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Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions

By: Joe Custer, Director of the Ben C. Green Law Library at Case Western Reserve University

The National Endowment for the Humanities' Division of Preservation and Access has offered Preservation Assistance Grants for Smaller Institutions since 2000. These grants help smaller and mid-sized cultural heritage institutions such as libraries, museums, historical societies, archival repositories, town and county records offices, and colleges and universities to improve their ability to preserve and care for their humanities collections.

These may include special collections of books and journals, archives and manuscripts, prints and photographs, moving images, sound recordings, architectural and cartographic records, decorative and fine art objects, textiles, archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, furniture, historical objects, and digital materials. The most important part of the application process is the description of the humanities collections. The successful applicant must identify the categories of materials in the collections, and indicate, where pertinent, the date ranges and quantities for the majority of the items.

The maximum award amount is $10,000 ($15,000 for projects related to "A More Perfect Union"). In the last five years, the average number of applications was 202. The grant has a funding ratio of 38%, with an average number of awards being 76 per year.

All Preservation Assistance Grants are awarded for eighteen months, although a recipient may complete a project in a shorter period. In your narrative, you should show a schedule for your project activities. You should develop and present a plan that can accommodate unexpected delays that might be encountered during the project. If your project involves a consultant, discuss the time the consultant will need to complete the proposed work.

Applicants must draw on the knowledge of consultants whose preservation skills and experience are related to the types of collections and the nature of the activities that are the focus of their projects. A consultant must provide a two-page résumé and a letter of commitment. The letter of commitment should describe the proposed activity or activities; it should include a detailed plan of work and budget and a preliminary list of supplies that the consultant recommends.

An example of an awarded application to St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, PA, is Melville's Marginalia Online. Herman Melville, the acclaimed writer of Moby-Dick, Billy Budd, Sailor, and other revered American literary works, was also a great reader of books. Yet, even among American literary scholars, few are familiar with Herman Melville's personal library's scope and variety. Although the working manuscripts for most of Melville's major works are either lost or destroyed, one can find valuable clues to his composition process in the margins and endpapers of the books he had before him while he wrote. Melville's Marginalia Online provides users accurate, fully annotated transcriptions of Melville's markings and commentary in the existing books he collected throughout his career. This project makes it possible for scholars to engage in a comparative analysis of Melville's markings in a variety of texts relevant to the manuscript archive and the novels and poetry for which there are no manuscript records.

The program encourages applications from the following sorts of institutions with significant humanities collections: small and mid-sized institutions that have never received an NEH grant; community colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Tribal Colleges and Universities; and Native American tribes and Native Alaskan and Native Hawaiian organizations. More information on the program provided here.

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