The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Awards Columbia Grant to Survey Audio and Film Collections


NEW YORK, September 29, 2005 - Columbia University Libraries have received $160,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a two-year project to survey the University’s extensive collections of unique audio and moving image materials. These include such highlights as tapes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and other social and political icons; interviews with native Yiddish speakers after World War II; and early recordings of composers such as Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, and Samuel Barber.

At a time when nonprint documents have become increasingly important to humanities and social science research, the Mellon grant will enable the University Libraries to assess the physical condition, intellectual property rights, and scholarly significance of each item in these collections. The survey is especially urgent due to the inherent fragility of historic documents captured on early phonographic discs, magnetic audio tape, and nitrate film.

“We have over 40,000 unique pieces in our audio and moving image collections, and with this survey we’ll identify the ones that are most endangered and most important, and be able to set meaningful priorities,” said Janet Gertz, Director of the Libraries’ Preservation Division and Principal Investigator for the survey.

Gertz will lead a team of archivists and preservation experts to consolidate information on the broad range of the University’s audio and moving image collections into a single database. This specially-designed data tool will not only allow preservation librarians to record the physical condition of the materials, but will also let curators and managers rank each item according to research and monetary value, the University’s degree of intellectual control, and other criteria.

“There are a number of other survey tools available, but this one will allow you to rank by all the different factors,” said Gertz. “It’s the ranking that will allow us to make coherent strategic decisions for the Libraries’ future.”

Half of the materials to be surveyed are part of Oral History Research Office’s collection of recorded interviews and memoirs. The remainder belong to the special collections of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Burke Library of Union Theological Seminary, the Wiener Music Library, the Avery Architectural and Fine Art Library, and the C.V. Starr East Asian Library.

The project, which will begin in early October, is modeled after a survey for unprocessed archival and special collections developed by Columbia in 2003–4, also with support from the Mellon Foundation.

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top ten academic library systems in the nation, with 9.2 million volumes, over 65,650 serials, as well as extensive collections of electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, and other nonprint formats. The collections and services are organized into 25 libraries, supporting specific academic or professional disciplines. Columbia Libraries employs more than 400 professional and support staff to assist faculty, students, and researchers in their academic endeavors. The Libraries’ website at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/ is a gateway to its print and electronic collections and to its services.

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09/29/05 ICL