Carnegie Corporation of New York has awarded Columbia University Libraries $2.2 million to develop an online portal to the Corporation’s institutional records, from 1886 to the present. The philanthropic foundation’s records span all manner of formats from paper ledger books to audio and videotaped oral histories and born-digital grant files. This project will extend Columbia’s capacity to provide online access to the Corporation’s materials while at the same time develop a set of open source tools that can be shared with other research libraries and cultural institutions.
Carnegie Corporation donated its records to Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1990 and continues to transfer archival materials to the library on a regular basis. The files take the form of correspondences, financial records, memoranda, and reports—more than 180,000 documents in total. The earliest materials document Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic efforts, including the construction of more than 2,500 libraries between 1883 and 1929. Among the later materials are files related to the Carnegie Corporation’s sponsorship of Gunnar Myrdal’s landmark 1944 study An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy.
“This project will provide a window into the changing face of American philanthropy, from the Gilded Age to the present,” said Sean Quimby, the Director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. “In times of extreme economic inequality philanthropic organizations like Carnegie Corporation play an especially vital role. The foundation’s digital archive will help scholars and citizens to better understand how wealth can be leveraged in service of society.”
Like its peers, and like most modern institutions, Carnegie Corporation is generating an ever-increasing amount of born-digital materials, from e-mail correspondence to grant files. Columbia will develop tools for routinely ingesting those materials into its secure digital repository while at the same time providing varying degrees of access to them both online and in the reading room of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Currently, Columbia is in the final phases of a seven-year, $1 million project funded by the Ford Foundation that enabled it to develop both the technology and workflows necessary to preserve and provide a digital archive relating to Ford’s International Fellows Program that totals four terabytes of content. This project extends Columbia’s capacity to archive born-digital content while making it possible for both living individuals and active organizations to contribute born-digital content to its growing repository.
Columbia University became the birthplace of oral history in 1948 when Allan Nevins founded the Columbia Center for Oral History. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library now holds more than ten thousand interviews. Some 340 hours of interviews relate to the history of Carnegie Corporation. Among the interviewees are former President Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. As part of this project, Columbia will digitize analog interview and develop an open-source streaming and indexing platform for oral histories and other forms of time-based media.