IHRC Announces Temporary Acquisition Halt in 2008

The IHRC is committed to preserving materials that document immigrant experience and making them available to the public. In 2008, our staff will be continuing to assess our collections and process materials as we place a temporary hold on acquisitions. Outreach programs will provide archival training and education, as well as resources, in 2008 and beyond.

We hope to receive advice about community needs and concerns as staff work toward programs that address the capacity and access needs of the IHRC collections. By focusing on processing alongside increased public access, we are putting our full effort into fulfilling our commitment to preserve the past while making room for materials yet to come.

The IHRC preserves historical materials and makes them available to the public -- from genealogists to international scholars and high school students to University faculty members. Our collections are uniquely broad and deep in migration related to the United States.

As many of our supporters are aware, storage space for IHRC materials has been near capacity for some time. For more than two years, we have greatly slowed the rate of our acquisitions. We had hoped that reviewing opportunities on a case-by-case basis could keep the growth of IHRC materials within immediate space limits, but we have surpassed cavern capacity. Although three caverns were originally proposed for construction beneath Elmer L. Andersen Library, the final project included only two, leaving much less than a decade’s growth for archival collections. Since arriving as the new program director last fall, I have had to postpone acquisition of supplements to established IHRC collections and worked to match offers of new collections to appropriate repositories. This is a very difficult task.

The University Libraries, with support from the IHRC, continues to seek funding for an additional underground cavern and to explore many options. The IHRC's initial hopes for temporary offsite storage with archival conditions has proven too costly, however. We are developing a program to help the IHRC adjust to the immediate lack of space and our need to create greater access to materials at hand. For the remainder of 2008, the IHRC will temporarily halt acquisitions and direct staff resources to processing existing materials. Our staff members have begun assessing the content and themes of materials in IHRC collections, and we are in the preliminary stages of forming a collections policy to guide us.

Processing takes place on many levels and, usually, several times during the life of a collection. Archivists arrange materials for easier access in preservation folders, remove duplicates and damaged items, and usually compact collections. These tasks frequently are not done immediately after material is received, because time often gives perspective about which materials have the richest resource potential. At the IHRC, we have the additional difficulty of arranging for specialists to work in multi-lingual collections. Funding, specialist availability, and staff supervision must be coordinated carefully. We also will work to balance researcher demand for materials, our ongoing relationships with many communities and donors, and the IHRC's need to prioritize processing collections that have the greatest potential for compaction.

All archival institutions go through periods in which they adjust how much they acquire in order to process the materials already on hand. The IHRC is beginning a multi-year plan to address the capacity and processing issues, and my goal is to have an initial phase of assessment completed by this time next year. The earliest that we might be able to consider selective acquisitions would be about January 2009, but please understand that we will have very restricted capacity for some years after that.

I encourage IHRC supporters to talk with me about donations that will need to be delayed or about learning to assess your own community’s future needs. Our goal is to create space so that we can continue adding to our collection, and I have no doubt that we will be able to do so. In the meantime, I will provide advice on interim steps so that we can support each other in preserving materials that cannot be immediately acquired by the IHRC.

We will hold informational meetings to discuss these issues in depth and to learn more about the types of educational programs and resources that will best support our community. Please note that the meetings have the same content but that we are scheduling two in different locations so that everyone has a chance to attend. The meetings will be:

Sunday, May 18th, 2-4 p.m.
Sokol (CSPS) Hall, 383 Michigan St., St. Paul, MN 55102

Thursday, May 22nd, 6-8 pm
Andersen Library, 222 – 21st Ave S., Minneapolis, MN 55455
(cavern tours after meeting)

We are beginning to plan support and outreach programs starting in fall 2008, and we will use public feedback to tailor training, resources, and archival contacts to the IHRC community’s needs. I look forward to seeing you either at Sokol Hall or at Andersen Library in May, and I especially would like to thank Czech & Slovak Sokol Minnesota for providing space for our St. Paul meeting.

Within the challenge before us lies a great opportunity. In turning our attention to the collections, we renew our commitment to preserving the voices of immigrants, in their own words, pictures, and documents. As I work with IHRC supporters, I hope to gain advice on how to best serve our diverse community.

Haven Hawley, Program Director, IHRC