SLIS Jobline


Practicum Proposal, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Practicum Proposal

Harvard University History of Science Library, Widener Library S-91 FAS, Department of the History of Science


About the History of Science Library

The History of Science Library has a collection of 5,000+ books, the core of which was donated to the Department of the History of Science by George Sarton, a founder of the field of the history of science. Sarton's collecting began in 1912 in Wondelgem, Belgium, and continued until his death in 1956. The Carnegie Institution of Washington purchased just over 2,000 volumes in the collection for Sarton's use; these books were subsequently gifted to Harvard in 1949. Additionally, the Library holds a display of the original Isis bibliographic cards, as Sarton was the journal's founding editor. The Library's collection is almost entirely pre-1965, and specializes in early to mid-twentieth century research monographs and texts related to Islamic and pre-modern science. It also has a small collection of archival paper holdings, including materials related to Project Physics and Professor Dick Lewontin's Forensic DNA work.


About the Department of the History of Science

The Department of the History of Science is an interdisciplinary community of scholars, undergraduate and graduate students, visiting researchers, and affiliated faculty in other Harvard programs. We seek to understand the sciences, technology, and medicine in their historical, cultural, and current contexts, using history as a tool to help illuminate how knowledge of various kinds has come to be configured as it is. Our studies are pluralistic, encouraging students to draw on an array of approaches, among them book history, economic history, material culture, and museology.


Our Approach: The Department of the History of Science has grown extensively since the 1930s when the department was established at Harvard University. The department has greatly widened the scope of the topics we study to include not only the traditionally structured sciences, but also the social sciences. This array of topics has allowed for a comprehensive exploration of the history of knowledge in its various cross-connections. We also use an ever-broadening range of methods and address an increasing diversity of audiences. With this broad and diverse set of methodologies, subjects, and fields our conception of science, technology, and medical studies is that of a big tent, one capacious enough to include both small-group sociological studies as well as an exciting range of tools deployed over the last 30 years.


Practicum Proposal: Library Classification Project for the History of Science Library

Original Project Objectives:

  • Create a strategic plan for developing a call number system for the History of Science Library
  • Create and implement a call number system for the library that respects the historically significant organization system that was established by the Library's founder, George Sarton.
  • Enable effective access to the unique and historically significant collections of the History of Science Library


Project Overview & Status: The library practicum project focuses on developing and implementing a library classification system for the History of Science Library. The practicum student(s) will work in collaboration with the graduate student librarian and a staff member of the Department of the History of Science (DHS).

The project began in Fall 2018. In that time, a classification scheme was developed and an inventory of the HS Library was begun. Interested applicants should indicate their interest in any or all of the remaining tasks of the project:

1. Complete the HS Library inventory

  • The inventory is approximately half finished; an estimated eighty hours of work remain. The intern will coordinate with a previous practicum student and the HS graduate student librarian regarding the existing practices for classifying and managing a database of the items in the HS Library according to George Sarton's categories. Sarton's categorization of these texts is a matter of historical interest; it represents an early and significant interpretation of the field of 'history of science.'
  • Additional crucial aspects of the inventory include noting which items in the HS Library are not yet already catalogued into HOLLIS (the Harvard Library catalog), how many items are listed in HOLLIS but have gone missing from the HS Library, assessing and documenting the provenance and condition of each item, reviewing the existing classes and organizational structure, making final decisions regarding class notations, and suggesting recommendations regarding preservation (when appropriate).

2. Creating Tools for Discovery and Cataloguing the HS Library.

  • Following, or concurrent with, the completion of the HS Library inventory, the Intern(s) will work to create discovery aids for the HS Library, such as a Libguide or finding aids for the HS Library archival paper holdings.
  • Following, or concurrent with, the completion of the HS Library inventory, the Intern(s) may have the opportunity to collaborate with HOLLIS cataloguing staff to input the HS Library classification into HOLLIS. This will involve locating HOLLIS bibliographic records for the Library's titles and adding the HS Library item records. This will enable researchers to request the History of Science Library books directly through Hollis.

The Practicum Student will develop the skills necessary to manage and ensure the accessibility of a unique and historically significant collection. The student will gain an understanding of the best practices related to workflow and management of processes.

The Intern will engage tasks allowing for the development of the following skills and aptitudes:

  • Programmatic/technical: searching library records and Hollis catalogues, pulling collection records from library catalogue, locating collection texts within library catalogues, updating library catalogue records
  • Methodological: understanding of North American library system, knowledge of historical collection maintenance and accessibility

Measurable learning objective(s):

  • Successful completion of activities listed above relating to the proposedproject
  • De novo creation of a cataloging system for this library that respectsthe historical integrity of Sarton's organization of the texts
  • Development of written and verbal communication skills

Qualifications/Skills and abilities desired:

  • Ability to track and meet deadlines
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Self-motivated
  • Project management and time management skills
  • Strong written and verbal communication skills
  • Innovative and thinks outside the box
  • Creative, energetic, and collaborative approach to work
  • There is no heavy lifting or pushing required in this internship

This internship qualifies for LIS 501 (approval was received from Kendra Giannini), if the interested person registers for the Summer 2019 semester. If the interested person does not plan to use the internship for course credit, they may begin as early as February (2019). The internship is unpaid. Interested students should contact Gustave Lester, the History of Science Librarian at

Opportunities for Current Students