One of Penn State’s new hires will have the opportunity to work with items from the special collection library that includes items from Pennsylvania Dutch folk art to Ernest Hemingway’s baby book.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation recognized the Penn State Libraries for their effort and dedication to preserving their collections for current and future Penn Staters.
The Mellon Foundation awarded the Penn State University Libraries $1,250,000 to establish a senior conservator position in the Department of Digitization and Preservation. Penn State will match the money in the next three years.
Receiving a Mellon grant is prestigious and demonstrates the importance of Penn State as an institution and as a top 10 research library, said Barbara I. Dewey, dean of University Libraries and Scholarly Communications at Penn State.
Penn Sate was asked by the Mellon Foundation to apply for its conservation grant, which is a rare opportunity, considering so few institutions are invited to apply for these grants, Dewey said.
She added that Penn State is not worried about raising matching funds, as there are a number of donors who are interested in conservation.
The grant will allow Penn State the opportunity to create a senior conservator position. A senior conservator is an individual trained in conservation techniques, such as treating paper, repairing books’ bindings and encapsulating fragile material, Dewey said.
A national search will begin this spring to fill the new position, Dewey said.
Conservators have to be skilled chemists, but they are also artists. They have to understand the composition of paper and how the chemicals they are using work, said Sue Kellerman, Judith O. Sieg chair for preservation and head of the libraries’ Digitization and Preservation Department.
Penn State has a part-time conservator and two conservation labs in Cato Park now and can do some basic repairs and stabilization, said Timothy Pyatt, Dorothy Foehr Huck chair and head of Special Collections.
“We were really ecstatic about [the grant],” Pyatt said.
Not only will the libraries gain a full-time conservator, but also, depending on the specialty of the conservator, the conservation labs will be able to procure new equipment, he added.
The conservator will have a selection of over 25 million manuscripts and 200,000 rare books with which to work. These works span from the beginning of printing to present time, and vary from subject matters like Pennsylvania literary material to utopian societies, Pyatt said.
Once a senior conservator is hired, he or she will work with three curators from special collections to survey the collection to look for problems and to find material that is in need of serious repair, Pyatt said.
Because there are few conservation experts in the area, once Penn State fills the position, it hopes to reach out to other organizations in the area to help with their conservation efforts.