Columbia University Libraries Receives Approximately $700,000 from the NEH to Preserve Slavic Language Materials


NEW YORK, April 15, 2003 - The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded $699,666 to Columbia University Libraries to preserve 7,000 brittle, damaged serial volumes in Slavic and East European languages, comprising approximately 320 titles in the subject areas of history and literature published between 1850-1960 primarily in Russia and Eastern Europe.

The brittle serials addressed by the Slavic Culture and History Project Phase III represent an invaluable national resource, and they are seriously endangered. The scale of preservation needed is alarming, given the high level of embrittlement of Slavic materials both in their countries of origin and in the United States. It is vital for libraries here to take the lead in saving these volumes if our scholars and students are to continue having access to the information they contain.

Jared Ingersoll, Columbia's Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies Librarian said, "Columbia libraries has been intensively collecting materials from this region for a full century, and has compiled a resource of international significance, including much that is rare even in the countries of origin." He continued, "Because of age and use, a lot of this material is in danger of disintegrating. Microfilming is an excellent way to protect the information and ensure access to future generations of scholars and students, and this project will make a significant contribution."

The Columbia Slavic serial collections, notable in their strength and breadth, represent an important part of the essential body of the intellectual heritage of the Slavic world for the last 150 years. They document as well the extraordinary effort of the Libraries to gather materials for the study of Russia and Eastern Europe before these areas were broadly collected elsewhere in the United States. These materials rank high in the Libraries' Preservation Master Plan, which matches preservation priorities with collecting priorities, themselves designed to serve the needs of scholars whose research and pedagogical work is based at Columbia as well as others who use its collections.

Serial publications hold a special place in cultural and historical studies. Not only are they universally crucial to the evolution and transmission of culture at the time of publication, they are indispensable in the retrospective reconstruction and comprehension of these past cultures. They belong to a broad collection focusing on modern intellectual endeavor that has been built at Columbia over the past century and which provides a rich background for cross-disciplinary studies and extensive treatments of the cultures of the former Eastern bloc. Complemented by extensive collections of manuscripts, monographs, and newspapers, the serials to be preserved in this project document the densely interwoven intellectual, political, economic, and social history of nineteenth-century Russia and Eastern Europe, the Russian Revolutionary period, the period of Soviet dominance, and after.

In size, Columbia University Libraries' Slavic and East European collections are among the top five in the nation, comprising an estimated 986,000 monographs and pamphlets, including over 728,000 in Russian and other languages of the region. Current subscriptions to journals from and about Russian and Eastern Europe number over 1,600 titles; over 1,000 titles that have ceased publication are also held, and it is these that form the target of the new project.

While all highly brittle materials are potential candidates for filming, Columbia gives highest priority for filming to items that are both brittle and structurally unsound. All of the serials included in this project are quite brittle, as is typical of publications of Eastern Europe, where use of low-grade, highly acidic paper was the norm during the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. Based on the sample, the Libraries estimates that 97% of the pre-1950 volumes are brittle; sadly, some volumes published as recently as 1970 proved to be brittle as well and almost every non-brittle volume proved to be highly acidic. A significant number of the brittle volumes also suffer from broken bindings that no longer protect the fragile pages.

Phases I and II of the project (2000-2001 and 2001-2003) have concentrated primarily on Slavic-language pamphlets in the general collections and in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library Bakhmeteff Archive, along with selected monographs. A total of 4,200 volumes was filmed during Phase I, representing 3,321 titles. During Phase II an additional 7,820 volumes, representing approximately 6,930 titles, is being preserved. Phase II will end in June, and Phase III will begin its two-year run in July.

Organized in 1974, Columbia's Preservation Division is one of the five oldest library preservation programs in the United States. The division has primary responsibility for maintaining the Libraries' collections through proper care, housing, and disaster prevention. The division provides treatment of items to ensure their continued availability for use, and reformatting when use is no longer possible due to damage or severe deterioration. Materials in all formats and genres are cared for by the division, including digital resources created by the Libraries. The division's web page with information about services is at: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/services/preservation/.

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top ten academic library systems in the nation, with 7.5 million volumes, over 50,000 serials, as well as extensive collections of electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms and other non-print formats. The collections and services are organized into 22 libraries, supporting specific academic or professional disciplines. The Library's web site at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/ is a gateway to the print and electronic collections and to services.

For information contact:

Janet Gertz
Director, Preservation
Columbia University Libraries
(212) 854-5757

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