A Day in the Life…February 27, 2009

Special Collections Receives NEH Preservation Assistance Grant

Hannah Scheiwe, '09, working in the rare books and archives storage area.

Hannah Scheiwe, '09, working in the rare books and archives storage area.

A Preservation Assistance Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities offers promise for the future of the Library’s special collections. The $6,000 award will underwrite a preservation survey of Special Collections, which includes the College archives and rare books collection, along with the archives of the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Albion College Special Collections consists of approximately 7575 volumes and 1726 linear feet of archival material. The archival collections associated with the United Methodist Church precede the division of the West Michigan and Detroit Conferences and, in some cases, even the founding of the College in 1835.  Important college archival collections include the Marvin J. Vann Collection of artifacts and moving and still pictures of the Lacandon Indians of Chiapas Mexico and the J Harlen Bretz Collection of maps and personal papers documenting his discovery of the origin of the Channeled Scablands. Both archives contain records, manuscripts, ephemera, photographs, scrapbooks, art and artifacts, textiles, furniture, slides, magnetic sound recordings, LPs, 16mm film, and video–all documenting the history of the College and the Methodist Church in Michigan from 1814 to the present.

The rare books collection contains a wide variety of items in the humanities, including: Americana; modern first editions of literature; historical and philosophical texts and papers in the sciences, mathematics, voyages and exploration; archeology; early 20th-century poetry; fine press books; and early American textbooks. Nearly 90% of the rare books collection covers the disciplines of theology, literature, and history, dating from the 15th to the early 20th century. Few small colleges have a collection that so broadly represents, through printed books, manuscripts, artifacts, and archival collections the history of printing and binding and the development of Western civilization and thought.

Our collections are used frequently by faculty, students, and staff of the College and the West Michigan Conference as well as by researchers from other institutions for exhibitions, student and faculty scholarship, institutional research, and publications, including books, articles, stage productions, and documentary films.

Mary Houghton measuring to create a protective enclosure for a rare book.

Mary Houghton measuring to create a protective enclosure for a rare book.

The survey that the NEH grant is funding will: (1) assess possible risks to collections from building- and environmentally-related problems; (2) address fire protection and security concerns; (3) evaluate institutional policies and procedures as they apply to preservation; (4) review the maintenance program of Special Collections in terms of shelf preparation, book repair, and commercial binding; (5) provide recommendations for improving storage and handling practices; and (6) review the general condition of paper-based collections.

The primary goal of the assessment will be to obtain recommendations and priorities for Special Collections that can be provided to Albion College’s Campus Master Plan Committee and the Library and Learning Commons Research Team as part the current campus strategic planning process. These two committees will be holding discussions regarding possible renovations and additions to our library buildings over the next year. Thus, it is critical to have this assessment information to ensure that the collections will be properly housed and cared for into the future. The secondary goal of this process is to (1) identify portions of the collections that are in need of further preservation assessment, and (2) review any current policies, procedures, or practices that are in danger of causing harm to the collections.

The grant will be applied towards a preservation consultant from the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Massachusetts, who will evaluate current environmental and storage conditions and any potential risks to the collections. The process will consist of a one-day site visit in March of this year and the creation of a detailed report, outlining recommendations for the future management, storage, handling, conservation, and exhibition of the archives and rare books collections.

We’ll be sure to keep you up to date as progress with the grant and NEDCC assessment continues, both here and in our Facebook group–become a member today!

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