Thursday, September 4, 2008

Obama in the archives, pt. II

Following up an earlier post, the UIC Special Collections has replied to a critical editorial.

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Library is dedicated to the preservation and transmission of knowledge  for our own community of students, faculty and staff, scholars from other institutions, and the general public. Many rare and important documents, maps, and other materials have been entrusted to the Library's Special Collections department, where they are catalogued, preserved, and made available on a daily basis.

The Library's collections include the records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge - more than 50,000 pages of documents and other materials which were donated by the board of directors of the Challenge in December 2001.

On Aug. 11 of this year, a former senior employee of the Challenge contacted the Library, raising a legal question about ownership of the collection and our right to make the documents available to the public. We took the correct and responsible course of action - to temporarily close the collection while researching the legal issues raised. After a thorough review, we determined that we indeed have the right to make the collection open for public inspection. The materials were reopened to the public and press in accordance with the normal procedures of Special Collections on Aug. 26, meaning that the collection was closed for only 11 working days - all the while kept under lock and key.*

Your claims to the contrary, the complaints and attacks from certain quarters had no bearing on any of our actions or decisions. We do not need to be, and were not, bullied into doing the right thing. On the basis of the prudent analysis that was performed, the collection would have been re-opened regardless of the comments that were made. The closing and prompt re-opening of the collection were actions of responsible stewardship, and the suggestion that the University wavered or caved in to pressure is, quite simply, baseless.


Mark Rosati
Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs
University of Illinois at Chicago

More or less what you would expect anyone to say, in that position. It's a bit funny that UIC would be contacted with concerns about this collection right at the time that a researcher (almost certain to be hostile to his subject) wants to use it. Doesn't mean any of this happened at UIC's instigation, but it does sound like someone was hoping to create a barrier to archival research. For shame.

* Stanley Kurtz, the National Review Online writer, has hinted that he suspects documents to disappear to be altered in this time. I have a hard time imagining that the librarians at UIC have enough stake in the matter to commit professional suicide that way.

1 comment:

James Hanley said...

And of course for a National Review writer to hint at it is actually career enhancing.