Wiley Digital Archives

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    Wiley Digital Archives is a discovery platform and database that provides access to collections of historical primary resources that have been digitized from societies and archives representing knowledge, learning and scholarship in the sciences. The collections that are available through the resource constitute the study of sciences and medicine through primary resources which include: maps, manuscripts, periodicals, administrative papers, fieldwork, correspondence, books, photographs, illustrations, proceedings, meeting minute books, conference papers, pamphlets, reports, grey literature, and ephemera. 

    Wiley has partnered with The New York Academy of Science, the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) to digitize and make accessible parts of their archival collections. 

    May 17, 2024 7:37pm
    Collection Content

    As described by the provider on its platform, Wiley Digital Archives is a "program of databases comprised of unique or rare historical primary sources, digitized from societies, libraries, and archives around the world". The collections cover a long range of chronological scope, with content originating from the year 1205 through 2015. In the production of the Wiley Digital Archives Wiley partnered with Society Archives such as The Royal College of Physicians, The New York Academy of Sciences and The Royal Anthropological Institute to digitize and create digital access to primary source materials. According to the publisher, Wiley Digital Archives will continue to grow as a program by adding new partners each year and continue to build the platform as new partners and archives are incorporated.

    As of June 2019, the resource contains four main archival collections: The Royal College of Physicians, The New York Academy of Sciences, The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Royal Geographical Society (initial release summer 2019). The major archives in WDA—available as individual subscriptions—are comprised of sub-collections that can be browsed and searched.

    The Royal College of Physicians

    The Royal College of Physicians archive reflects the RCP’s role in setting standards in medical practice since its founding in 1518. The archive consists mainly of manuscripts, institutional records, and printed books as well as the personal papers of past fellows, doctors, and other notable figures in the medical field. As of June 2019, the archive contained more than 22,000 items.

    The RCP archive is organized into 121 "collections" which can be browsed or searched by reference number or collection title. For each collection the platform provides an overview of the content in a metadata record that captures: Collection title, Collection/reference number, Object history note (capturing provenance information), Content description, Dimension (number of items), Object number, and Inscription language. Within the RCP archives, not all metadata fields are applied to each collection. Collections range in size considerably, with some collections having only 2 items to the large collections including over 3500 items. Depending on the size of the collection, items are further organized into subjugated groups.

    The New York Academy of Sciences

    The New York Academy of Sciences archives brings together 4000+ items representing organizations and individuals in the global scientific community from one of the oldest scientific organizations in the U.S. The NYAS archive content includes records, meeting minutes, memos, correspondence and other records representing the Academy's operations and accomplishments. The archive also includes a collection of NYAS photographs, the personal papers of 19th Century botanist and mycologist Lewis David von Schweinitz, and the papers of Nathaniel Lord Britton Nathaniel Lord Britton, first Director-in-Chief of the New York Botanical Garden.

    Wiley's NYAS archives contains 27 sub-collections with material ranging from the early 1800s to the early 2000s. The NYAS collection-level metadata records differ from those provided for the RCP archives, capturing: Collection title, Collection/Reference number, Repository and Location, Scope and Content note, Extent, Biographical/Historical Background, Provenance, Languages, Abstract, Access, Related Collections, and Arrangement.

    The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

    The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (RAI) is composed of over 700 collections representing the long-established scholarly association dedicated to the study of anthropology. RAI collections consist of the records representing the operations of the RAI as well as collections of personal papers from notable contributors to the study of anthropology. As of June 2019 the archive contained over 68,000 manuscripts and a significant collection of 96,000 photographic items (representing over 200,000 photographs).

    The RAI archive appears to provide the most minimal collection-level metadata of the three available archives, typically capturing only Collection title, Collection/Reference number, and in some cases an abstract. According to the publisher, the RAI material sometimes had limited metadata available. For example, some photos collections lacked accompanying descriptive information, or boxes of material would come with very little labeling or context. Rather than exclude this material from researchers, Wiley decided to include this material, with the intent to enrich the metadata over time.

    Royal Geographical Society

    The RGS archive represents the accomplishments and operations of The Royal Geographical Society. The Society was founded in 1830 under the name Geographical Society of London as an institution to promote the advancement of geographical science.

    The WDA's RGS content was partially launched in 2019. Materials range in dates from 1450 to 2018. The collection content includes: Accounts and bills, Atlases, Books, Committee Records, memoranda and minutes, Correspondence, Domestic Manuals, Grants, Charters, Wills and Statutes, Illustrations, Sketches, Photos and Drawings, Journals, Manuscripts, Maps, and Personal Papers.

    Content Selection

    Regarding the WDA partnerships, learned societies generally have taken their own approaches to collecting and preserving their heritage. Societies' investment of resources in their archives can vary considerably, impacting the digital collections being sourced from these organizations. According to the publisher, Wiley Digital Archives takes a maximal approach to digitizing and including the materials in the digital resource, consulting with advisory boards in cooperation with the source institutions to select content for inclusion in WDA. In the case of the New York Academy of Sciences, the entirely of the NYAS archives have been included in the WDA resource and no editorial selections were needed. Two complimentary collections held by the New York Botanical Garden were also digitized and included.

    Editorial decisions made by Wiley and advisory boards are usually related to issues of copyright, data privacy, or for de-duplication of library materials against pre-existing digital resources (commercial or non-commercial). According to the publisher, WDA's level of duplication with existing library resources is "under 5%". Duplication decisions are made when content is considered seminal to the understanding of core disciplines within each archive. For example, in the digitization of the Royal College of Physicians archives editorial decisions were necessary to focus in on the materials most closely related to the history of medicine and the medical humanities. Works were de-duplicated against other digital resources available but certain materials that were known to be held by other digital repositories were included, as Wiley and the advisory board considered the content essential to providing a comprehensive understanding of the discipline.1


    The Wiley Digital Archives access platform is available in 35 languages. The main discovery features of the platform include basic and advanced search functions as well as several curated browsing pages. There is also a "Visualization and Exploration" section that links to the "Analysis Hub", "Explorer", and a "Place of Publication" browser.


    The home page of the platform features a basic and advanced search option. Users can search across all subscribed archives or select a single archive to apply search terms within. The advanced search includes a fielded search where terms can be applied to a specific metadata field from the documents (Author, Document Number, Document Title, Full Text, Keyword, Place of Publication, Reference Number, or Subject). The advanced search also features "Quick Limiters" which include: Content Types, Date, Collections, Illustration Types, Content Subtypes, Languages, and Content Sources. The platform's main page also provides access to several browsing options where users can browse all: manuscripts, monographs, maps, or photographs.

    All archives are keyword searchable. Full-text searching of printed texts is derived from Optical Character Recognition (OCR). The platform notifies users that “every effort has been made to generate text with high OCR confidence levels” but that “This is an imperfect process.” A small sampling of document text results confirms that the OCR is highly variable. Full-text results are not available for handwritten documents. Automated translations of full text are provided using Google Translate. The platform cautions users “It should not be considered exact and should be used only as an approximation of the original language content.”

    In addition to the main search features, each archive has its own collection landing page (accessible from the "About" or "Browse Collections" page) where users can browse collections and search by reference number or collection title.

    The "Explorer" tool enables users to browse the curated photographs and maps that are held in all of the archives. The Explorer tool displays a gallery viewer with keyword search, and a map tool where users can select a geographic region and discover the photographs or maps originating from the selected area.

    The "Place of Publication" browser, as its name suggests, plots the documents from the various archives on a map so that users can discover content from specific geographic regions.

    Analysis Hub

    The platform offers a series of analysis tools that chart term frequencies, popularity, collocation, and concordance. These tools chart the use of terms (provided by the user) overtime using a variety of data points, graphs, charts, and other visualizations. The visualizations can be downloaded by the user and download as a PNG file.

    The Analysis Hub also offers a frequency distribution and word cloud tool to create visual representations of the frequency words across an archive. The word cloud positions most frequently occurring terms centrally with the font size representing the frequency value. The word cloud and frequency distribution tools link users directly to documents from the archives. However, only the top 500 results are presented.

    Collocation, concordance, word cloud and frequency distribution analysis tools are only available for the NYAS and RAI archives at this time. Other archives will be included as they complete processing and all corresponding content is uploaded.


    Wiley Digital Archives provides an overview of the collection's Terms and Conditions as a link in the platform's About page, making it easy for users to review the use conditions. The Terms and Conditions page is accessible from the "About" section of the platform. The information covers: Copyright, Rules of Use, and Additional Terms (i.e. modifications and  content available via links to third party websites).

    In terms of user data privacy, WDA abides by the Wiley "Privacy Policy" (https://www.wiley.com/en-us/privacy). The Privacy Policy describes how Wiley collects and uses personal information provided to Wiley. It also describes the choices available to users regarding their use of personal information and how it can be accessed and updated.

    Strengths and Weaknesses

    Wiley Digital Archives presents extremely robust features and tools for users. The dense archival collections are highly navigable with rich metadata and advanced filtering functionality. The range of exploration and analysis tools present users with innovative ways to explore within--and across--archives and collections. 

    The archives of the content partners represent a highly specialized body of material, and more detailed information on the makeup and applicability of the collections would be useful to potential subscribers (only two of the archives have finding aids available on the content partner product page at the time of this review). Greater context and transparency into the editorial/selection process--and what collections remain as yet unavailable to online researchers--would strengthen the understanding about the value of these collections. The publisher has represented they will be adding additional information to contextualize the editorial criteria so that end-users and librarians have a better grasp of how these archives came to be. 


    Maria Smith, Center for Research Libraries


    James Simon, Center for Research Libraries


    1Based on correspondence with publisher in June 2019. 

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