When Andrew Carnegie began funding the construction of 2,500 libraries worldwide, he could not have predicted that countless researchers would visit and e-mail Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library in search of the founding documents for various libraries, making it one of the most popular requests.

Fulfilling those requests just became a lot easier with the debut of the Carnegie Corporation of New York Digital Archive. With records dating back to 1883, the new online portal exploring Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic legacy not only improves upon deteriorating microfilm and microfiche but also offers 21st-century features such as an interactive map connecting a library grant to a specific geographic location as far afield as Joplin, Missouri, or Cape Town, South Africa.

The new web portal was funded by a $2.2 million grant to Columbia University Libraries (CUL) from Carnegie Corporation of New York, the philanthropic foundation that Mr. Carnegie established in 1911 for the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.

The portal is free of charge and provides a treasure of primary resources for scholars and anyone else interested in Andrew Carnegie, the evolution of the Corporation, and the important role of philanthropy in 20th-century America. It includes more than 300,000 images of documents such as grant files, correspondence, ledgers, and annual reports, as well as 195 oral histories conducted from 1966 to 2013. Interviewees include former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and current Corporation president Vartan Gregorian; topics range from the Corporation’s support of the PBS children’s program Sesame Street to anti-apartheid efforts in South Africa as described by human rights leader Desmond Tutu.

“In 1952, Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Board Chairman, Russell Leffingwell, coined the term ‘glass pockets’ at a congressional hearing, describing the Corporation’s long-held practice of transparency. We continue in that tradition by sharing our grantmaking archives through this new online portal,” said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York and past president of The New York Public Library. “History is our greatest teacher. These archives show us how wealth can be used to benefit society. I am delighted that they are now easily accessible to the public. We are grateful to our grantee, Columbia University Libraries (CUL), for its pioneering work in helping us achieve this goal.”  

The three-year project also helped Columbia build its capacity and contribute to the research library community through the development of new technologies, policies that address rights management for digital objects, and software that is standards-based and shareable among institutions. For example, under the grant, CUL created an open-source tool that allows users to navigate audio and video recordings of oral histories alongside transcripts that are synchronized and embedded with a time code, making the materials much easier to search.

"The innovative tools developed with the grant have ensured that these collections are more accessible, open, and sustainable for today's scholars and for future generations,” said Sean Quimby, director of Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library. “As our partnership with Carnegie Corporation of New York enters its 30th year, Columbia will continue to find new ways to preserve its history and share to our findings with the broader research community." 

Carnegie Corporation of New York is one of several philanthropic foundations that are supporting extensive archives that are available online. This project will continue into 2020 and represents only a portion of the voluminous paper records and digital assets archived at Columbia University, which will gradually become available to the public. The archival collections of three other Carnegie institutions also reside at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library: Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

About Columbia University Libraries
CUL is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 13 million volumes, over 160,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audiovisual materials. The Libraries employ more than 400 professional and support staff and host over 4.7 million visitors each year. The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: library.columbia.edu.

Related articles:
Virtual Treasures” about the Afghanistan Project, a digitization initiative produced by the Library of Congress with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Baruch College Launches First Digital Portal To Archives From The Institute Of Public Administration” about the digitization of records from New York City’s good government movement.  

Can Libraries Save America?” by Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York, on the transformative role of libraries. 


The newly digitized collection includes a 1901 volume with records of donations made by Andrew Carnegie and later by Carnegie Corporation of New York to colleges and universities for their endowments, libraries, scholarships, new buildings, programs and research.