A 3-way: ACLS meets British Manuscripts meets the Library of Congress

Several weeks ago, I posted about Waldo Gifford Leland, first Director and later Executive Secretary of ACLS, and his relationship to the field of archives both in contributing to the theory as well as helping to secure funding for the National Archives building in Washington, DC.

While Leland garnered a pretty impressive resume including his accomplishments at the National Archives, the ACLS collection is housed down the road at the Library of Congress. And, while we’re at it, so am I, writing these dispatches from the underbelly of the Madison Building. So, it’s only fair to connect the dots between ACLS and the LOC! And to introduce a few more key players!

This post focuses on the British Manuscripts Project, portions of which I found in the collection. The Project represents a strong connection between ACLS and the Library of Congress.

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In the 1940s, ACLS embarked on a project to microfilm materials located in England and Wales from 1941-1945  in the hopes of making such rich materials available to a wide audience interested in “the study of arts, sciences, social sciences, and the common heritage of man.”

Years later, they housed those reproductions at the Library of Congress. The British Manuscripts Project also includes a book referred to as a “checklist” of the reproduced items arranged by their source area. This is what I found in the collection! It reads like a Cliff Notes to the expansive collection of microform reels, all in 35mm. Representing 15 areas plus sections entitled “Miscellaneous” and “Color Film,” these documents range from Public Records Office materials of “Colonial Offices” in U.S. states including North Carolina and Georgia to Oxford University’s holdings of “English Bibles.”

The Foreword reads,

The purpose…is to make generally known the contents of the 2,652 reels of microfilm containing reproductions of nearly five million pages of manuscript, and, in a few instances, rare printed materials found in some of the major public and private collections of England and Wales.

Thanks to HathiTrust, the entire “checklist” is available online.

The Rockefeller Foundation supported the reproduction of these materials under the collaboration of Mortimer Graves, the Executive Director of ACLS, Waldo G. Leland, the Director Emeritus of ACLS and L. Quincy Mumford, Librarian of Congress, 1954–1974. In 1955, the Library, with the help of Lester K. Born, Coordinator of Microreproduction Projects, published the “checklist” as a guide for researchers. (If you’re interested in the history of this medium, check out Born’s article here. Also, here’s a neat blog post on Born).

Today, the minutia of our lives, scanned pages of our favorite fiction, and virtual library book shelves are available by the click of a button, so the notion of reproducing cultural documents in a form that allows a broader audience to view them does not seem forward-thinking. It seems obvious. But, in the 1940s, ACLS along with its collaborators successfully brought millions of British manuscripts to the United States. Which is a big deal. And according to the reference librarians at the Microform Reading Room, the reels are still called upon by researchers.

What’s most exciting about this find is the evidence of  institutional collaboration between ACLS and the Library of Congress. Certainly, this relationship would deepen over the decades, but here’s a great example of organizations working together to bring primary sources that reflect the long history of England and Wales to the American public.

Thank you to the Library’s Microform Reading Room and the Main Reading Room reference staff for all their patience and guidance!

One thought on “A 3-way: ACLS meets British Manuscripts meets the Library of Congress

  1. Pingback: Building the Madison Building | Documenting the Humanities

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