Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Carnegie Library Correspondence Destruction

This week is Preservation Week and the theme is again "Pass it On".  It is a theme that is very appropriate for library history and the archives and artifacts that record that history. In the late 1940s the Carnegie Corporation of New York which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year chose not to pass on the paper files relating to the Carnegie grants for library buildings made and not made to more than 1,400 U.S. communities. Instead, it microfilmed the files and destroyed the originals. I doubt that historians and archivists would condone such a drastic action in light of the historic importance of those files. As a collector of postal and other paper artifacts related to library history, I know that I cringe at the thought of this action. The good news, of course, is that the documents were microfilmed. Since 1990 the archives of the Carnegie Corporation of New York including the microfilmed library grant documents have been maintained at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University. There are two copies of the microfilmed documents making it possible to loan one set through interlibrary loan. These microfilmed documents made possible George S. Bobinski's landmark publication Carnegie Libraries: Their History and Impact on American Public Library Development (ALA, 1969). They also make it possible for individual libraries that received Carnegie grants to document an important part of their history. I came across a good example of this at the Loutit Library District (Grand Haven, Michigan) website.  An action which would make these records far more useful would be their digitization and placement on the web for convenient access by all. That sounds like a great project for the Carnegie Corporation as part of its 100th anniversary celebration. Individual communities and libraries that received Carnegie grants may or may not have preserved their side of the correspondence relating to their grant request. If they did, those documents also need to be digitized and made available. The envelope above with an Andrew Carnegie return address is from my collection. Envelopes are among the most ephemeral of all objects. This one was passed on when far more important artifacts were not.

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