About this Project

Sacks Collection of the American West Online Version

~This project is made possible by generous grants from the Kemper and Ethel Marley Foundation and the H.W. Wilson Foundation~


The Sacks Collection of the American West is a rich bibliography of sources on the 19th century American West. However, the bulk, complexity and physical nature of the collection make it difficult to use. A full description of the collection can be found online at About the Sacks Collection. In an effort to enhance access, an online version of the collection is being created. When completed, this site will contain information from over 100,000 index cards, and scanned copies of over 15,000 supporting documents. To date, 55,000 cards have been entered. 


Decisions, decisions…
In 2008 we set out to find a way to capture the information contained in the collection and translate it into an online environment, while still being true to the extraordinary efforts of Dr. Sacks. We investigated different out-of-the-box software options as well as custom designed database systems. Our starting point was the decision to treat the cards as information rather than artifacts. We wanted to be faithful to the original but be able to make modifications necessary to create a more accessible and usable site.

The index cards and supporting documents pose some interesting challenges.  Below is list of the decisions that define our approach:

  • Out-of-the-box software solutions did not fit the information elements found on the cards. Custom designed databases were cost prohibitive. Decision: Drupal, an open source content management platform, was chosen as the site platform.
  • The type of information found on each card varies greatly. Decision: To aid searching, the card was divided into three elements: Heading, Notes, and Citations.

                                              Card Sections. Heading at top pf card. NOtes in the middle. Notes include citaion(s).

  • The cards and documents are mostly handwritten. Benjamin Sacks was a physician by training, often writing in haste. At different times, Sacks had secretarial assistance resulting in a number of handwriting styles.  Decision: Information entered by hand as opposed to optical scan using OCR.
  • Dr. Sacks used his own form of shorthand, which included both traditional and non-traditional abbreviations and spellings. Decision: Entries reflect all abbreviations, spelling and punctuation found on the cards. Exception: all geographic names spelled out to improve search functionality.
  • The number of cards per person, place or event can vary from one to several thousand. Decision: Despite an occasional overlap, each card entered as a discrete entry.
  • In some cases, when a notation ran longer than one index card, Sacks grouped several cards into a set and numbered them sequentially. Decision: Sets entered as a single entry.
  • Multiple terms used for biography and subject file references. Decision: Limited references to “See biography file” or “See subject file.”
  • For many book citations, Sacks only included the author and page number. Decision: The full citation researched and added to the entry, when possible. If unable to locate, author and page number are listed in the Notes section.
  • Over 15,000 supporting documents are cross-referenced by number. The documents contain handwritten copies of excerpts from primary and secondary sources. Decision: Numbered documents scanned into PDF format and linked to corresponding card entry.
  • A large number of newspaper articles were hand copied as part of the supporting source material. Decision: Scanned into PDF format and linked to corresponding card entry.
  • The biography and subject files contain copies of copyrighted material and hard to duplicate items. Notebooks contain random notes on items Sacks wanted to research further. Decision: These files and notebooks not scanned or linked. Biography and subject files are available on request. Contact AHF at contact@ahweb.org or 480-965-3283.

The search function of the site is still under construction. A basic search field is available for the time being.


Coming soon
A blog on the progress of the project will be added soon.

If you have any questions please contact Susan Irwin at contact@ahfweb.org.