NEH Grant Supports Preservation of Brittle Slavic-Language Texts

NEW YORK, May 25, 2005 - The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded $626,000 to Columbia University Libraries to preserve brittle volumes of East European history and literature written in Slavic languages between 1850 and 1960 in Russia and Eastern Europe.

The funding will support the fourth and final phase of the seven-year Slavic Culture and History Project, which has the goal to create archival-quality master microfilms with a potential lifespan of hundreds of years and store them in conditions optimized for longevity. Over 18,000 volumes of archival microfilm have been produced to date.

“These materials rank high in the Libraries' Preservation Master Plan, which matches preservation priorities with collecting priorities to serve the needs of scholars,” explained Janet Gertz, Director of Preservation at Columbia University Libraries. “Through their generous support, the NEH has played a key role to ensure that future scholars can learn from these collections.”

In size, Columbia University Libraries' Russian and East European collections are among the top five in the nation, and are in constant demand by researchers locally, nationally, and internationally. The collections include significant numbers of items held by few or no other institutions because Columbia was one of only a few libraries building rich collections from these regions from a relatively early period.

All of the volumes in this project are extremely fragile, because use of low-grade, highly acidic paper was the norm during the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century in Eastern Europe. Both local and long-distance scholars have been denied access to these materials because they are too fragile or damaged to survive use without pages breaking off. In recognition of this situation, Columbia has assigned the highest priority to preserving these Slavic collections and making them truly accessible to researchers.

Phase four of the project will begin its two-year run in July, with a goal of filming damaged monograph and serial volumes, and placing the tables of contents of these serials online, so that scholars can easily locate articles of interest. Phases one through three of the project (2000–2005) have concentrated on Slavic-language pamphlets and selected monographs and serials from both the general collections and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s Bakhmeteff Archive.

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 copying to new formats 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.

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 is a gateway to its print and electronic collections and to its services.