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America’s Historical Collections Are for Everyone, But Many Are at Risk

May 11, 2010

In 2005 the first comprehensive national survey of the condition and preservation needs of the nation’s collections reported that U.S. institutions hold more than 4.8 billion items. These items include books, manuscripts, photographs, prints and drawings, maps, textiles, paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, furniture, sound recordings, moving images, and digital objects. Additionally, treasure troves of uncounted additional items are held by individuals, families, and communities.

These items, write James M. O’Toole and Richard J. Cox in Understanding Archives and Manuscripts, document and “are alive with human nature in all its diversity… [They] open the door to understanding ourselves,” our families, our communities, our creativity, our histories, and our present times (xvii). Many of these materials are unique and irreplaceable.

Unfortunately, the 2005 report reached the sobering conclusion that many of America’s historical collections are at risk of being damaged or lost and are in need of immediate protective action.

This week’s inaugural National Preservation Week is a national campaign to raise awareness about preservation and to inspire  everyone to help preserve our personal and shared collections. The event is sponsored by the American Library Association in conjunction with other cultural heritage institutions.

The DRT Library is participating in National Preservation Week with a small temporary display in the reading room; a new brochure highlighting some online resources for preserving personal and family papers; and a series of blog entries.

To kick things off, we’re asking you, our readers, to submit stories about items or collections that you find especially meaningful. It can be something in your personal or family collection or in the collection of a relative or friend. It might be something you saw at the DRT Library or at another library, archive, or museum. Tell us about the item and why it is significant to you. We look forward to reading your stories!

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