Letter in Response to the Closing of the Teachers College Special Collections Department

20 October 2002

Dr. Arthur Levine, President
Teachers College, Columbia University
525 West 120th Street
New York, New York 10027

Dear Dr. Levine:

I am writing to express the concern of the officers and members of the Society of American Archivists over the personnel changes affecting the operations of the Department of Special Collections housed in Milbank Memorial Library. The Society of American Archivists is the oldest and largest professional association of archivists in North America. With close to 4,000 members, SAA represents archivists in all areas of archival endeavor from college and university archives to archives departments within federal and state agencies of government to corporate and institutional archives to the archives of religious communities, historical societies and more.

The archival, manuscript, rare book and photographic materials held by Teachers College Special Collections Department are known nationally and internationally as preeminent resources in the history of education in New York and the United States. Researchers depend on these materials for continuing their own work in the study of educational history, psychology and policy. The individuals who staff the Special Collections Department are recognized by their colleagues as dedicated professionals who have labored long and carefully to ensure that the preservation of and access to collections conform to strict professional standards. It has been reported that this staff has been let go and the collections are being accessed without professional oversight and supervision. We see this to be a terribly short-sighted move the consequence of which will be the swift physical and intellectual deterioration of the archives and the ultimate loss of value of an important institutional asset.

The Society of American Archivists realizes that during times of fiscal crisis an institution may find it necessary to reorganize the operations of certain organizational units. Nevertheless, we strongly believe that the fundamental operations of an archives and special collections, namely the identification, selection, protection, organization, description, and delivery of archival records and special collections material, are best undertaken by specialists in the management of special collections. At a time when the Association of Research Libraries is reaffirming the fundamental importance of special collections to libraries, it seems terribly short-sighted to threaten the management of the archival collections in your institution by eliminating the role of trained professionals in their management.

The Society of American Archivists joins with other voices of the archives and history professions in urging that you reaffirm that the extraordinary special collections of Teachers College will be properly managed and preserved for the future through the employment of properly trained professionals experienced in the management of archives and special collections.


Peter B. Hirtle

cc: Gary Natriello, Interim Director of Milbank Library
James Neal, Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian, Columbia University


See also SAA's "Statement Concerning the Closing of Archives" (1990).