Posted for Darren Poley:
In 2009 Falvey Memorial Library joined with other Catholic University libraries in the Catholic Research Resources Alliance which has developed a free online research portal for scholars interested in the Catholic Church, particularly Catholic-related items held in the United States. Unlike some other fields of research that are cross-disciplinary in nature there has never been an effort, until now, to collectively identify what may be called Catholica. Catholic Studies in America has certainly grown a great deal as a locus for scholarly research in the last couple of decades and now libraries, rather than creating a single repository, are working together to use current tools and technology to enhance methods for discovering the primary source material. The intent is to aid researchers and students to do the kind of ferreting out of lesser known or little used publications and manuscripts related to the Catholicism.
Its participation started last year when the Catholic Research Resources Alliance invited Villanova University librarians to actively get involved in a strategy last summer. Since then the Digital Library has begun to contribute data to the Catholic Portal project about our holdings in a number of “collecting themes” identified by the CRRA member libraries. Additionally the VuFind search and browse open source software developed by Falvey Library staff was adopted and now provides the infrastructure for the Catholic Portal’s functionality. In November of 2009, as new member of the CRRA, Falvey Memorial Library was asked to conduct a focus group of scholars to test and discuss the feasibility and user-friendliness of the project.
The Collection Policy Statement for the Catholic Portal says, “The purpose of the Catholic Research Portal is to provide global access to the wealth of research resources relating to the Catholic experience. Of primary interest are rare, unique and uncommon Catholic research materials. Because these resources are often uncataloged and little known outside their institutional repositories, the Portal seeks to encourage broad participation and to provide support to libraries, archives, and other institutions that wish to participate in this project but lack the resources to do so. The Portal will ultimately facilitate and assist researchers and students in identifying Catholic research resources and make Catholic scholarship more productive. In doing so, the Catholic Research Portal will contribute substantially to the generation of new knowledge.”
To this purpose volunteers from Villanova’s department of history, as well as that of theology and religious studies including some administrators and even a nationally recognized scholar in the field of Catholic Studies from another local university shared their views saying the purpose, audience and content of the project makes sense tinted with a little optimism at the prospect of the Library’s involvement. “I’m hoping for real energy and support to fulfill its clear possibility.” There was little agreement as to what to call the body of literature that would be useful to American Catholic Studies as a field of study, but the reason for Portal’s development does seem to be clear. As one focus group member said, “In a decentralized community like Catholic higher education, being able to discover the treasures hidden away in libraries and archives is very desirable.” The usefulness of the Catholic Portal and the positive reaction to Falvey Memorial Library’s digital library involvement seems clear to our patrons, and the Portal’s potential users.
It should be noted that the Collection Policy Statement for the Catholic Portal also makes it clear that, “As the Portal develops and expands, all Catholic colleges, universities, seminaries and archives in North America will be welcome to participate in this effort. Non-Catholic institutions with holdings of Catholic interest will also be welcome to contribute records.”