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Archival Access

The CSHL Archives is committed to providing open access to its collections as far as possible within the limits of privacy and confidentiality. Although many institutional records and manuscript collections are open for use, there are materials held by the Archives that are subject to access restrictions. For institutional data, some restrictions are mandated by laws such as FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), while others are determined by the Library and Archives in conjunction with the records-creating department or office.

Archival Collections

Documents contained within CSHL Archival Collections generally fall into one of the three access categories:

Category 1: Personal Information
Closed 75 years from records’ creation
Then, subject to review by the CSHL Archives, the papers are open without restriction. Typically, papers containing personal information about an individual or individuals, such as student academic records, employment records, fall under this category.

Category 2: Universal Distribution
Open without restriction
Typically, these papers include labwide announcements, publications, calendars, brochures, and widely distributed reports.

Category 3: General Laboratory Records
Closed 20 years from records’ creation
Then, subject to review by the CSHL Archives, the papers are open without restriction. Typically, most laboratory papers supporting administrative and business activities fall under this category.

The Library and Archives may decide to extend the access restrictions or impose restrictions that differ from the standard access categories.

Manuscript Collections

Restrictions on access to manuscript collections are informed by the need to balance access and confidentiality in papers. Often this is stipulated in the terms of the gift agreement governing the donation of the material. In negotiating these agreements, the CSHL Archives seeks to secure the greatest access possible, and will stipulate a set period for any restrictions to expire so that materials may be available for use.

The primary intention of the digital preservation program is to preserve the intellectual and cultural heritage important to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, as well as the history of molecular biology and genetics in general. CSHL Library and Archives recognizes its responsibility to preserve digital collections in support of teaching, learning, scholarship, and research. The program’s objectives are to:

  • Maintain and develop processes and systems to capture, manage, preserve, find, and make accessible digital materials now and into the future
  • Identify, through systematic selection, digital assets to be preserved across new generations of technologies
  • Include in the scope of the program materials that originated in digital form (born digital) and those that were converted to digital form through a digitization process
  • Provide context for digital materials by creating the metadata necessary to understand them
  • Identify and support the core working team to develop and operate the digital archive and provide requisite training and development as needed
  • Comply with prevailing community standards for digital preservation and access
  • Explore collaborative opportunities to collect and preserve digital materials so as to make the best use of available resources and avoid duplicative efforts

Digital Preservation Policy (pdf)

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) Library and Archives are a major source of documents on the history of classical genetics, the origins of molecular biology, the development of human genetics, the connections of the life sciences to evolution, and the applications of the life sciences to society. The Biological Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor began developing in the late nineteenth century and was joined in 1904 by the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Station for Experimental Evolution, later the Carnegie Department of Genetics. The two institutions merged in 1963 to create the modern CSHL.

The contributions to the life sciences from scientists at Cold Spring Harbor have been stunning in their scope.

Not all of the contributions at Cold Spring Harbor, however, were positive ones. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, especially under the leadership of Charles Davenport, the Eugenics Record Office was one of many institutions in the United States that promoted a branch of applied science called eugenics. First conceived of and named by Francis Galton in 1883, eugenics was seen as an ethical or moral movement to apply the knowledge of heredity to human betterment. In Great Britain it led to what is called positive eugenics, which encouraged marriages between those who had good health, longevity, high intelligence, talents in the arts and humanities, leadership, compassion and other traits that were considered worthy of perpetuating in the world’s populations. In the United States a different type of eugenics, called negative eugenics, emerged in the post-Civil War era that was concerned with perceived “social failures” of individuals, including mental disabilities, innate poor health, short life expectancy, pauperism, psychosis, and criminality. Proponents of negative eugenics believed those traits were driven by “defective protoplasm” (in the late nineteenth century) and “defective heredity” (in the first half of the 20th century) that should be bred out of the human population.

A key contributor to the eugenics movement in the United States was the Eugenics Records Office in Cold Spring Harbor. It was an off-shoot of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, under the overall direction of Davenport, and led by Harry Laughlin, until it was closed in 1939 due to the discredited science it promoted. The collections of eugenic documents, articles, and books in the CSHL Archives will therefore reflect the biases of the American eugenics movement at the time, and its influence on the USA, Europe and other parts of the world. In its most extreme form, American eugenics thinking influenced the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany and the horrors of the Holocaust and contributed to forced sterilization legislation in many States of the US.

Those using the CSHL Library and Archives should bear in mind that much of the early materials on eugenics uses terminology and phrasing that we recognize today as sexist, racist, classist, ableist, and ideologically repellent . With that said, those interested in the history, sociology, or philosophy of science will find a range of views on eugenics in these collections.