Tag Archives: Preservation

The Why

Now that you know a little more about the MRL and WAB collections, as well as the Luce Foundation, I thought it would be useful to explain the reason behind needing this project in the first place.

Most, if not all, archives and libraries have what we call "backlog." Our collections are continually growing: we gather historic documents; professors, alumni, etc… donate their records; people leave material to us in their will; things like that. Unfortunately we don't always have the time (or the funding) to fully process and make available collections as soon as they come into our possession. We give them basic care, security, and the proper environmental conditions and control, but physically arranging and intellectually describing materials can be very time-consuming.

Enter the first reason for this project.

A second major reason for this project and the need to care for MRL and WAB specifically is due to the damage suffered during a major water incursion disaster in the Burke's modern archives stacks in June 2003. Water from a plumbing accident in the Brown Tower (this Brown is not the same as William Adams Brown!), two floors above, saturated materials from the WAB and MRL collections.

The wet papers in disintegrating boxes were quickly removed, relocated, shipped out as an emergency, recovered by vacuum freeze drying, and returned. These collections, which had already experienced a variety of temperature and humidity changes from being used throughout the world by missionaries and ecumenists, became even more fragile and disordered. There was approximately 300 linear feet returned in a state of disarray, with WAB and MRL collections intermixed and much of the original order lost.

The MRL Archives present the special challenge of fragile acidic materials. Various climates combined with being stored for almost a century in acidic boxes in over-heated conditions throughout the history of the actual Missionary Research Library added to their fragile nature. Many unique items are tightly folded and require time, patience and preservation techniques to unfold and care for the items in the long-term.

Throughout the duration of the Luce Project at the Burke Library, which just passed the one-year mark, we will arrange, describe, and provide wide access to a total of 573 linear feet of hidden archives. This project will process the collections so that they are organized and described, with basic preservation treatment through stabilization in acid-free containers, ordered arrangement, and removal of corrosive metals and other materials. This arrangement will enable more advanced preservation treatment and the potential for surrogate copies and selective digitization on those materials which have been stabilized.

For the first time, researchers will have access to many first-hand descriptions of cultural conditions documented by missionaries, physicians, and social workers in Asia, Africa, Australia, North America, Oceania, and South America throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. This project will also be the first to provide access to the records of some of the most important events and institutions in the history of the worldwide ecumenical movement, with especially rich documentation of the religious and cultural history of New York City.