Libraries awarded $239,000 grant to digitize three U.S. labor union collections

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State University Libraries has been selected for one of just 17 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grants nationwide to make available online several of its special collections that document the historical connections among three important American labor organizations.

The grant, administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and supported by the Mellon Foundation’s Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives awards program, totals $239,185 to fund the two-year digitization project. Penn State’s project, “Beneath the Surface and Cast in Steel: Forging the American Industrial Union Movement Digital Project,” was selected from among 144 proposals submitted in 2016. The University Libraries’ co-principal investigators include Karen Estlund, associate dean for technology and digital strategies; Sue Kellerman, the Judith O. Sieg Chair for Preservation; and James Quigel, head of Historical Collections and Labor Archives.

“Digitizing our distinctive and unique collections is part of the University Libraries’ current strategic plan, and we are focusing on unique collections of high scholarly and public value that expose voices from our collections that may not otherwise be heard in contemporary dialogues,” Estlund said. “The labor collections represent a vital piece of Pennsylvania historic, economic and social structures. Receiving this grant has given us an opportunity to accelerate the availability of these important labor collections online to users around the world.”

The “Beneath the Surface and Cast in Steel” project’s goals are to greatly increase the discoverability and accessibility of these rich historical materials to national and international scholars, and inform future collaborative efforts to further document this important intersection of labor and social history. Once completed, the project’s collections will join more than 135 Penn State University Libraries digital collections on topics ranging from agriculture to world history.

The project’s materials are from the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), UMWA's Presidents' Districts Correspondence and Steelworkers Organizing Committee (SWOC) collections, as well as additional related collections that provide context to the labor movement in Pennsylvania. They are among the Eberly Family Special Collections Library’s nearly 1,600 archival and special collections.

The UMWA and SWOC were among eight international unions that forged the Congress of Industrial Organizations industrial union movement in the 1930s and a precursor to today’s AFL-CIO.

By summer 2019, an estimated 311,600 pages of manuscripts and printed items of mixed material, 5,000 photographs, 22 scrapbooks and 200 other artifacts would be accessible online through the University Libraries’ website, the Digital Public Library of America and the WorldCat’s ArchiveGrid, part of the world’s largest library catalog.

The 17 grants selected by CLIR in 2016 comprise the second group of projects supported by the Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives awards program, which is supported by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Digitizing Hidden Collections program supports the creation of digital representations of unique content of high scholarly significance that will be discoverable and usable as elements of a coherent national collection.

The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning.

Last Updated January 13, 2017