WPI’s George C. Gordon Library Receives $300,000 Grant

National Endowment for the Humanities funding will help preserve access to collections
September 12, 2013

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Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which will be used to fund the partial renovation of the existing Special Collections wing of the George C. Gordon Library to create a sustainable environment to preserve access to Humanities, Innovation, and STEM Education collections.

The WPI collection contains documents pertaining to the industrial history of Central Massachusetts, the Charles Hill Morgan diaries, a rare book collection dating to the 1500s, and several other historic university and private documents, garments, artwork, and sculpture. The university archives include the original 1865 land grant for the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science, which later became WPI and was one of the nation's earliest technological universities, and the papers of past presidents and trustees. The manuscript collection includes faculty and alumni papers, a Worcester corporate archive, and art and literature collections. Other special collections include the Fellman Charles Dickens Collection, the Brenner Sculpture Collection, the Woodbury Collection, and the Theo Brown Diaries Collection.

"The most crucial issue for the long-term preservation of our collections is improving and controlling environmental conditions, particularly for our Archives and Special Collections department," said preservation librarian Kathleen Markees. "Library and archival materials made from paper, cloth, glues, film, audio/visual tape, even metals, are adversely affected by both high temperatures and relative humidity, and fluctuations in temperature and humidity."

Environmental monitoring data gathered over a 10-year period by Markees and Gregor Trinkhaus-Randall, preservation specialist for the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, clearly show that the library's environmental conditions put the collections at high risk for deterioration. This implementation grant will enable a partial renovation of the Archives and Special Collections wing, which holds a diverse collection of business records, personal papers, university archives, and rare books relating to the history of industry and technical education in the United States. The library staff, working with WPI's Department of Facilities, will consider environmentally friendly, cost-effective methods.

The renovations will improve environmental conditions by isolating air handling from the main library building's system, enhancing fire protection systems and installing a new environmental control (HVAC) system for the special collections. This will help ensure that WPI can preserve its special collections and WPI history for another 150 years.

"The humanities are critical to understanding ourselves and our world," said NEH Acting Chairman Carole Watson. "Whether it is a compelling documentary or an effort to preserve the collections of important cultural heritage centers, the Endowment is proud to support projects that are accessible to all Americans."

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.