UM System turns over management of Western Historical Manuscript Collection

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 | 8:30 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — University of Missouri System officials announced Wednesday that they will hand over management of a manuscript collection to the State Historical Society of Missouri.   

The transfer is expected to help the university cut costs by allowing for better allocation of resources, combining services and reducing the collection’s current $1 million annual budget.

The Western Historical Manuscript Collection was created in 1943 to collect and preserve documents containing information about Missouri, including political and military records, history, research on the arts, social movements and other data.

In 1963, the UM System combined its resources with those of the State Historical Society of Missouri, which had been acquiring manuscripts since 1900. The collection was co-managed by the two organizations until now.

The State Historical Society is a research facility dedicated to the study of Missouri's heritage. It was founded in 1898 by the Missouri Press Association.

"The system's continuing review of organization alignment with strategic priorities and core mission identified this historical document collection as a better direct fit with the expertise and focus of the State Historical Society," Steve Graham, senior associate vice president of academic affairs for the UM System, said in a release.

The oldest manuscripts in the collection date back to the late 18th century, said John Konzal, manuscript specialist at the Historical Society. The collection contains not only manuscripts, but also photographs, microfilm, audio and videocassettes.

“We have Civil War materials, information about mining companies, a steamboat collection, several collections about railroads,” Konzal said. “There’s also family genealogy documents, congressional papers. There’s so many different things — the collection is very eclectic.”

Konzal said many different people utilize the materials, including students conducting research and people trying to track down their family history.

“We want the materials to be open to everyone,” Konzal said.

Parts of the collection are currently housed at the four branches of the UM System — Columbia, St. Louis, Rolla and Kansas City. Gary Kremer, executive director of the State Historical Society and director of the Western Historical Manuscript Collection, said he expects the collections will remain at their current university locations after the management transfer.

University officials are negotiating budget reductions for the collection. Kremer said he is unsure of what changes will occur because of the transfer. He said those changes depend on how much money is available.

“It’s the big question right now,” Kremer said.

Due to multiple previous budget cuts and constraints, the majority of the current budget is used to pay salaries. If the collection faces a large budget reduction, positions could be cut.

The transfer is expected to take about two months, but Kremer said that time frame could change based on when the budget is released. Kremer said he hopes the decision will be made within the next several weeks.

“The challenge will be to adjust the level of service to the amount of money available,” he said.

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