Almost since the dawn of human civilization, human beings have collected objects—artifacts of their own making, or objects from the natural world. Humans have collected objects for their aesthetic value; as memories of people and events past and present; as records of their philosophical, religious, scientific, and literary achievements; and to illustrate their understanding of the natural world and universe. Today, these objects also include digital objects that were created in a digital form or are digital copies made for purposes of dissemination or preservation.
All great civilizations have celebrated collections that reflect human cultural or scientific achievement. Think of the Uffizi in Florence, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, the British Library in London, and the HathiTrust Digital Library. And some collections chronicle some of the most lamentable episodes in human history. Think of the Yad Vashem museum of the holocaust in Jerusalem, and the account of slavery in the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. The list of great collections is all but endless, as is their diversity.
Great universities are known for their great collections as well. University collections are vital tools for scholars and scientists from nearly all disciplines. They inspire students and are vital parts of their learning and understanding. And they draw the people from beyond the university to view and study them. They have been accumulated, in some cases, for centuries, and can contain unique and irreplaceable material of enormous value. Though not always thought of in these terms, they can be among an institution's most valuable resources.
Indiana University is home to some very well-known and heavily used collections—the main ones being the Herman B Wells Library and the other campus libraries, the Lilly Library of Rare Books, the Eskenazi Museum of Art, and the Kinsey Collection. To this, more recently has been added the digitized collections of hundreds of thousands of rare and scholarly valuable video and audio items, to which will soon be added the digitized collections of IU’s superb film collections totaling in the tens of thousands of films. This will both preserve this material and make it available this material to scholars worldwide. All this has been made possible by IU’s bold and visionary Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, which I first announced in my 6th State of the University Address in October 2013.
But IU has many more collections of material objects—a fact that is not widely known. IU possesses upwards of 50 material objects collections across all campuses, though most are on the Bloomington campus. They serve research, scholarly, teaching, public outreach, and historic preservation missions for the university and the broader community. These collections range in size, content, and use. Some have not been adequately inventoried, but it is estimated that together they contain around 30 million individual material objects, if we include books.
Historically, most of these collections have operated within varying departments or administrative units on each of IU’s campuses, with little to no attention from the university and with limited university-wide policies governing them. As a result, and through no fault of those who oversee and curate them, a number of these collections are under-developed, under-appreciated, under-utilized, and in need of more professional curation and maintenance.
Together, these lesser-known collections constitute a resource of enormous potential scholarly, educational, and cultural importance for the IU community. They could become even more important to IU’s research and education mission, opening up numerous new opportunities for study, scholarship, and exhibitions.
So, I am announcing today that I am charging the Office of the Vice President for Research with developing a plan, in consultation with campus academic leadership, to ensure that all the university’s collections are properly housed, maintained, utilized, and curated, as well as ensuring that these very important and valuable assets become better known, more fully utilized in IU’s research and teaching missions, and more fully appreciated by the IU community and the general public. Our goal will be to make major progress in achieving this by the Bicentennial.
Our overall vision for IU’s collections, then, is that they have a clear and coherent focus; that their mission be consistent with at least one aspect of the university’s mission; that they be professionally managed, curated, and catalogued; that they, in general, be publicly and broadly accessible; that they are appropriately maintained and preserved; and that they be guided by robust accession and deaccession policies.
Oversight for this process will be the responsibility of a new senior position in the Office of the Vice President for Research, who will report to the vice president and work closely with campus academic leadership, the vice president for information technology and CIO, and the dean of university libraries. The search for this person will commence immediately. The person in this position will also convene and chair a Research and Teaching Collections Council, with membership to be announced soon.
In order to provide greater visibility and accessibility for all the university’s collections, I am also directing the Office of the Vice President for Research to begin immediate development of a unified website that collects together all the websites and other material for each of the individual university collections. This would be, as it were, "a collection of collections." This should be operational by the end of this semester.
And on the Bloomington campus, the provost, the vice president for research and I will initiate a review of the status and future of the natural history and sciences collections, and of the anthropology and human sciences collections, to consider their missions and how they might be better aligned together. More details will be announced soon.
Finally, on the recommendation of the IU Bicentennial Steering Committee and others—as a special Bicentennial project, we are exploring the feasibility of developing a Museum of Indiana University. Located on the Bloomington campus, such a museum would chronicle and showcase Indiana University’s history. It would draw from the existing archival holdings of papers, objects, and collections from nearly 200 years of IU’s history. The museum would also collaborate with other museums and galleries on all IU campuses to feature rotating exhibitions, and to serve as an informational hub for IU and a prime center for visitors, students, parents, and new members of the IU community.