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Preservation and Access to Collections

Fall 1997

Improved Preservation and Access to Collections Are
Keys to Serving Scholarly Community

[Photo of Jennifer Yamashiro]

With 75,000 prints, 218 amateur albums, and 1,732 vintage negatives depicting aspects of human sexuality and gender, The Kinsey Institute's photography collection is the largest holding of its kind in the world, and the institute's archives include important unpublished correspondence and other materials dating from the 1940s. These collections are a rich and unparalleled resource for scholars in a variety of fields. Until recently, however, they have been inadequately preserved.

"They've been deteriorating over the last 50 years, and we need to prevent further deterioration before any additional damage occurs," says institute curator, Jennifer Pearson Yamashiro. With funding from Indiana University's Strategic Directions Charter and the University Graduate School, that's just what the institute is doing.

The primary focus of the preservation project is the stabilization of humidity and temperature in the storage areas for the photographs and archives. "Any fluctuations in temperature and humidity can be extremely damaging to works on paper, potentially causing paper to crack and crumble, dyes to fade, or mold to flourish, depending on conditions," Yamashiro explains.

Unfortunately, the beautiful limestone buildings for which the IU Bloomington campus is known are part of the problem. "Our greatest challenge is that limestone lacks insulation, and moisture seeps in," Yamahisro says. To counteract this, the photograph and archival records storage areas and the institute's display gallery are being insulated and fitted with vapor retarder systems. Renovation of the photography storage spaces will be complete by May 1998.

Establishing environmental control and rehousing the collections are essential not only to the longevity of the materials in those collections, but also to the institute's ability to win grant money for future initiatives. Foremost among these is making the collections more accessible to the scholarly community. "What we're doing now is the first step," Yamashiro says. "Once things are housed properly, then we can go on to improve access." Because information about the collections is not stored in a database, searching for items of a specific type is often slow and difficult.

With preservation work under way, the institute was able to apply for funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to improve access to four key photography collections. "I targeted four areas that are currently heavily used or would be in great demand if they were organized," Yamashiro says. These areas are the Documentary, George Platt Lynes, Amateur Albums, and Wilhelm von Gloden Collections, which together include well over 50,000 images.

The institute is requesting NEH funds to catalog and process these collections using nationally accepted standards and to build a database that will have finding aids with brief, item-level entries. In addition, information about these collections will be available through a national bibliographic database (OCLC).

The Kinsey Institute will find out in April if it received the two-year NEH grant, which would provide funding beginning in May of 1998. Yamashiro is optimistic. "I think our chances of getting the grant are excellent," she says. "But most important, we're well on our way to stabilizing the photographic and archival collections. That gives us time to work toward improving access."

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