Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant to Support Email Preservation Project

male student working on a computer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $45,000 grant to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to support a project that will define ways in which email can be archived in PDF format.

Specifically, the grant-supported project will develop pathways to transform email messages, folders, and accounts into archive-ready PDF packages. PDF is an ISO-standardized version of the Portable Document Format (PDF). PDF can be specialized for use in the archiving and long-term preservation of electronic documents.

Chris Prom, associate university librarian for digital strategies and a professor at Illinois, is the principal investigator of the grant. Prom co-chaired the Task Force on Technical Approaches for Email Archives from 2016 to 2018. The Task Force, sponsored by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Digital Preservation Coalition, was created to help the library and archives community better preserve electronic correspondence that is of value for future scholarship and research. Its report, The Future of Email Archives, laid the groundwork for this project.

“Archives are filled with handwritten letters and typed memos. They provide an insider view to life before the digital age,” said Prom. “With this grant, The Mellon Foundation is helping archivists to better preserve digital correspondence.”

Prom will work with 13 collaborators in working groups over 10 months to define the significant characteristics of email that need to persist in PDF format to meet the needs of the email archiving community.

“PDF is one of several viable options for email archiving,”said Prom. “For those institutions that might want to convert emails to PDF, they need to be appropriately contained in a way that maintains their archival fidelity. The project funded by this grant will begin building that framework, while not excluding other potential pathways for email preservation.”

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