The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded Cornell’s Albert R. Mann Library $538,450 to distribute as grant money in part of a national agricultural document preservation program. The money will be distributed to participating states in an effort to preserve agricultural documents that have had a tremendous impact on our country’s development of areas such as food safety issues, crop growing and disease.
The United States Agriculture Information Network (USAIN) established the preservation program in 1993. The program, called the National Preservation Program for Agricultural Literature is run by the USAIN National Special Project Committee.
According to Joy Paulson, preservation librarian at Mann Library and member of the USAIN National Special Project Committee, “the committee was formed to develop a national preservation plan for agriculture literature.”
Mann Library itself is finished with the preservation process. Now, Mann Library plays a major role in working with other members of land grant institutions to decide where the money is needed most. “We’re managing the grant,” Paulson said.
“[The] goals of the Plan are to preserve and provide access to agricultural literature published or produced prior to 1950. Preservation may involve treatment of originals or reformatting, depending upon the nature of the material being preserved … the plan focuses primarily on U.S. publications. ,” USAIN stated in its explanation of the committee and project. Mann Library plays an important part in the project and committee.
“Mann Library said that they would take the lead in receiving Grant Proposals … [and] when they started talking about the need for a preservation plan, one of the people who got discussions going was Sam Demas,” said Paulson, who co-chairs the committee with fellow Mann Librarian Mary Ochs,
Demas, according to Paulson, worked on preservation at Mann Library.
In addition to Demas, a number of other members of the Mann Library staff also became involved with USAIN and the movement to preserve agricultural literature. Mann moved to the forefront of the initiative because of these staff members.
Because many old documents are printed on paper with high levels of acid, a tremendous amount of decay can occur as documents age. Many scholars and librarians are concerned with the possibility of losing these documents forever. “We don’t want to lose intellectual material,” Paulson said.
The grant program has been completed in phases. Currently the fourth phase of funding is underway.
“Every two years we put out requests for proposals among land grant universities,” Paulson said.
In each participating state, a bibliography is prepared that contains the names of agricultural documents that need to be preserved. Once this list is prepared, a panel of state historians, librarians and other scholars rank the items to decide which pieces are rare and in need of preservation the most.
Twenty-three states have participated in the phases. According to Paulson, between five and eight states participate per phase. “The idea would be to get all fifty states to participate,” Paulson said.
Most of the preservation occurs in two separate steps. In the first year the documents are reviewed and the most important ones decided on. In the second year of the phase, the documents are microfilmed.
Five universities are in the fourth phase of the preservation and are microfilming items to be preserved.
Michigan State will be preserving several of its publications, including The Grange Visitor, printed 1875 to 1896 and The Michigan Patron, printed from approximately 1910 to the present. These publications provide important insight to the history of the area around Michigan State, and contain many writings by prominent agricultural leaders including sociologist Kenyon Butterfield, botanist William J. Beal and co-education proponent Mary Mayo.
Documents in the process of being preserved by North Carolina State University include William H. Harrison’s book How to Get Rich in the South. Telling What to do, How to do it, and the Profits to be Realized.
Documents preserved in past phases include such interesting book titles as We Fed Them Cactus, preserved by New Mexico State University and The Skim-Milk Calf, preserved by Iowa State University.
Margot Wright ’04, a student in the College of Agriculture and Life Science (CALS), said that having the documents preserved and available for members of the community to look at on microfilm is “a really valuable tool.”
“it would be interesting to see how research in different agricultural fields has changed over the years,” she said.
Kim Pinkey ’04, also a student in CALS, said that she definitely saw the potential of putting agricultural documents in a more technologically advanced form.
“It’s more convenient,” Pinkey said, “especially since we live in such a computerized world.”
Paulson said the grants are invaluable not only for preserving documents, but also for preserving American history itself. “It gives us such a wonderful insight into the everyday lives of ordinary people … you can see as people came in and farmed, how the country developed,” she said.
Archived article by Kate Cooper