Photograph by Alina Cruz

LC’s Watzek Library receives largest grant to date

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) recently awarded a $331,000 grant to Aubrey R. Watzek Library Special Collections and Archives. 

The grant is a part of the $1.4 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP), also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package, which is designed to support the recovery of humanities jobs after the pandemic. The NEH is administering a portion of the funds, approximately $87.8 million, to various cultural and educational institutions around the country. Watzek applied for the competitive grant last year. It is the largest grant the library has received to date. 

The grant will fund various initiatives, including three new exhibitions, the continuation of old projects and external community engagement through archives. Head of Watzek Library Special Collections and College Archivist Hannah Crummé is the project director. She explained that the grant will create new opportunities for students as well, including hiring more student workers.

“It’ll allow us to do more exhibitions, which are important because they give students who are interested in going to museum school experience working on curation.” Crummé said. “It lets us open our collections to more classes. So, although a lot of these are a part of the typical work of special collections, it’s great to do them on a larger scale to support the efforts of the college (and) to create opportunities for students.”

The grant will fund both new exhibits as well as pre-existing projects, such as the Kim Stafford archive. According to Crummé, processing archives is extensive work and the grant will make that process possible.

 “It will allow us to do projects beyond our normal scope, but a lot of what it supports is just projects that were already underway and that we might have pursued anyway,” Crummé said.

One new exhibit that the project will fund is the Vietnamese Portland collection. The multi-year project is documenting the history of Vietnamese Portlanders. It includes photos, oral history and interviews.

“The Vietnamese Portland collection is really important to start thinking more critically about how the city was actually developed,” Crummé said.  “Having this money will help us continue to create more resources so people who want to study the history of the city can get a more accurate and representative picture. It’s about creating an inclusive history that includes all the histories that we’ve had, and it’s about letting people see themselves represented in library collections.” 

Prior to receiving the funds, the Vietnamese Portland project was slated for completion. However, the grant will allow for more extensive research. Dustin Kelley, archive librarian, was manager for the project last year, and he is excited to see what the Vietnamese Portland project can accomplish with the grant. 

“We have about 120 oral history interviews, and we would really love to get closer to 200, which would be a rather robust collection,” Kelley said. “I feel like it is an important project that brings a lot of community pride. I think it is really a source of pride to Portland’s Vietnamese community.”

Beyond LC, the grant will support external initiatives, such as curriculum development on a K-12 level.

“We’re going to work with public schools to incorporate elements of that collection into K-12 curricula,” Crummé said. “So, we’ll be able to not only keep growing the collection, but to create new opportunities for youths that reach out from the college into Portland.”

The process of applying for the grant was not easy. In fact, Crummé was not planning on applying for it after having applied for two grants during COVID-19 and not receiving either.  However, she was encouraged by Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Suttmeier to pursue it. Mark Dahl, Watzek’s head librarian, also supported the grant writing process.

“We apply for a lot of grants in the library,” Crummé said. “I wanted to give up, but we didn’t give up and so we got it.” 

The grant is increasing the amount of opportunities for the archives department at LC. Liam Conley ’23, a student worker with archives, spoke on the importance of keeping archives and documenting history.

“I think it … empowers ordinary students, as well as professional researchers, to be able to access documents that otherwise would be stored in boxes away in some room.” Conley said.

Additional Reporting by Sage Braziel

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