Capacity in the Cavern: It's a Long Race, but IHRC is in Great Shape

By Haven Hawley, IHRC Program Director
While space (and budgets) are getting tighter here at the University, the Immigration History Research Center is making headway in processing its print collections -- with the support of our community friends.

This fall, IHRC will provide a questionnaire for those interested in donating archival and print materials to the Center. Please e-mail the IHRC at ihrc@umn.edu with the subject line "Historical Materials of Interest" to receive a copy of this questionnaire.

As you provide information about critical documents that are endangered, we will be better able to allocate our limited shelving and acquisition efforts. Our capacity reduction projects involve print materials, but we continue to process both print and archival materials to create more access to our core collections.

We all can agree that unique materials simply must be the priority for our collections both now, when we struggle with limited storage facilities, and in the future. Our increased rate for processing books, serials and newspapers has helped us to identify the unique and highly rare print donated to the IHRC so that these materials can be preserved and made accessible. We are selecting for our collections those items that are closely associated with IHRC's archival collections, with our priority being print created by immigrant communities or individuals.

The IHRC is reshaping how it publishes Center research. We began several years ago placing collection-level finding aids (all 2000!) online. Staff have been creating digital copies of past IHRC publications so they can be accessed online and distributed free to researchers. We have preserved copies for our institutional use and archives -- but far fewer than we formerly maintained. Our collections staff is placing in-depth finding aids online to a greater extent than ever before.

We are especially working to make the full list of print already in our collections available online. About half of the IHRC's books, serials and newspapers are cataloged in the University of Minnesota's electronic catalog (MNCat). Most of the remaining volumes are listed in an on-site card catalog called the temporary card catalog.

We are converting that card catalog into an electronic file so that it will be searchable online, through the same system that allows the IHRC to generate online descriptions of its 2,000 archival collections. Our work on this project since 2009 is revealing that IHRC's online catalog holds very good materials -- and the temporary card catalog is truly exceptional. Between 1/4 and 1/2 of the temporary catalog books appear to be very rare or unique.

The IHRC has many cataloged or partially cataloged print materials, but a significant contributor to our capacity problem is an additional large backlog of unevaluated books, journals and newspapers. The IHRC has accumulated more than 2,000 linear feet of print donated to the Center but not yet selected to determine appropriateness for our collections. This represents about 1/9 of our storage footprint -- a proportion not unlike other high-quality institutions, but far too high when storage capacity is at a premium. As we process these materials to determine whether those contributions are in scope for our topic of immigration and to ensure that they do not duplicate our exceptional ethnic print collections, we will generate more shelf space for acquiring archival materials and the rare print items that we do not yet have.

Our staff have been hard at work, weeding out the Center's own duplicates and out-of-scope imprints from materials donated in past years to IHRC. We have shared this overage with community partners, such as the Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia College, the Finnish American Heritage Center at Finlandia University and St. Sophia Seminary in Philadelphia. We have selected materials for the National Library of Latvia, which is constructing a new building and will soon be able to accept exchange print. Our staff are renewing and expanding contacts with national-level heritage repositories in countries of origin. (Only imprints are being sent to affiliate institutions, but we are working toward joint projects and virtual collections for archival and print materials.)

The IHRC is placing duplicate and out-of-scope print materials in a manner consistent with the expectations of our donors: that we promote immigration and ethnic history research, and ensure preservation and access to as much historically important material as possible. Our print distribution efforts will preserve more books, create more access to historical print, and make the IHRC a strong, vital partner for U.S. and homeland heritage repositories.

Other reasons to be optimistic include the IHRC's application to the Council on Library and Information Resources to process a significant portion of our unprocessed print. We will learn late in 2010 whether our application has been successful. Through preparing the application, we have established a blueprint for our work in coming years.

The grant application is for funding to process 1,200 linear feet of our 2,000 feet of hidden print collections, and we will hear in late 2010 whether external funding has been awarded. The project relies on a combination of IHRC staff, graduate students, scholars of immigration and ethnicity, and community volunteers for its success.

During the summer of 2010, we made progress in preparing for the Immigrant and Ethnic Publishing and Print Project (IEPPP), with the assistance of volunteers working with Polish and Latvian immigrant print. IHRC hired a Slavic specialist to work in fall 2010 on Ukrainian print selection. I look forward to updating you in 2011 and beyond on our efforts.

Finally, we have placed a small amount of material off site and are seeking additional off-site storage. These arrangements are not optimal, as they reduce the Center's ability to make materials available to researchers and to ensure archival conditions for all collections, but off-site space is a welcome resource. The College of Liberal Arts and the University Libraries continue to seek expansion opportunities, even during these financially difficult times, and they are solid partners who understand the value of IHRC's collections to the University's research, teaching and public engagement mission.

Our stalwart supporters in the Friends of the IHRC have formed a subcommittee to assist IHRC staff in working with potential recipients of duplicates and out-of-scope print materials. The subcommittee, which includes Walter Anastas, Celeste Raspanti and Vicki Albu, will help to match volunteers from ethnic communities with processing projects.

We will create more space. And just as assuredly we will, in time, face more limits on our capacity. As we keep faith with past donors by fulfilling our promise to further the study of immigrant experience, we are spurred on by the need to continue saving historical materials for the future. More to come!