Looking to Digitalize Rare Materials at Your Library? Talk to Mellon Foundation

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced two grants totaling $1.25 million to rare materials programs at Penn State and University of Michigan libraries (see Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: Grants for Higher Education). The money will endow a senior conservator position at each. Conservators will help to digitize collections of rare materials at the universities and prepare exhibitions. AnnArbor.com called the grant to U of M "one of the largest single donations the library... has ever received."

Barbara I. Dewey, Penn State's dean of University Libraries and Scholarly Communications, told the Penn State library blog that Mellon's gift tends to "some urgent collection needs" and provides resources to preserve some important "fragile materials before it is too late."

Even under the best conditions, the primary texts required for research in many humanities disciplines deteriorate. They are also bulky and require costly, labor-intensive treatment. The fact that research in these fields does not exactly yield truckloads of money doesn't help the situation. And as space becomes more of a premium, these materials become increasingly vulnerable to consolidators looking to pack them away for off-site storage.

Enter Mellon Foundation. Their Scholarly Communications and Information Technology (SCIT) Program, formed in 2010, supports "libraries and archives in their efforts to preserve and provide access to materials of broad cultural and scholarly significance." They laud projects that "[a]pply technology... in order to improve quality, lower costs, accelerate work, open new perspectives, or make improvements" that would remain impossible in the absence of such funding (read Mellon president Mariet Westermann's IP profile).

SCIT divulges some important financial information in an essay entitled "Priorities for the Scholarly Communications Program." They estimate their total 2009 budget at around $20 million, about half of which went "to priorities in the library and archives category" that year. They give an estimated "$4 million per annum for the processing and description of archives, manuscripts and rare books." Reviewing the foundation's grant making between then and now, it seems as though their budget has remained healthy.

You can reach the author of that essay, Donald J. Waters, at djw@mellon.org. He seems like the person to talk to regarding digitization at the Mellon.