projects and museum acquisitions of the early institute. Few publications cover the period of 1919-1931 with respect to the library staff. However, the original development of these facilities owed a great deal to Johanne Vindenas, librarian for the Oriental Institute for nearly half a century, from 1924 to 1964. Her meticulous cataloging is renown in library circlesvii and can be found on display in the sixteen volumes of the Catalog of the Oriental Institute Library, University of Chicago published in 1970 under the supervision of then Oriental Institute librarian Shirley A. Lyon. This catalog documented the holdings of the Oriental Institute library before consolidation within the University library system whose materials were moved to the newly built Joseph Regenstein Library in 1970. The magnitude of this work is overwhelming, with its 284,400 index cards covering over 50,000 volumes.
Consolidation of the University of Chicago libraries meant the disintegration of Breasted's ideal of having all the library resources pertinent to the institute's areas of interest in one spaceviii. For institute projects, it meant wasted time and the increased burden of repeated trips to the Regenstein library, often only to check a simple bibliographic item for one of the dictionary projects. It did not take long for faculty and staff to decry the situation and under the directorship of Dr. John A. Brinkman, a new library was established.
James Henry Breasted, Founder of
the Oriental Institute
The current incarnation of the Oriental Institute library facilities, the Research Archives, was founded in 1972ix, and opened in September of 1973x, at the request of scholars who needed immediate access to research materials for the various projects being conducted at the institute. Director John A. Brinkman announced the opening of the Research Archives in the 1973-1974 volume of the Oriental Institute Annual Report: "The past year also saw the opening of the new Research Archives, a collection of books and reference materials that will form the nucleus of a badly needed research library in the Institute building." Thus the vision of the Oriental Institute's founder had been reborn and retained. The Reading Room still retains most of the original decorative elements from its 1931 completion, including the "lotus" window in the south wall, the wood carvings on the north wall and the elaborately painted ceiling.
Since opening in 1973, the Research Archives has housed its share of future scholars, obviously as students, but many as employeesxi. From 1973 until 1984, three librarians cared for the collection: Charles C. Van Siclen III, Richard L. Zettler, and Alice Figundio Schneider. In the spring of 1983, Charles Ellwood Jones began what would become a 22 year tenure in the Research Archives, from 1983 to 2005. With the development of the personal computer, these 20 years witnessed a radical shift in how libraries operate. Quickly replacing card catalogs as a means for cataloging their collections, bibliographers turned to electronic databases to manipulate their data. The publicly accessible electronic catalog of the Research Archives (http://oilib.uchicago.edu) was begun in 1988. Now, with over 330,000 catalog records, this database remains one of the lasting legacies of Jones's stewardship and a most important research tool within Ancient Near Eastern Studies.
Library patron reading in the Research Archives
Library, Archival Photofiles (apf2-05486)
Special Collections Research Center,
University of Chicago Library
As of 2009, the Research Archives continues to build on these sturdy foundations. We seek to collect, as comprehensively as possible, the volumes relevant to Ancient Near Eastern studies. In addition, we continue to build important research tools, continually developing the online catalog as well as the Research Archives website where we host dissertations from recent graduates from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and library acquisitions lists. Through our online catalog, users can now access tens of thousands of Adobe Acrobat (pdf) files, housed both internally on our server as well externally on electronic media sites such as JSTOR and Ebsco. Through these efforts and in keeping with the spirit of the Oriental Institute as a whole, our electronic tools and scanning initiatives will continue to make materials accessible to scholars worldwide in an open and public format.xii
iGeorge S. Goodspeed and William Rainey Harper, "The Dedication of the Haskell Oriental Museum, July 2, 1896," The Biblical World, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Aug., 1896), 107.
iiThe University Library (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1904), 264; Annual Catalog 1916-1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1917), 296; Katharine I. Sharp, "Illinois Libraries," University of Illinois Bulletin 5 (June 29, 1908), no. 31, 72.
iiiJay Pridmore and Peter Kiar, The University of Chicago: An Architectural Tour (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006), 59.
vi"The Haskell Oriental Museum of the University of Chicago," The Biblical World 8:2 (August 1896), 81.
vThe Library Journal 32 (January-December 1907), 473.
viJames Henry Breasted, The Oriental Institute. The University of Chicago Survey Volume XII (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1933), 122.
viiRober Wadsworth, "Johanne Vindenas Remembered," Access 36, No. 23, November 11, 1988, pp. 2-3.
viiiThe Oriental Institute Annual Report lacked a section devoted to the library until the 1969-1970 volume, portentous because of the library consolidation taking place in that very same year (Shirley A. Lyon, "The Oriental Institute Library," Oriental Institute Annual Report 1969-1970, 29-32).
ixFor the "Needs of the Oriental Institute," listed in the Oriental Institute Annual Report 1972-1973 is $950,000 for a library endowment.
xThe first report of the Research Archives, written by Charles C. Van Siclen III, appeared in the 1973-74 volume of the Oriental Institute Annual Report.
xiFor an alphabetical list of former employees of the Research Archives, many who went on to productive scholarly careers, see http://oihistory.blogspot.com/2008/02/oriental-institute-research-archives.html.
xiiThe Oriental Institute distributed for free a number of its early folio publications to institutions and scholars who couldn't afford them and made the purchase price lower than production costs (see Breasted, Oriental Institute, 435).
Revised: November 23, 2010