Cornell Law Library Restores, Digitizes Trial Pamphlet

May 4, 2011 12:00 am0 comments
Evelyn Soto

A Save America’s Treasures grant will provide for the restoration and digitization of the law library’s collection of trial pamphlets, which date back to the seventeenth century.

According to Barbara Berger Eden, director of preservation and collection maintenance, the grant awarded a total of $155,700 for the project. Roughly half of the grant will be distributed for conservation of the pamphlets and the other half for digitization, Eden said.

“Grant funding is to make [the pamphlets] worldwide accessible and to provide conservation treatment on the original artifact,” Eden said. “We’re particularly interested in grant opportunities that I call ‘double headers,’ where you can treat the original artifact and preserve it, so it has stability for many generations to come, and at the same time digitize it so everyone can see it.”

The Save America’s Treasures grant program, which funded the project, was established in 1998 to protect the nation’s “endangered and irreplaceable cultural heritage,” according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation website. A public-private partnership, it includes the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and the federal cultural agencies, according to its website.

The trials pamphlet collection, originally purchased by the Cornell Law Library in 1927, contains 321 pamphlets. The pamphlets span anywhere from 20 to more than 200 pages each, and they provide accounts on various trials in American history, some of them involving John Brown and the conspirators in the assassination of President Lincoln, according to “The Project Narrative Form for National Park Service Grants,” which Eden prepared.

“When these were written, it was like sensationalist literature — like a National Inquirer. They were handed out to people out on the streets: pre-television, pre-Internet,” Eden said.

Janet Gillespie, administrative supervisor for access services at the Cornell Law Library, described how the perspectives of the pamphlets offer context for research.

“It’s a sociological thing. They generate quite a bit of interest, and they can tell you what’s going on historically. It gives you a picture of the times,” said Gillespie.

The need to restore the pamphlets results in part from how Cornell originally bound them in 1927, Eden said.

“When Cornell acquired the collection, they took the pamphlets and they bound them all into one physical volume, which is not a very useful way for anyone to look at them because they’re tight and poorly sewn together, and there are structural problems,” Eden said.

Eden explained that the conservation process will involve separating each individual pamphlet from the bulk binding and enhancing their appearance — such as removing visible staining from the pages.  

With about 30,000 pages worth of material, the digitization of the pamphlet collection is estimated to begin in July and conclude sometime in 2013, according to Danielle Mericle, coordinator of the library’s digital production and consulting services.  

Mericle said her digitization team first assesses the state of the pamphlets to determine whether they need treatment and then scans them. The team also generates structural metadata so people can find chapter headings and important content, she added.

Mericle said that plans for the particular database, which will host the digitized pamphlets, are yet to be decided. Although normally such materials would be delivered to the University of Michigan’s Digital Library Extension Service, Mericle noted that the University of Michigan would no longer update or develop DLXS anymore.

“The other possibility that I think is going to be more likely is Internet Archives. It’s a place where a lot of different institutions push their material and content … It’s a comprehensive system,” Mericle said.