Comparison Of Moorland Spingarn, Amistad, and Schomberg
One of the discussions we had in our staff meeting last week was that in terms of comparison, Moorland-Spingarn is more appropriately compared to other research centers like Amistad Research Center in New Orleans and the Schomburg in New York, rather than to other university special collections units at DC universities such as Georgetown, George Washington, Catholic, and American.
Amistad Research Center
The Amistad Research Center was established in 1966 at Fisk University. Its original purpose was to house the historical records of the American Missionary Society, a Protestant-based abolitionist group founded in 1846, in Albany, New York that came to the assistance of the Amistad Africans group. Amistad became an independent non-profit organization in 1969, and in 1970, relocated to Dillard University in New Orleans. In the early 1980’s it relocated to the United States Mint building in the French Quarter and in 1986 moved to the campus of Tulane University, where it has remained in operation since 1987.
Holdings include over 800 manuscript and archival collections (15 million documents that date back to the 1790’s and 250,000 photographs dating from 1860 to the present). Amistad has a non-circulating library that includes 30,000 books and pamphlets and over 2000 periodicals.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
The Schomburg Center is a research unit of the New York Public Library. It has evolved to its present state through a succession of NYPL entities and branches, but the collection has remained devoted to exhibits and collections featuring the African-American and African diasporan communities in the New York and to serving as an anchor for the Harlem community of New York City. Originally established in 1901 as the 135th St. branch under the Carnegie public library program, in 1925 it began operating as the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints, a division of the NYPL. In 1926, the library acquired Arthur Schomburg’s collection of 5000 books and artifacts, with Schomburg himself serving as its first curator. Upon Schomburg’s death in 1938, he was succeeded by Lawrence Reddick, and in 1940 the the division was renamed the Schomburg Collection of Negro History and Literature. The 135th Street branch became known as the Countee Cullen branch in the 1940’s, continuing to house the Schomburg collection. The Schomburg Corporation, a non profit organization that provides support to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, came into existence in 1971. The major mission of this Corporation includes but is not limited to assisting the Center’s financial efforts, the acquisition, housing and preservation of primary informational data that document the Black experience. In 1980, the Schomburg collection was relocated to the new Schomburg Center at 515 Lenox Avenue.
Holdings include collections numbering over ten million items, including 800 manuscript collections, over 185,000 bound volumes, 83,000 microforms, 400,000 photographic images, and 9,000 serials.
Moorland-Spingarn Research Center
Description: see previous email.
Holdings totaling more than 18,000 linear feet, including 650 manuscript collections, 150,000 graphic images, documentation of 400 music composers dating from the 18th century to the present, 700 transcripts and recordings. The Library consists of 175,000 books, periodicals and serials. University Archives include the official records of the University, including the administrative files of schools, colleges and departments, university publications, Howard theses and dissertations, as well as materials illustrating the contributions of Howard alumni to society. The Digital Production Center manages the Digital Howard online repository. The platform currently hosts the digital collections from the MSRC.
“The Museum emphasizes the visual documentation of Black history and culture. It exhibits the myriad resources of the Research Center’s many special collections and acquires artifacts useful for a broad interpretation of the Black experience.”
Moorland Spingarn History
- First re-organization: separation of Moorland-Spingarn (MSRC) from Founders’ Library in 1973.
The post WWII-demand for information on African countries, coupled with the explosion of interest in the African diaspora worldwide resulted in tremendous growth of U.S. African studies programs. Howard had been a national leader in this research, but found itself being overtaken by programs at better resourced institutions like UCLA, Stanford, Northwestern, and Boston U. In the late 60’s, similar increased demand for Black Studies programs fueled new and bigger programs, again, at better resourced universities. Howard was caught flat-footed with an acquisition budget of merely $10,000 and fifteen full-time positions (including seven librarians), inadequate facilities, no program for acquisitions related to research, and no program for future development.
Howard’s response in the early ’70’s was to re-organize Moorland-Spingarn into a full-fledged research center. Resources were provided for facilities upgrades, hiring additional staff, development of new documentation units, exhibition, research and publication programs, all aimed to recover the university’s leadership in research related to African Americans and the diaspora. By 1975, the research center had expanded to include University Archives, the manuscripts Division, Research and Support Division, the Black Press Archives, and Howard University Museum. Accompanying growth in the research center were new and expanding programs in History, African American Studies, and African Studies. Since 1973, Moorland Spingarn has not been included in University Libraries annual report.
Between 1960 and 1970 there was a 55% increase in dissertations on Africa nationwide, and from 1970 to 1974 the was an additional increase of 61%. Former director Michael Winston wrote in 1977, “On the basis of the trends of the last two decades it is reasonable to assume that: (1) the importance of Africa in world affairs will increase in the future; (2) research on Africa will increase in such fields as economics, political science, history, demography, urban studies, language and literature, and geography; (3) Howard University should be a leading center for such research; (4) substantial increases in research materials will be required to support such a program; and (5) the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center is the most logical place to develop the research resources for African Studies.” These trends continue now in 2020, only magnified.
- The library and the research center. What are the distinctions?
Again, from former director Michael Winston: “The Research Center is conceptually distinct from conventional university library units…. The Research Center has three distinctive goals. 1st, It is a critical resource for Howard University’s instructional and research programs in the humanities and social sciences. 2nd, it is a major center serving scholars and graduate students from other universities, as reflected in the large number of visiting researchers each year. 3rd, it provides the public with materials information, exhibits, and consultant services that are not otherwise available.
There is a legitimate fear that, having already lost our own budgeting and human resources operations to Founders, any additional losses through re-organization will seriously affect our status as a separate research center, especially when a separate research center is most needed.
- The significance of the Moorland-Spingarn Library Division.
The goals of the library division of Moorland-Spingarn are not the goals of Founders’ Library. Collection development policies are also different. Short range, the library division of MSRC seeks to maintain a research collection exhaustive in specified fields of research, i.e., African countries, the Caribbean, African-American history, literature, education, fine arts, communications and public affairs, social and economic conditions, and adequate for general reference, i.e., Afro-Brazilian history and culture, African archeology, blacks in antiquity, and the development of the natural sciences, law, medicine and architecture. Mid-range goals include dissemination of information about current development in research related to Africans and African-Americans by sponsorship of symposia, colloquia, lectures, and films and to create opportunities for the exchange of library professionals from Africa and the Caribbean. Long-range goals include exerting a major leadership role in documenting the black experience. We are suspicions that Moorland-Spingarn goals will get “swallowed up” and de-prioritized in any proposed union of joining of the two libraries. We presently have two librarians (MLIS) on the MSRC staff working as archivists. The library division has lacked a degreed librarian on its staff for many years and the collection shows it in ways that a trained librarian would notice. Our deficiencies in library management make their way to our end users and researchers.
(My personal note: I would frankly recommend hiring a librarian before hiring a grant-writer. Nobody here can figure out how a grant-writer would be employed full time. Maybe a grant-writing librarian? Again, the library is historically the core of the Moorland-Spingarn collection.)
- Final notes. Predictions are that 6 of 41 current and emerging megacities will exist on the African continent by 2030. Issues of demographics, economic development, urbanization, social and political theory, and access to healthcare in Africa and in the African diaspora will be constant subjects of inquiry and research in the decades to come. In short, the demand for the research output that is the special emphasis of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center shows no sign of abating in the near term. In fact, it shows significant indicators of constant and explosive increase. In terms of strategic planning, we don’t want to get caught flat-footed as an institution as we did in the 70’s.
The obvious difference is the absence of independent non-profit status (Amistad) or an independent non-profit corporation (Schomburg) for financial support at Moorland Spingarn. It is also interesting that both developed external financing options following a period of hardship and cash shortfall. There is also an obvious difference in scope, with Amistad and Schomburg both having a more organizational and local focus and Moorland-Spingarn having a more global and universal focus.
History and timeline
1867 – Howard University founded.
1873 – Howard University received the Tappan Anti-Slavery Collection as a gift.
1914 – Dr. Moorland announces gift of his extensive collection of holdings to Howard University under the auspices of the Moorland Foundation — A Library of Negro Life.
1930 – Dorothy Porter appointed as Curator of the Moorland Foundation.
1946 – Acquisition of the Arthur Spingarn Collection, the world’s best collection of rare books by Black authors.
1973 – President Cheek recommended to the Board of Trustees to change the status of Moorland Spingarn from a special collection in University Libraries System to a separate Research Center with separate budget and staff.
2020 – Moorland-Spingarn remains a separate research center, even though operational functions have been stripped away. The MSRC executive director is double hatted as director of University Libraries.
Issues (Culled from a 1977 document, Draft primary Support Plan, and a 1983 document, Master Plan.)