The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Awards Columbia Grant to Preserve Oral History Recordings

NEW YORK, July 8, 2008 Columbia University Libraries will receive $371,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a two-year project to preserve 820 recordings containing almost 1200 hours of sound. The audiotapes are part of the Oral History Research Office’s collection of recorded interviews and memoirs, and have been selected because they are among the most important and the most threatened by imminent deterioration due to the inherent fragility of the media.

Among the recordings are oral histories of politically and socially active figures such as Nikita Khrushchev, Walter Lippmann, George Meaney, Clarence Mitchell, Nelson Rockefeller, Gloria Steinem, Robert F. Wagner; historians and literary figures such as James Baldwin, Jacques Barzun, Isaiah Berlin, William Buckley, Robert Heilbronner, Irving Howe, Anita Loos, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Isaac Bashevis Singer, C. Vann Woodward; and members of the arts and entertainment community such as Judith Anderson, Gene Autry, Frank Capra, Joseph Cotton, Joel McCrea, Otto Preminger, Richard Rogers, Virgil Thomson, Mies van der Rohe, and King Vidor.

Scholars are increasingly turning to the sound of oral history for documentation of critically important political and social events in which it is important to rely on first-person sources both for information and for understanding the intersection of history, politics, and culture. Sociologists, anthropologists, linguists, psychologists, and contemporary historians demand access to the voices of those who are interviewed, in order to judge the motivations and interpretations of innovators, political leaders, and those who bear witness to the critical events of recent times.

This means that the recordings themselves must be carefully preserved—a serious challenge given the short life-span of most recording media, and the technical rigor needed to create a high-quality digital copy that can serve scholarship well into the future. This project will enable the Libraries not only to preserve these specific recordings but also to build up its audio digitization program to address further recordings after the project ends. Columbia will be working with an outside vendor to digitize the recordings.

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 10 million volumes, over 100,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 25 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 550 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries at is the gateway to its services and resources.

Established in 1974 with responsibility for preserving Columbia University Libraries’ collections in all formats and genres, the Preservation and Digital Conversion Division added digital conversion to its regular operations in 1995. The Division provides a comprehensive program to prolong the existence and accessibility of the collections for current and future students and scholars, by acting to prevent or retard deterioration of physical materials through correct housing and environment; where possible, to improve their condition through conservation treatment; and, as necessary, to change their format in order to preserve their intellectual content, including conversion of analog content to digital form. The Division participates in establishing technical standards for creating digital content and for the accompanying metadata. More information about the Division can be found at

The Columbia University Oral History Research Office is the oldest and largest organized university-based oral history program open to the public in the world. Founded in 1948 by Pulitzer Prize winning historian Allan Nevins, the oral history collection now contains 17,000 hours of taped memoirs, and 1,000,000 pages of transcript. The program is also a center for teaching and research, offering opportunities for students, visiting scholars and fellows. For additional information about the Oral History Research Office, please see:

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