Northeastern University

Empower your strategy through valuable library research

Students studying in Northeastern University Library

“OCLC’s research helped Northeastern University Library reorganize to strategically maximize the impact of university archives and special collections on the curriculum.”

Evan Simpson
Associate Dean of Research and Learning Services

Evan Simpson, Associate Dean of Research and Learning Services at Northeastern University, oversees access services, research and instruction services, and design and creative services as well as the university’s Archives and Special Collections. Evan explained that this is his first role managing special collections, and he began by focusing on workflows for creating metadata and on longer-range plans for extending library services to online learning communities, including archives and special collections services. Using OCLC’s Research and Learning Agenda for Archives, Special, and Distinctive Collections in Research Libraries report has been “a really good crash course, helping me understand some of the high-level technical issues in the management of university archives and special collections,” he said. “That’s why this report is so helpful, particularly to me being new to this area. It’s really great information about core technical underpinnings of the archive and some emerging challenges in this area of libraries.”

Evan points to OCLC’s report frequently in strategy conversations because “it frames many issues, challenges, and opportunities in archives and special collections,” he said. “The fact that the report mentions serving online students is key. You have to think about serving populations of online learners, giving staff a roadmap for developing the skills they need to use the technology, and engaging students online. Then, you have to actually roll it out. But that all starts with conversations and planning.”

“Any time you have a formal report put out by a trustworthy organization, it becomes immediately a tool that administrators can use to help frame local needs, and that's exactly what I've used this report for.”

The OCLC report helped frame multiple conversations and meetings about the organization of the library and the decision was made to move Archives and Special Collections into the Research and Learning Services division. “Staff in Archives and Special Collections were already working closely with subject specialists and the reorganization has only helped solidify those connections. They see their work as even more aligned now. Being in the same division has already resulted in increased communication and richer collaborations. This is particularly evident in the library’s efforts to integrate archives and special collections into the curriculum," Evan said. "We really see our archive and our special collections materials as great mechanisms for increasing engagement with the curriculum. And we have seen a good uptick in the number of courses that the library works with. So, the section in the OCLC report on teaching with archives is really helpful for us. It does a good job on addressing issues and customizing needs based on learning goals.”

One challenge of incorporating special collections into coursework has been reaching Northeastern’s online learners. Evan explained that the library staff “really believes that offering online experiences is relevant to everyone, even the student 100 yards away in their dorm room. One way we do that is through online learning, including services and programming.” He added, “Doing an instruction session entirely online was not totally incorporated into our group of librarians before, so I’m happy to say that we’re there now, and archives and special collections are part of the conversation.”

Going forward, the library hopes to “formalize experiential learning and research opportunities for student-driven projects and connect them to our Service Learning and Experiential Learning Offices,” Evan said. “Students are more excited than they think they are going to be when they see the special collections. Even a group of seasoned seniors get excited about some of the stuff they’ve seen, such as Boston punk zines and Big Dig architectural plans.” OCLC’s Research and Learning Agenda helped Evan start conversations to get the support he needed, and he is excited to continue conversations to expand the use of special collections and archives in support of Northeastern University students.


  • Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Library at a glance

  • Supports over 20,000 undergraduate and over 10,000 graduate students across 7 campuses in the US, Canada, and the UK
  • Houses the Digital Media Commons, a 3D Studio, and DMC Recording studios, which host engaging events and workshops
  • Provides more than 491,000 printed book titles; 718,000 e-books; 104,000 licensed electronic journal titles; and 95,000 streaming audio and visual titles
  • Maintains special collections including materials focused on activism and community organizations in Boston

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