Housed in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Rare Book and Special Collections Library, The Carl Sandburg Collection is the most comprehensive collection of Sandburg’s manuscripts, letters, books, and photographs. Acquired from the eminent American poet and author in 1956 and formally deeded to the university by Lilian Steichen Sandburg after Sandburg’s death in 1967, the collection grows as the author’s daughters donate additional items. Stored in a secure, climate-controlled facility, the collection serves students and scholars alike.
The University of Illinois has been committed to preserving and providing access to this uniquely American collection; yet, the resources to properly care for such an important resource were unattainable within normal funding strictures. The primary threat to the roughly 300,000 leaves of Sandburg’s literary manuscripts, galley proofs, correspondence, and associated papers is their acidic content. A secondary threat to the collection centers on issues of media obsolescence and the deterioration of magnetic and photographic media. This portion of the collection consists of more than 3,000 photographs, 613 recordings, and 12 motion pictures. While these items constitute a small portion of the collection, they provide the contemporary researcher with insight into Carl Sandburg as he was in life, both through his persona when reading prepared materials and through the more candid moments captured in the snapshots and included within his photograph collection.
In December 2004, the University Library received a grant from the Save America’s Treasures program that will permit the Library to treat the acidic, non-brittle manuscripts (roughly 85%) and the monographs using a combination of mass deacidification (manuscripts and bound volumes), item-level deacidification (some manuscripts), preservation photocopying (all clippings), encapsulation (annotated clippings and exceedingly brittle manuscripts), and conservation treatments (damaged monographs). Additionally, copy negatives of the photographs will be produced, and digital service copies of the prints will be posted online to minimize handling and preserve originals. Unique audio-visual materials and those in the public domain will be reformatted digitally and in analog form. To ensure the availability of reformatted AV materials despite media and equipment obsolescence, digital copies will be posted online. All AV materials will be re-housed in protective enclosures appropriate to their value as unique examples of Americana.
With the vast majority of Sandburg’s books and manuscripts printed on acidic ground wood papers and his audio-visual materials suffering from media obsolescence and deterioration, the collection of this great American author, biographer, and poet faced significant threats to its long-term availability and functionality as a research tool that would have remained uncorrected without the significant assistance of the federal government. (Courtesy: Tom Teper.)