Student preservation project garners NEH funding for Vonnegut Library

Posted: August 30, 2016

outside_kvml_photo.jpg?itok=sOxiFOSO The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (KVML) opened its doors in 2011 with two staffers working in an eleven-hundred-square-foot donated space. Since then, the library's collections documenting the life and work of the author have grown, resulting in the need for a larger space and improved processes.

In the midst of preparing for a major move and a reopening as The Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library, Director Julia Whitehead received news that the library was awarded a $5,500 Preservation Assistance Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). News of the award was happily received by the grant applicants, a group of iSchool alumni who developed the funding application as a class project on behalf of KVML.

Andrew Crook (MS '15), Molly Wayne (MS '15), and Jamie Wittenberg (MS '15) teamed up for the grant-writing project as part of the course Preserving Information Resources, taught by Professor Jennifer Hain Teper, head of Preservation Services at the University of Illinois Library. Student teams selected and researched institutions for which they might request funding, and in some cases worked directly with the institutions themselves to gather data and create grant applications.

kt.jpg?itok=Vo-FQAhG "We chose the Vonnegut Library for several reasons," said Wittenberg. "The library is small and in need of resources—we felt that a preservation assistance grant could make real impact. The library has unusual items in its collection that require specialized preservation expertise beyond book and paper guidance that can be found online or in general preservation workshops." Such artifacts include Vonnegut’s typewriter, reading glasses, photos, and other intimate belongings, in addition valuable documents such as first editions of every Vonnegut novel and several signed editions.

The library has used the NEH funding to bring in a museum and preservation expert—as recommended by the grant writers—to help the institution make strategic improvements in collection maintenance as KVML prepares to move.

"The timing of the students' work couldn't have been more perfect," said Whitehead.

"Lots of students reach out to us for different reasons, but this was the first group of students who wanted to write a grant proposal. For them to take on an NEH grant, that's a really impressive endeavor itself, and to be funded is incredibly impressive," she said. 

"The students knew from the outset that they wanted to select a worthwhile institution with the goal of submitting the classroom grant project to the NEH—their project was one of the best I’ve seen in my years of teaching, and I strongly recommended that they work with KVML to submit the proposal," Teper commented. “It's so rewarding to see not only students learning a great deal through the experience, but also helping a library in the process."

In addition to the immediate changes at the library, Whitehead foresees ongoing improvements thanks to what the library's staff have learned from the experience: both in terms of maintaining a growing and unique collection and in the knowledge they've gained from participating in a successful NEH grant application.

Crook is now archivist for the visual media division at Savannah College of Art and Design, where he manages digital images and provides reference and access services. Wayne is the records assistant for the City of Berkeley, overseeing the records management program. Wittenberg is the research data management service design analyst at the University of California, Berkeley, where she supports researchers in the management and long-term preservation of research.

Filed Under: Archives and Preservation