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Mellon Foundation Funds CLIR’s Digitizing Hidden Collections and Archives: Amplifying Unheard Voices

The award supports a shift in thematic focus to collections of historically marginalized people, has a shortened application period, and opens eligibility to Canadian nonprofit organizations

Contact: Kathlin Smith

February 17, 2021—The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) $4,415,000 to support the Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives regranting program. This renewal continues the program’s work with a new thematic focus and includes support for an external assessment. Since its establishment in 2015, the program has distributed over $24 million to digitize collections of rare and unique content in cultural memory institutions.

The forthcoming call, Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives: Amplifying Unheard Voices, will invite proposals to digitize materials that deepen public understanding of the histories of people of color and other communities and populations whose work, experiences, and perspectives have been insufficiently recognized or unattended. By funding a cohort of academic, independent, and community-based organizations to digitize now-unavailable or underutilized collections, CLIR will cultivate broad recognition of the value of creating access to resources that document historically marginalized people to the advancement of social justice.

“Working toward inclusivity and equity in digital spaces is fundamental to serving all humanity,” said CLIR board chair Buhle Mbambo-Thata. “We thank the Mellon Foundation for supporting this important new phase of the Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives program.”

“CLIR is grateful for the opportunity to help collecting organizations share rare and unique materials that can help tell the stories of communities, groups, and individuals whose perspectives have too often been ignored,” said CLIR president Charles Henry. “There remains a great deal to be done in the development of digital libraries that can support a complete understanding of human history, and our organization stands to learn a great deal from this program’s participants about the wealth of hidden resources held by organizations that are as-yet untapped.”

With its shift in scope, CLIR anticipates some adjustments to the program’s guidelines and operations. The details of these changes are still in development and will be finalized and posted to the program website on March 1, 2021, in coordination with the open call for initial applications; initial applications will be due April 30. CLIR will host an informational webinar for applicants on March 17 at 3:00 pm ET, and a Q&A webinar on March 30 at 3:00 pm ET. Advance registration is required. 

Changes of note include:

  •   a thematic focus on collections documenting the hidden histories of people who have previously been under-examined or unknown to broader audiences;
  •   the expansion of the program’s eligibility to include Canadian nonprofit institutions, which were previously allowed to participate only as supporting partners to U.S.-based institutions; and
  •   a shortened initial application to be reviewed prior to soliciting invitations for full proposals to inform decisions for a final proposal phase.

A review panel, comprising U.S. and Canadian scholars and practitioners from a range of disciplines, will evaluate proposals and select award recipients during a two-part review process. Funding decisions will be announced in April 2022.

CLIR will also undertake an external assessment to evaluate the program’s implementation and identify recommendations for increasing the clarity and transparency of program operations and support of applicants.

The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning.

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