The Center for Research Libraries: An Overview
This article provides an overview of the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) highlighting its origins, founding members, mission, and numerous milestone events. It also includes summaries of CRLs current resources, programs, and services; describes the scope of the designated geographic areas included in CRLs collection efforts; member and non-member access to materials; and underscores CRLs efforts to expand scholarly cooperation and access through partnerships and initiatives. For regions that have been featured as themes in Focus, CRLs quarterly newsletter, this article includes links to the newsletter articles and the collection content presented in them.
History of the Organization
In March 1949, 10 major U.S. universities entered into a formal agreement establishing the Midwest Inter-Library Corporation (MILC), the forerunner of todays Center for Research Libraries. The founding institutions were the University of Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Illinois, the State University of Iowa, Indiana University, the University of Kansas, Michigan State College, the University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, and Purdue University.
The purposes of the Center, as stated in its articles of incorporation, were:
To establish and maintain an educational, literary, scientific, charitable and research interlibrary center; to provide and promote cooperative, auxiliary services for one or more non-profit educational, charitable and scientific institutions; to establish, conduct and maintain a place or places for the deposit, storage, care, delivery and exchange of books ... and other articles containing written, printed, or recorded matter ... .
The officers of MILC established the cooperative interlibrary center with an initial grant of US$750,000 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. In July 1949 Ralph T. Esterquest, assistant director of the University of Denver Library, was appointed the Centers first director. The operations of the center were supported by assessments of each of the member universities, each universitys assessment being indexed to its library purchasing budget and the current size of its Ph.D. program.
Figure 1: A view of the original building of the Midwest Inter-Library Corporation on Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago.
Source: Center for Research Libraries.
Initially the Centers chief activity was accepting and processing deposits of monographs, journals, and other materials that were transferred to it by member universities. The present collection of more than 4.5 million items originated with deposits of research materials from the founding members, which were supplemented over the decades by a long-term acquisitions policy designed to maintain the strengths of the original collection areas. Early deposits consisted of a variety of materials, most of which were considered to have outlived their original usefulness by their original owners, but were still thought worth retaining for historiographic purposes. Early deposits included college textbooks and catalogs, dissertations, and state documents. Materials also included scientific monographs and the proceedings of American and European scientific and learned societies; medical handbooks and texts that no longer reflected current practice; a large number of political and ideological books and newspapers issued in the fascist period between the two World Wars; and, non-current but voluminous industrial and trade journals.
In addition to accepting deposits, the Center also began to subscribe to U.S. and foreign newspaper titles not being acquired by its members, thus establishing a collection that is one of its enduring strengths. In 1952 the Center expanded on this cooperative acquisitions program by beginning to actively acquire state government and legal documents from various U.S. jurisdictions. The following year the Center assumed responsibility for subscriptions to approximately 300 serials, releasing member libraries from the cost of supporting infrequently used titles, and began to systematically acquire documents issued by governments outside the United States, with priority given to governments in the Middle East and South Asia. CRL subsequently established additional collections, typically ones in which materials tended to be costly, such as microform collections; required critical language skills to catalog, such as Middle Eastern and South Asian materials; or were difficult to obtain, such as dissertations from non-U.S. universities and political ephemera from developing regions.
Figure 2: Another view of the Midwest Inter-Library Corporation on Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago.
Source: Center for Research Libraries.
During the early 1960s, the Midwest Inter-Library Centers focus changed from a regional, Midwestern organization to one of national scope. Under director Gordon Williams leadership, the Center became the locus of efforts begun by national organizations, such as the Foreign Newspapers (microfilming) Project of the Association of Research Libraries, and the National Science Foundations Scientific Journals Center. The Center then opened its membership to universities outside the Midwest. By 1971 its membership had grown from the original ten to 66 universities.
CRL as a Global Resources Network
Since 1949 CRL has evolved into a consortium that today numbers more than 200 members. These are chiefly U.S. and Canadian universities and colleges that emphasize original research in their liberal arts, sciences and social science faculty and curriculum. Members range from Ivy League schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton, to four-year liberal arts colleges like Oberlin and Reed. One of the Centers newest members is the University of Hong Kong.
For the twenty-first century its mission is stated broadly: to support advanced research in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences by ensuring the survival and availability of knowledge resources critical to those disciplines. Guided by members interests, CRL not only serves as a depository, but continues to identify, preserve, and develop collections of major importance to scholars and researchers. Under the Global Resources Network program CRL serves as the licensing agent for specialized foreign language electronic resources like the Bibliographie der deutschen Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft. It also provides administrative and communications support to make possible electronic resources like the Latin American Open Archives Project based at the University of Texass Latin American Network Information Center (LANIC), online at http://lanic.utexas.edu/project/laoap/.
CRL Resources Today
Original scholarly research and the creation of new knowledge depend upon a rich and diverse array of source materials. Today the Center for Research Libraries preserves and makes available to researchers a wide range of information resources and primary materials. Many of these materials are hard to obtain and, as a result, are not commonly held, even by the largest university research libraries.
CRLs current holdings of 4.5 million items are global in scope, in hundreds of languages, and occupy 49 miles of shelf space. The collections include:
- More than 16,000 newspaper titles, dating from the late 1600s through the present, with concentration on newspapers published by U.S. ethnic communities and news from developing regions;
- Over 330,000 books, ranging from sixteenth century English religious tracts to catalogs of early modern art exhibitions in Mexico;
- Vast published holdings and archives preserved by Center-based area studies cooperatives, ranging from the archives of the French colonial government of Senegal to the files of Cambodias Khmer Rouge;
- More than 800,000 dissertations from universities in the U.K., Europe, and Latin America, including unique copies of important studies by nineteenth century German medievalists.
CRL holdings include items of relevance to every region: proceedings of Western European medical societies; agricultural journals from India and Pakistan; presidential messages from Brazil; archives from French colonial Senegal; technical publications of the Russian Academy of Science; and, reproductions of Tibetan sacred texts. The following collection highlights illustrate the range and diversity of CRL holdings. Many of the geographical regions cited below have been the theme for an issue of Focus, CRLs quarterly online newsletter, which can be accessed at http://www.crl.edu/focus/toc.asp.
CRLs extensive U.S. holdings offer a wealth of information and detail for historians of American politics, commerce, industry, science, culture, and daily life. These activities are chronicled in the pages of major American newspapers like the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times, and in the ethnic-based publications in several CRL special collections.
Figure 3: The Center for Research Libraries on Kenwood Avenue in Chicago.
Source: Center for Research Libraries.
The U.S. Ethnic Press Collection includes newspapers produced by or for ethnic communities from the 1700s through the present day. The papers mirror the lives, values, and concerns of Chinese- and Polish-Americans in nineteenth century Chicago, African-Americans along the Atlantic seaboard, and recently established communities from Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
CRL trade and scientific journal holdings encompass the vast literature of specialized journals and bulletins spawned by American enterprise. These journals offer researchers detailed views of the workings of trades and industries like construction, tobacco, textile manufacture, transportation, and even retail marketing. Similarly, the journals of scientific and professional societies and associations chronicle the progress of discovery and learning in their respective fields.
Politics, economics, technology, and culture in modern Europe are documented in rich detail in the Centers newspapers, pamphlets, broadsides, archives, and journal holdings. Center holdings range from early Protestant religious pamphlets to chronicles of the Atlantic slave trade in the British Parliamentary Papers; British, French, and German journals of photography and fine arts to the political journals and pamphlets of the 1848 Revolution in France.
The Center holds newspapers, journals, government documents, and archives from every Sub-Saharan country, dating from the early nineteenth century government archives of French colonial Senegal to microforms of Yales extensive Immanuel Wallerstein collection of political ephemera of twentieth century African Libertarian movements. Extensive documentation on South African independence is available in the invaluable Carter-Karis Collection (1920-1965) and Karis-Gerhart Collection (1964-1990). See Focus Summer 2004 at http://www.crl.edu/FOCUS/TOC.asp?id=9.
The hundreds of major newspapers published in South and Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean and held by CRL provide a wealth of historical detail on politics, economy, and everyday life from colonial times to the present. CRL also holds diplomatic correspondence and reports between U.S. and British foreign offices and their diplomatic missions in Mexico and Central America. See Focus Winter 2005-06 at http://www.crl.edu/focus/TOC.asp?id=34.
CRL holds long runs of major newspapers published in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and other Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. Other perspectives on Middle Eastern and Central Asian affairs are provided by dissertations and new scholarship produced at Western universities on economic development and the politics in the Middle East; in the U.S. State Department diplomatic papers pertaining to Turkey, Iran, and other countries; and, in microform of the Victoria and Albert Museums Searight Collection of European artists portrayals of the Muslim world. See Focus Spring 2004 at http://www.crl.edu/FOCUS/TOC.asp?id=10.
CRL has been particularly successful in acquiring, microfilming, and/or digitizing newspapers, scientific journals, and hard-to-obtain state government documents from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the other countries of South Asia. CRL also holds major collections of nineteenth century literature in Hindi, Urdu, and other national languages of the region, and is often the only source for materials not generally acquired or cataloged by university libraries. See Focus Spring 2005 at http://www.crl.edu/FOCUS/TOC.asp?id=3.
The Center has particularly strong holdings in Indonesian and Vietnamese newspapers, and in serials and publications produced in colonial and modern Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Archives include captured documents from the Vietnamese National Libertarian Front and of the Peoples Revolutionary Party (Viet Cong); as well as the U.S. national security files on Vietnam from Lyndon B. Johnsons administration (1963-1969). See Focus Fall 2005 at http://www.crl.edu/FOCUS/TOC.asp?id=1.
CRL materials for the study of China, Tibet, Japan, and Korea include a wide range of in-country and foreign-produced sources. Typical holdings range from the Hunter Collection of Chinese documents, picture books, and other propaganda issued during the early years of the Peoples Republic of China to foundation documents and records of the Tokugawa feudal government in Japan and the archives of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1868-1945). Other East Asia holdings provide a window into East-West relations and views of Asian societies through the eyes of Western diplomats and missionaries.
Russia and Eastern Europe
The presses of Eastern Europe and Soviet-bloc countries provided important channels of political communication in the region. From those regions CRL has gathered newspapers and magazines published by the right-wing extremist factions and parties that arose in Russia and the former Soviet republics in the 1980s and 1990s. CRL also holds many archives of publications and documents pertaining to imperial and Soviet Russia, including some of the earliest publications of the Russian Academy of Sciences; the British diplomatic blue book series on the Russian Empire from the late 1800s; and, U.S. State Department diplomatic correspondence.
Access to CRLs Collections Member Access
The Centers online catalog (at http://www.crl.edu/catalog/index.htm) contains more than one million bibliographic records, and grows daily. All of the Centers cataloging is uploaded into the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) database, which enables users to access CRL records from more than 50,000 libraries in 84 countries. The Center adds approximately 75,000 new records to its catalog each year.
Figure 4: Another view of the Center for Research Libraries on Kenwood Avenue in Chicago.
Source: Center for Research Libraries.
CRL print and microfilm materials are obtained by users primarily through member libraries interlibrary loan services. Some member libraries support direct patron requesting of CRL materials through local, regional, or other online catalogs. The Center also operates a small reading room at its Chicago facility, which may be used by advance appointment. CRL provides support to patrons from member institutions in identifying materials that may be of interest, and can advise users unsure of specific title information.
Access to CRLs Collections Non-Member Access
CRL resources are available to non-member institutions and individuals on a cost recovery basis. To access CRL materials, non-members must prepay or establish a payment account with CRLs Access Services department (email@example.com). Prospective users can then deposit funds in the account to cover loans and document delivery, after which transactions can be fulfilled.
Increasingly CRL collections and related resources are directly available to researchers electronically. In 2005 CRLs online collections included over one million pages. These included resources as varied as edicts and presidential messages from colonial Brazil, newspapers from the French Revolution of 1848, nineteenth century photographs of Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, and political education pamphlets from the early years of the Peoples Republic of China. The same year CRL also supplied over 100,000 pages of journal article and book chapter texts to users through electronic document delivery. Through these activities CRL extends the capabilities of North American colleges and universities to support original humanities, science, and social sciences scholarship.
About the Author
Bernard F. Reilly is President of the Center for Research Libraries.
Email: reilly [at] crl [dot] edu
© 2007 Bernard F. Reilly.
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