July 3, 2008

Digital is dandy but new library endowment will add to humanities print holdings

Digitization of library materials grabs headlines, but in the humanities, printed material is still indispensable.

A $30,000 endowment from the Class of 1956 will establish a fund to boost Cornell's humanities print collection, allowing Cornell University Library to purchase additional English-language monographs and a range of materials in foreign languages.

"We hope that this fund will set an example that other donors will follow," said Jonathan Culler, Class of 1916 Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cornell. "Maintaining the library's outstanding collection is crucial both to attracting the best faculty and graduate students in the humanities and giving them an edge in the world of scholarly research."

Anne R. Kenney, the Carl A. Kroch University Librarian, emphasized the library's dedication to building its print collection. "The rapidly mounting expense of digital materials in particular has severely challenged our ability to maintain strong monograph collections in the arts and humanities," she said. "The Class of '56 endowment will be of significant assistance to the library in assuring that it will continue to acquire the books that are so critical to the research and teaching of the humanities at Cornell."

Ernie Stern, president of the Class of 1956, said several members of his class had made significant contributions to the library, and he was pleased to be approached about creating the endowment. "There isn't one specific constituency that the library has -- it serves everybody," he said. "So these library gifts are gifts that serve the entire campus."

In humanities fields, digital resources are gaining importance in the same way they are in the hard sciences and social sciences, but many scholars still rely heavily on print materials. Culler said that the substantial infusion from the endowment "is particularly welcome as a sign of the library's continuing commitment to the book, which does and will remain central to research in the humanities in particular."

A recent survey from the Modern Language Association (MLA) supported Culler's assertion. Its conclusions suggested that despite the increasingly difficult climate for book publication, monographs remain the "gold standard" in faculty evaluations. Nearly one-third of all the departments surveyed by the MLA and nearly half of institutions that grant doctoral degrees require progress toward a second book when evaluating tenure prospects.

Gwen Glazer is a writer at Cornell University Library.