The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded an $857,027 grant to the Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to develop the ability to preserve email for future research use.
The four-year grant will support “Email Archives: Building Capacity and Community,” a program which will build the capacity for archives, libraries, and museums to collect and better preserve email as part of the historical record and in their research collections.
The program will solicit grant applications to fund projects of $25,000 to no more than $100,000. Applications will be evaluated by a panel of experts, including humanities scholars, archivists, and digital preservation experts. The successful applicants will be drawn from a diverse set of archives, libraries, and museums. Each project will use community-supported tools to process and provide access to email while demonstrating the value of email collections for humanities, social science, or other research. All grantees of the program will share their knowledge back to their communities, to the profession as a whole, and to the public.
Kevin M. Kruse, who specializes in 20th century political and social history, recognizes the importance of such an effort. Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton University, said, “If historians have any hope of chronicling our current era with any precision, they’ll need an extensive archive of the emails that served as the main means of correspondence for the men and women who shaped our world.”
“Email preservation is a matter of intense public interest and speaks to the functions of public trust that archives and libraries uphold,” said Principal Investigator Chris Prom.
Prom, associate university librarian for digital strategies and a professor at Illinois, co-chaired the Task Force on Technical Approaches for Email Archives from 2016 to 2018. The Task Force, which was sponsored by The 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. Recommendations from its report, The Future of Email Archives, published by the Council on Library and Information Resources, will be implemented in this newly-funded program.
Prom is also the PI of another grant awarded to the University Library last fall by The Mellon Foundation, supporting a separate email preservation project. That project is currently developing a technical recommendation to help ensure that email can be reliably archived in PDF format.
The “Email Archives: Building Capacity and Community” project website is located at emailarchivesgrant.library.illinois.edu.
For more information about the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, visit mellon.org.