URI digitizes hundreds of films in archive of political papers of late Senator Pell

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 16, 2013 – Hundreds of 16-millimeter films, videotapes, reel-to-reel tapes and audio recordings in the Senator Claiborne Pell Papers at the University of Rhode Island’s Robert L. Carothers Library and Learning Commons have recently been digitized, making it as simple as a click of a computer mouse to view hours of videos of the late United States senator with local, national and international leaders.

The last step in the process of preserving the digital media, the conversion of 170 16-millimeter films, was completed this month thanks to a gift from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation.

Senator Pell made an initial gift of $75,000 to URI to begin the processing and preservation of his senatorial papers, and the Pell family later made a $200,000 challenge grant to continue the work. Additional private donations have been received, including a $50,000 anonymous gift. About $40,000 in donations is being sought to complete the project. Work is on schedule to archive all of Senator Pell’s work, but the project will not be completed for a few years.

Pell began transferring his papers to URI in 1974, early in his senate career, making periodic accessions every few years as they were accumulated. Originally on loan, the materials were donated to the University in 2012. Included in the archive are original works of legislation he authored, correspondence with constituents and colleagues, reports, speeches, invitations, photographs and many other documents, including family papers dating back more than 100 years. The entire collection totals approximately 2,500 linear feet of files.

“Digitizing the films was a critical step to preserving them because film erodes over time and they could become unviewable,” said Mark Dionne, URI’s political papers archivist. “We have a lot of unique materials in the collection, and if they erode we would lose a lot of that history.”

Dionne said that numerous people view the archive every year, including students of politics and foreign policy, lawyers working on national legal cases, those interested in human rights in the Soviet Union or the founding of the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, among many others. Recent users have come from Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico and all across the United States.

G. Wayne Miller, an author, filmmaker and Providence Journal staff writer who recently published the definitive biography of Pell, said he would not have been able to write the book, An Uncommon Man: The Life and Times of Senator Claiborne Pell, without access to the archive.

“The archives are a treasure trove to anyone with an interest in the late senator’s many causes, from education to foreign policy, and many topics in between,” he said. “More than that, it is a vital, rich and incredibly detailed record of the national story from before Claiborne was born until he left the Senate in 1997, after six terms.”

The Pell archive is the largest archive of political papers maintained at the URI library. The University also stores the papers of former Senator John Chafee, former governors William Vanderbilt, Frank Licht, Philip Noel, J. Joseph Garrahy, Edward DiPrete, Bruce Sundlun and Lincoln Almond, as well as those of former Representatives Claudine Schneider and Robert Weygand and the senatorial papers of Governor Lincoln Chafee, among others.

To view an index of the Pell Papers, visit http://www.uri.edu/library/special_collections/political_papers/pell/senator_pell_papers2.htm.

Arrangements can be made to view the papers by contacting Dionne at mjdionne@uri.edu or 401-874-4619.

Those wishing to donate funds to support the archive may contact the URI Foundation at 401-874-7900.