NEH-Funded Modern Social and Economic History Preservation Project Ends

July 2000 - On April 30, 2000, the Preservation Division completed a seven-year effort to preserve the Libraries' modern social and economic history collections. Thanks to funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Columbia was able to microfilm 36,936 volumes printed on brittle, crumbling paper and create permanent copies of the rapidly disintegrating items.

The Modern Social and Economic History Project was designed to preserve research materials which are important for understanding the development of the world's economy over the past two centuries and its impact on the formation of political and social institutions. The project covers the general areas of economic thought as it has evolved in modern times, the history of social and economic relationships to which economists have applied various analytic models, and the history of social and economic movements that have attempted to reform or revolutionize society.

The project microfilmed books, journals, and pamphlets published before 1950 and so embrittled or damaged over time that they were no longer in usable condition. Only volumes which had not been filmed by other libraries or publishers were included in the project. The project also added catalog records for the microfilms to the national databases, to make them readily accessible to scholars nationally and internationally for the first time.

The MSH project, as it is known, started October 1, 1993. During its first, three-year, phase the project focused on the economic and business history collection housed in the Watson Business Library. Both monographs and journal runs were microfilmed and cataloged. Although the project was originally planned to film and catalog 15,000 volumes, in the end Columbia was able to preserve 19,453 volumes thanks to a great deal of hard work on the part of the project staff in the Libraries and to the development of greater efficiencies in the procedures in place both at Columbia and at Preservation Resources, the vendor where the materials were prepared, cataloged, and microfilmed.

The nineteen-month second phase ran through May 31, 1998. In this phase the project microfilmed and cataloged 9,867 brittle pamphlets and other ephemera from Butler Library. Among the pamphlets printed by advocates of the gold standard, labor unions, socialist clubs, opponents of the Roosevelt economic changes, and numerous other types of social and political groups were many unique items which had remained virtually hidden for many years.

Finally, the third, just-ended phase concentrated on scholarly works in the history of economics, and labor and social movements, as well as further pamphlets which phase two had not been able to accommodate. In all, phase three filmed 7,616 volumes.

The MSH project grew out of a preservation master planning effort in the mid-eighties which the Libraries undertook to identify collections most in need of microfilming and other preservation treatments. The collections were ranked by their importance to the Columbia community for teaching and research, and for their long-term importance to scholars nationally and internationally. The Libraries then turned to NEH for help in funding preservation microfilming for the top-ranking collections. Columbia's success in receiving federal grants is due to the nationally recognized importance of our collections, and to careful planning which has allowed us to concentrate on the materials most in need in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

The latest evidence of the continued importance of Columbia's preservation efforts is the funding received from NEH to begin a new project, the Slavic Culture and History Microfilming Project which began on May first.