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I Want It Now! A Guide to Getting What You Need from the CLA Collection at Home

One of the difficulties of working with rare and archival collections is that it is not always easy to see them in person, even under circumstances far more typical than we’re currently experiencing. The materials you need may be scattered across multiple repositories or located in a different part of the country. With many libraries still uncertain when they’ll open again and what exactly “open” will look like for staff and researchers, I’d like to provide a guide to resources at the CLA that can be accessed from a distance as well as some resources to help you find what you need even if we don’t have it. You can find a list of free online resources below with brief explanations at the Congregational Library and elsewhere on the internet.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for (or are still figuring out exactly what you’re looking for), library staff are here to help! You can email us at for help navigating our resources, locating material, or identifying other institutions that might have what you need. Don’t believe the hype--not everything is online. If you need to access something in our collection that isn’t already digitized, we may be able to scan it and email it to you, depending on the condition of the item and copyright restrictions. Currently, staff have limited access to the collections, but we’ll fulfill requests as soon as possible and keep you updated. All scanning fees will be waived while the library is closed to the public.

At the Congregational Library & Archives

New England’s Hidden Histories
This digitization project provides access to colonial-era records from Congregational Churches, Ministers and organizations across New England from the CLA’s collection as well as a number of other partner institutions. More than 150 collections are now available online and transcriptions are available for many of them.

Obituary Database
Our obituary database provides direct access to information on Congregational Christian ministers and missionaries, beginning with the 1600s and continuing to the present. These include dates and places of birth, ordination, and death, as well as the churches, organizations, or mission stations where they served. We’ve also provided a guide to locating the full text of an obituary here.

Online Catalog
Our online catalog provides access to much of our archival, print, and periodical collections. Here you can find links to finding aids which describe archival collections in detail, our image collection full of historical portraits, photographs and drawings of church buildings, and early photographs from international mission sites. When we are aware that material has been digitized by another institution, links are added to the catalog record. From the search results page, you can request an item and a staff member will follow up with you to let you know if it’s available online or able to be scanned.

Elsewhere on the Internet

Internet Archive
Free access to a variety of digitized content, including material from the Congregational Library’s collection like the Congregational Yearbook.

Provides access to digitized books, government publications, and other documents from the collections of an international community of research libraries. You can find the Annual reports of the ABCFM digitized here. Some material may be restricted by institution.

Provides access to many books in the public domain, and often large excerpts of books that aren’t, so if you’re looking for a brief reference, you may be able to find it.

Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)
DPLA provides access to digitized content from libraries, archives, and other cultural heritage institutions across the country. Many states have their own programs that partner with DPLA such as Digital Commonwealth in Massachusetts.

ArchiveGrid and WorldCat
Archive Grid allows you to search for archival collections in repositories around the country and often links to their finding aids. It is far from being complete, but offers a great starting point for research
WorldCat allows you to search for books and other media at libraries around the world and identify which location is closest to you. This can be a great tool for locating hard to find print material, historical or contemporary.

Your Local Public Library
Many public libraries provide access to databases and digitized collections for cardholders. Many in-library-use-only restrictions have been lifted for the course of the pandemic. For example, Boston Public Library provides access to digitized 19th century newspapers and a number of genealogical resources.

College and University Digital Collections
Many colleges and universities have digitized collections that are not easily found via search engines. If you identify material at a particular institution, consider searching for their digitized collections on the library’s web page, or contacting a librarian to see what they have available.

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