May 27, 2007

Cornell Library will help document the founding of historically black colleges and universities

A digital collection that chronicles the founding of America's black colleges and universities will continue to expand, thanks to a $450,000 grant to Cornell University Library from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Cornell Library is sharing its expertise in digital imaging, preservation and management with librarians and archivists from the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Library Alliance to lay the foundation for an HBCU digital library. Ira Revels, senior assistant librarian at Cornell Library, is project manager.

Important materials from the founding collections of 10 HBCU institutions will soon be available online in a digital collection, "Celebrating the Founding of the Historically Black College and University."

The online collection is the result of a partnership that began in 2005 between Cornell Library and the HBCU Library Alliance with the support of the Mellon Foundation. It includes material from libraries at Alabama State University, Bennett College, Fisk University, Grambling State University, Hampton University, Southern University and A&M College - Baton Rouge, Tuskegee University, Tennessee State University, and Virginia State University, and from the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center. Highlights include student yearbooks, early campus architectural drawings and a rich assortment of photographs featuring choral groups, famous alumni, student sports teams and churches (which often served as the first classrooms at several of these institutions).

Cornell librarians trained staff members from the first 10 HBCU institutions to use flat-bed scanners, high-end multimedia computers and digital imaging software as well as storage, collection management and access systems.

"Cornell University Library has a rich tradition of sharing what it has learned with others through publications and workshops," said interim university librarian Anne Kenney. "Anything that we can do to make available the special collections of HBCU libraries will benefit researchers and students everywhere."

In the partnership's next phase, library staff from 10 additional HBCU institutions will be trained in digital collection building so materials from their founding collections can become part of the online repository. They include Lincoln University-Missouri, Miles College, Morehouse School of Medicine, North Carolina Central University, Paine College, Southern University at Shreveport, South Carolina State University, St. Augustine's College, Texas Southern University, and the University of the District of Columbia. The grant also will allow the first 10 participating HBCU institutions to continue their digitization efforts and provide funding to train selected HBCU librarians in digital video and audio techniques.

"Access to artifacts in the special collections and archives of HBCU libraries, as assisted by this training initiative, will promote teaching and learning opportunities for the study of African-American history and culture," said Janice Franklin, dean of Alabama State University Libraries and co-founder of the HBCU Library Alliance. "The initiative will also highlight the contributions that HBCU institutions have made to American history and culture."

The HBCU Library Alliance is a consortium that supports the collaboration of institutions dedicated to providing resources designed to strengthen the libraries of historically black colleges and universities and their constituents.