American Heritage (AH) Publishing Co. and the American Association for State & Local History (AASLH) are set to unveiling the National Portal to Historic Collections this month.
While it has enormous potential the National Portal is not quite “ready for prime time” as very few items are either entered in or available through it. Not every repository is yet listed, and many large repositories have only made a few entries from their extensive collections. This is entirely understandable since National Portal is in its infancy, but users should be forewarned not to rely on a portal search to find all that is available, even from institutions listed as part of the portal project.
That being said, as the National Portal database is populated, it has enormous potential to reveal “hidden collections” often held by historical societies and museums. The ultimate promise of the National Portal is that of a one-stop search for museum holdings that will parallel libraries’ use of http://www.worldcat.org/.
AH and AASLH began the project four years ago when Edwin Grosvenor bought AH from Forbes, ending its twenty year corporate ownership of American Heritage Publishing Co. AASLH actually began AH in 1947 and Grosvenor has a background in educational publishing. His father and grandfather presided over the National Geographic Society and edited its flagship magazine for over a century.
The Association and the publisher have assembled an advisory board headed by former U.S. National Archivist Allen Weinstein and a working group which includes representatives of the Library of Congress Network Development & Standards Office, the Open Archives Initiative, PastPerfect Museum Software, and from the J. Paul Getty Museum for the American Association of Museums.
The project has ambitious but necessary goals such as industry agreement on common metadata standards; development of automated tools for harvesting metadata; improvement of Standard Nomenclature for Museum Object Cataloging; and promulgation of a uniform system of Museum Accession Identification Numbers (MAIN – meant to be the equivalent of publisher’s ISBN numbers).
Though the task facing the project is daunting, it seems to have assembled the right people and tasked them with the necessary work to accomplish its goals. While the National Portal is not currently all one might hope for, one might ultimately hope for quite a bit from this project.