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CU Libraries Preserve Brittle Slavic-Language Texts

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded $626,000 to Columbia University Libraries to preserve brittle volumes of East European history and literature written in Slavic languages between 1850 and 1960 in Russia and Eastern Europe.

The funding will support the fourth and final phase of the seven-year Slavic Culture and History Project, which has the goal to create archival-quality master microfilms with a potential lifespan of hundreds of years and store them in conditions optimized for longevity. More than 18,000 volumes of archival microfilm have been produced to date.

"These materials rank high in the Libraries' Preservation Master Plan, which matches preservation priorities with collecting priorities to serve the needs of scholars," explained Janet Gertz, director of preservation at Columbia University Libraries. "Through their generous support, the NEH has played a key role to ensure that future scholars can learn from these collections."

Columbia University Libraries Russian and East European collections are among the top five in the nation and are in constant demand by researchers. The collections include significant numbers of items held by few or no other institutions.

All of the volumes in this project are extremely fragile. Use of low-grade, highly acidic paper was the norm from the mid-19th to mid-20th century in Eastern Europe. Both local and long-distance scholars have been denied access to these materials because they are too fragile or damaged to survive use without pages breaking off. In recognition of this situation, Columbia has assigned the highest priority to preserving them.

Phase four of the project will begin its two-year run in July, with a goal of filming damaged monograph and serial volumes, and placing the tables of contents of these serials online, so that scholars can easily locate articles of interest. Phases one through three of the project (2000-2005) have concentrated on Slavic-language pamphlets and selected monographs and serials from both the general collections and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library's Bakhmeteff Archive.

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Published: May 31, 2005
Last modified: May 31, 2005

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