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U to preserve farm literature for state

October 24, 2000

MSU libraries plan to revisit a part of history.

The university was chosen to participate in a national project to preserve literature that documents unique agricultural and rural heritage.

Twenty states have become involved in the National Preservation Program for Agricultural Literature since its start in 1996.

The program is directed by staff members at Cornell University’s Mann Library.

“It’s both an honor and a responsibility to be chosen,” said Cliff Haka, director of libraries at MSU. “That’s an important initiative, and one we are glad to be a part of.”

The program seeks to preserve books, family farm memoirs, land transactions and other published materials critical to each state’s agricultural history. Eventually all 50 states are expected to participate in the project.

And MSU is representing the state of Michigan.

“There’s only one institution in each state that gets the funding,” said Anita Ezzo, MSU’s food science and technology librarian, who is managing the project. “We were approached because we are the premier land grant university and we own many of the items which will be preserved.”

MSU libraries received funding for the project in July. Coordinators will continue the process of compiling a massive statewide bibliography of materials from libraries throughout the state as well as directly from the university’s holdings.

Ezzo said the collection will include more than 1,000 materials, but not all can be preserved.

“That’s why a panel will review them to choose the most critical pieces - the ones researchers will need for years to come,” she said.

A panel of MSU scholars with extensive experience in studying Michigan agriculture and rural life will decide what materials are essential to preserve.

Jeanne Drewes, MSU libraries assistant director for access and preservation, said she hopes anyone - researchers, farmers or residential gardeners - can use the collection to learn about how things were done between 1820 and 1945.

“There is current research for all of this but there is research that has been buried,” said Drewes, who also manages the project.

“You just don’t know how the documents will be useful, so saving them or keeping them from being lost is very important.”

Coordinators will apply for a separate grant for the preservation portion of the project, which won’t begin until July 2002.

Since most of the materials were originally printed on acidic paper, they are now crumpling. The pieces that are selected for the bibliography will be put on to microfilm for preservation.

Coordinators said they hope to make the collection as accessible as possible.

“The ultimate goal is to (put) the bibliography on the Web in a searchable form,” Ezzo said. “It’s more useful and easy to navigate.”


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