Campus News

Bowdoin Library Acquires Archives of Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance

Story posted December 12, 2000

The Library at Bowdoin College has acquired the archives and library of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance (MWPA), and will now serve as the repository for that Brunswick-based literary organization’s materials.

"Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance is delighted to be working with Bowdoin to preserve a little bit of Maine’s literary heritage," said MWPA Executive Director Sarah Cecil. "From their new, clean perch at the Bowdoin library, MWPA’s books and papers are a unique resource for anyone researching Maine literature."

Founded in 1975, MWPA is a non-profit organization of approximately 1,500 members worldwide that promotes the value of literature and the art of writing by building a community of writers, readers and publishers within Maine. In May 2000, the fate of their archives lay in the balance when Cecil, faced with moving headquarters to a much smaller space, wondered what was to become of nearly 25 years of accumulated history. Quickly running out of alternatives, and overcome with guilt, she started a recycle pile of ledgers, correspondence, and other papers.

Before anything had actually been recycled, former MWPA board member Nancy Heiser, who is also a former librarian at the Library of Congress, suggested contacting Bowdoin College to explore the College’s possible interest in becoming the depository of MWPA’s archives and library of Maine books. To MWPA’s great relief, the College eagerly accepted the offer. Before long, a team of Bowdoin students, along with Richard Lindemann, Bowdoin’s director of special collections and archives, arrived to pack up and move the materials.

Lindemann expressed the College’s delight with the newly forged partnership with MWPA, a partnership that supports the College’s ongoing mission to serve its community. "The MWPA has served as a crucial agent in building a community of writers, readers and publishers in Maine, and ensuring that their records are preserved and made available to researchers is an important service that the College is pleased to provide."

The initial transfer of MWPA materials comprised 30 cubic feet of office records and more than 1,800 volumes. Additions over time will ensure an unbroken record of the MWPA’s activities. Bowdoin has received some of the materials as a donation, while they will purchase the printed materials.

"These materials represent a significant resource for researchers interested in the contemporary Maine writing and publishing scenes, and they provide the historical record for documenting a Maine cultural treasure," said Lindemann.

The acquisition complements and fortifies a significant collection of books and manuscripts by Maine writers, printers and publishers already held by the College. As Lindemann points out, the community will benefit from having all of these materials, including the MWPA library and archives, conveniently available in one place, fully catalogued, and under the continuing care of professional staff.

The Bowdoin College Library Special Collections and Archives is larger than the typical college repository. With its 5,000 linear feet of manuscripts and archives, about 45,000 volumes, 500 historical maps, and 25,000 photographs, it is on the same level as a university-size collection and can easily support graduate research, says Lindemann. (Its size is due not only to Bowdoin’s long history, but to the fact that the founding collections remain intact, nothing has been lost through accidents or other circumstances, and it continues to grow as the papers of Bowdoin’s distinguished graduates come to the College.)

Bowdoin’s collections are wide-ranging and include substantial holdings of unique manuscript sources, rare published works, and historical records documenting the College. Among the printed works (the earliest dated 1478) are several notable collections, including early American, Maine and British imprints, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow collections, the Joshua Chamberlain Collection (which includes not only his papers, but his medal of honor and a Tiffany bracelet he designed and had made for his wife), the papers of R.P.T. Coffin, the works of Lawrence Sargent Hall (rights to the frequently anthologized "The Ledge," considered one of the greatest short stories ever written, are owned by the College), the exploration materials of Donald B. MacMillan, and the papers from George J. Mitchell’s senatorial career.

The MWPA materials that now join Bowdoin’s collection focus on "vernacular" writing, as opposed to "literary" writing, according to Lindemann. A good portion consists of travel guides, cookbooks, and coffee table books (often review copies sent to MWPA in the hopes of being written up in Maine In Print, its literary newsletter). Without archiving, the availability of these "cultural artifacts" would be scarce to non-existent over time. By being housed at Bowdoin, their unique cultural importance will be preserved and available forever.

Bowdoin also acquired about 30 cubic feet of newspapers which are currently being sorted, organized, and catalogued. Other materials, sent out to be catalogued, are now arriving back at the Library. In four to six months, the entire collection will be available to researchers.

At that time, people will be able to browse, pull books from the shelves, and enjoy them to their heart’s content. Bowdoin’s Special Collections and Archives has been designed with a "humanistic bent," Lindemann describes. As a browsing and research facility that people will visit and use, it is much more than "just a place to store stuff." (Circulation materials from the MWPA collection, however, will be limited to the College community.)

The partnership between Bowdoin College and MWPA is ongoing. "We are excited by the future prospects that our collaboration will bring," concludes Lindemann.

While the MWPA has ceased its book distribution and circulation, it is otherwise business as usual. It will continue to provide networking opportunities and technical information about the business of writing and publishing; sponsor its more than 80 writing and publishing workshops around the state; publish Maine In Print; host book signing events; sponsor yearly chapbook and high school writing competitions; and provide information for the public about Maine literature and writing.

For more information about Bowdoin College’s Special Collections and Archives visit http://library.bowdoin.edu/arch online. The Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance can be reached at (207) 729-6333.

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