Introducing “Distinctive Collections”

New name for Institute Archives and Special Collections reflects the breadth and ambitions of the department

The Institute Archives and Special Collections has been renamed Distinctive Collections, the MIT Libraries announced today. This new name better captures the breadth of the department’s current work, while also signaling its aspirations to center unique, special, and archival collections in the vision articulated by the MIT Task Force on the Future of Libraries. Emilie Hardman has been named head of the department.

“Reframing the department as Distinctive Collections can help us think more holistically about opportunities to inspire and enable research, learning, experimentation, and play for a diverse community of users,” says Hardman.

Distinctive Collections comprises the Aga Khan Documentation Center, the MIT Institute Archives, Rare Books and Manuscripts, Visual Collections, and the Wunsch Conservation Lab. The department collects, preserves, and fosters the use of unique and rare materials such as tangible and digital archives, manuscripts, ephemera, artists’ books, and more.

These collections are a valuable resource for researchers, journalists, and learners around the world and play a critical role in teaching and research at MIT. For the MIT and Slavery project and course, for example, undergraduate students conducted original research in the Institute Archives to uncover MIT’s ties to slavery. Another project from MIT’s Digital Humanities Lab is mixing archival work in the Institute Archives with coding skills to create a digital repository of information about how computing was integrated into the history of MIT.

“We aim to have the Libraries’ Distinctive Collections serve as a core resource for MIT,” says Hardman, “One which cultivates interest in past, present, and future; the humanistic and the scientific; and the physical and the digital.”