Verba Receives Microfilm Grant

The National Endowment For the Humanities awarded Pforzheimer University Professor Sidney Verba nearly $1 million Monday to preserve aging history of science books on microfilm.

Verba's grant of $913,519 was the largest single grant of the $30.9 million the NEH awarded this year, and came from the NEH program for Preservation and Access, which distributed $18.9 million of the overall funds.

The grant will be used to microfilm approximately 7,590 brittle books scattered among several of Harvard's libraries on botany, zoology, astronomy, and public health and medicine published between 1800 and 1950.

The project is part of the University's ongoing efforts to preserve its library resources. Malloy-Rabinowitz Preservation Librarian Jan Merrill-Oldham said Harvard applies for preservation grants approximately every two years, and a council composed of representatives from various Harvard libraries, in coordination with members of the Harvard faculty, writes the proposals.

The grant received by Harvard this year is the sixth consecutive successful proposal to the NEH since 1989. Harvard is required to nearly match the NEH grant, and much of the funds will come in the form of wages for Harvard librarians and preservationists working on the project.

Merrill-Oldham said in addition to preserving and fixing old materials, the grant will allow Harvard to systematically arrange material that was poorly organized when it was originally catalogued.

While microfilm is being used for the books covered by this year's grant, the media used in preservation usually varies according to the qualities of the original material. Merrill-Oldham said that even after copying, the original documents are nearly always kept and preserved as well as possible.

The Weissman Preservation Center and the Preservation and Imaging Department at Widener Library are the two agencies most responsible for coordinating preservation efforts across the Harvard Library system.

While Harvard has an excellent track record with recent NEH proposals, the agency's resources have been stretched thin since a 36% budget cut in 1996. The government agency receives several thousand proposals per year, which are looked over by small panels of outside experts. About 1 in every 5 applications is successful.