1/8/07

The past is an open book: Archivist Jan Ballard with a 1746 edition of Orbis Pictus, the illustrated children’s textbook written in 1658 by John Amos Comenius.

A GREAT FUTURE FOR MORAVIAN'S PAST

"I'm not a dragon sitting on a hoard of treasure," says Jan Ballard, archivist of the Reeves Library Archives and Special Collections. While some institutions follow a treasure-room philosophy, in which archived collections are kept off-limits to all but the academic elite, Ballard prefers that Moravian College's archives be as accessible as possible. "You have to balance access with preservation, of course," she says. "But there are many ways that these materials can be used by faculty and students. They're part of our heritage and people should see them." The collections include official records and early libraries of the College and the Seminary (including volumes from the 16th century), a collection of presidential autographs from Washington through Eisenhower, and about 6,000 volumes of Moravian interest dating from the early 1700s.

Recent events should help keep the archives and collections both well-protected and appropriately accessible. In December 2006, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced a $5,000 grant that will enable planning for short- and long-term storage, access, and preservation. "It's a consultation grant," says Ballard, "and it'll be used to have a specialist come and survey the archives and compile a report that will assess our needs." The report will in turn be used to secure funds to upgrade the archives facilities with environmental controls, a secure reading room, and other improvements. The NEH has also designated Moravian’s archives as a "We The People" project. "That means the collection is recognized as nationally important, which makes it easier to get funding," says Ballard.

Individual donors have also been kind to the archives in recent months. Last fall, Joan Trotsky and family established a $25,000 endowment for developing teaching collections. "We'll be developing materials that faculty can use with their classes," says Ballard. Recently-purchased medieval manuscript pages, for example, will be interesting to both history and graphic arts students. Another endowment, offered by Dan Gilbert (professor emeritus of history and the College's first archivist), provides $25,000 for promotion and development of the collections. "We're hoping to gather oral histories, memorabilia and other items relating to the College's history," says Ballard. She adds that in the day of computers and databases, the books and other objects our forbears used to record information are all the more precious. "Many of these items are very beautiful," she notes. "And when you understand how they were made, all the work that went into them, it can be really thrilling to encounter them firsthand."