Grant Will Enable U.Va. Library To Develop A Plan For Preserving
Its Millions Of Manuscripts And Archives
April 4, 2003--
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 of Virginia 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.
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.
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 on-line descriptive access, and physical condition,
said Michael Plunkett, director of the library’s special collections
department. The project will list cataloging and preservation priorities
and possibilities for more fully describing the material and providing
images and texts on-line.
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.
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. It will also enable the library to plan cooperative
preservation efforts with the Library of Virginia and Virginia Historical
Society, which has a similar Mellon grant to test a preservation
plan for institutions its size.
collections received in the last 30 years or so are well described
and preserved,” Plunkett said. But “fifty years ago
our predecessors had different methods for preserving.” Today
many older collections may have items such as news clippings and
letters that should be photocopied, or containers that need to be
is a lot of good old-fashioned hard work that needs to be done,”
said Edward Gaynor, head of special collections’ technical
services and the survey project. “A person has to look at
each collection and make decisions.”
the next two years a project team of two librarians and eight student
assistants will work with special collections staff to complete
the survey. Larger collections that require detailed planning and
substantial work will be earmarked for seeking special grant support.
research libraries have struggled with strategies to determine preservation
priorities and funding needs, Gaynor said. The methodology his team
will use was initially developed by historical societies but hasn’t
been evaluated for use by a large research library. A good plan
has to be both systematic and flexible, he said, and must meet the
needs of everyone from visiting scholars to undergraduate researchers.
“And new material is coming in all the time.”
Morford Scott, (434 )924-4254