April 11-24, 2003
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Mellon grant helps library’s preservation plan

Staff Report

The ledgers and papers in the old metal filing cabinets contain valuable records about 19th-century Richmond, the Civil War and industrial slavery. When the University Library begins a comprehensive survey of its vast manuscript and archive holdings this spring, the donated documents will probably be rated “high” for “work needed” to preserve them.

One of the largest special collections libraries in the country, with unrivalled resources in American history and literature, the library has received a $265,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop and test a plan for research libraries to prioritize the preservation and processing needs of their ever-growing collections of manuscript material.

As teams of trained evaluators survey the approximately 15 million manuscript items in the library’s special collections, they will rank each set of materials for its research value, ease of physical access and online descriptive access, and physical condition, said Michael Plunkett, director of special collections. The project will list cataloging and preservation priorities and possibilities for more fully describing the material and providing images and texts online.

With the help of faculty consultants, the library also will take into account new trends and needs in scholarship. For example, African-American history is a growing area of research that will rate a high priority for easy access to documents by students and researchers.

The survey will produce “a sophisticated data base that provides an overall assessment of exactly where we stand,” Plunkett said. The two-year project will be completed some time after the department moves into a new, state-of-the-art facility, the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, scheduled to open in the fall of 2004.


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