The Catholic University of America

May 18, 2010

Students Create Online Finding Aids for Collections in CUA’s Archives

  Father Léon L. Dubois, a French Catholic priest, is the subject of one of the finding aids.

To some, The Catholic University of America’s Archives might be a bit of a mystery. How does one figure out what’s stored there and make sense of these collections?

Several School of Library and Information Science students, who worked 50 hours over the spring semester, and two history graduate students who work in the Archives tried to answer that question by creating online finding aids of specific archival collections. Although this is not the first time students have worked on finding aids, it is the largest number of students to work on such a project in one semester.

An online finding aid describes what items are contained in a collection, provides a biographical sketch of the source of the collection and describes how the items were obtained by CUA. The person who creates the finding aid must sort through the relevant information and attempt to find a unifying theme to the collection and its importance.

For Gena Chattin, a student in the library and information science school, the experience gave her a chance to practice the skills she was learning in her Archives Management class this spring. Chattin had to create a finding aid for items in a collection of maps, photos, reports and papers from Father Léon L. Dubois, a French Catholic priest who traveled, most likely as a chaplain, with French tank soldiers during World War I.

“I had to find out as much about him as I could and about where the materials came from, how they came to the university, and where they might have been before,” she says.  She then had to assess the materials to see what was actually in the collection and organize the items into series and folders.

“Since it was a small collection, I spent more time than usual on the individual items just in the hopes of finding out more about Dubois and his actions during the war,” she says.

Mary Zito, a graduate student in history and a student worker in Archives, spent the semester organizing the materials from a collection of papers by Monsignor Luigi Ligutti. Monsignor Ligutti, who began his priesthood in Iowa, was a highly regarded advocate for rural Catholics.

“I learned a lot about the rural movement in America in the 20th century, and interestingly, how seriously some churchmen took the ideas of ecumenism even before Vatican II pronounced that ecumenism was okay — how they thought it was necessary to work with people of other faiths for the good of their flock without compromising on what they believed,” says Zito.

The benefit of the project has two dimensions, according to John Shepherd, associate archivist. It gives students the chance to practice the skills they’ve learned and it give the Archives staff extra hands in sorting through and making sense of some of the collections the university houses.

For a list of the finding aids created by the students, visit

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