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Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall Form Consortium, Launch Online Library Initiative

Mon, 11/07/2011

For Immediate Release
November 7, 2011                           

Media Contact:
Melissa Wood
(703) 799-5203
mwood@mountvernon.org

Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall Form Consortium, Launch Online Library Initiative

Mount Vernon, VA— In order to expand the reach and impact of their respective libraries, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens, and Gunston Hall, Home of George Mason, have joined forces to form the Founding Fathers Library Consortium. Participants in the Consortium share a mission to preserve materials that document the lives of America’s founding fathers. They also actively seek out ways to make those materials available to contemporary scholars and researchers.

"The Founding Fathers Library Consortium offers an extraordinary new resource to scholars of the American Revolutionary era," stated Gunston Hall Director, David L. Reese. "Gunston Hall was honored by the invitation from Mount Vernon to join in this endeavor."

In a significant first step, the two charter members of the Consortium launched a joint online catalog enabling scholars, researchers, and members of the public to explore materials from their combined libraries using a specialized search engine. Now accessible at http://librarycatalog.mountvernon.org, the user-friendly site offers researchers easy access to manuscripts, rare books, archives, modern reference books, and other valuable resources housed within the libraries and their specialized collections. 

Just as with many online library search engines, users may search by title, author, or subject. They may limit their search to a specific institution or collection, or they may search the libraries’ combined holdings for the broadest return. As the search populates, records appear with links to other sources, including scanned historic photographs and primary source materials.

“The collections in the participating libraries are narrow in scope, but broad in formats. Our users frequently need to search our collections in a way that is different from users of traditional libraries. This project integrates our manuscripts, modern books, information files, archives, rare books, and serial publications (including auction sales catalogs) into one searchable catalog. The ability to easily link directly to our digital asset management system and provide visuals of our special collections--images, manuscripts, staff research, and publications of the respective participants--is an exciting feature that we are just beginning to explore,” said Joan Stahl, Head Librarian, George Washington’s Estate, Museum & Gardens.

By pooling their resources, Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall have also created a platform through which other relevant institutions may also someday share their library collections online. The library at Stratford Hall Plantation, home to Declaration of Independence signers Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee, is currently converting its records so that they will also be searchable through this common portal. It is expected to join the Consortium in the near future.

“Small libraries sometimes get overlooked by the research community. They have resources that can be very useful, but they just don’t always have the staff and the money to put them in a place where people can find them,” added Stahl. “Sometimes you only have one shot to let researchers know what you have. If they find it elsewhere, they'll go elsewhere.”

Recognizing the need to stay relevant and accessible to a modern generation of computer-savvy researchers, Mount Vernon began the significant task of migrating more than 250 years’ worth of documents, books, and manuscripts to a digital environment in 2008. Gunston Hall, too, followed a similar path, exploring different software systems, data storage methods, and online catalogs at the same time.

The collaboration also extended “behind the scenes,” as library staff at both institutions partnered with outside vendors to get the job done.  Marcive, Inc. of San Antonio, TX converted the paper card catalogs and manual finding aids of the participating libraries into electronic records. Bethesda, MD-based Progressive Technology Federal Systems, Inc. (PTFS) supports and hosts the online catalog, which uses LibLime version of Koha, a type of open-source software.

Mount Vernon’s effort to strengthen its reputation as a center for research comes as progress continues on the institution’s latest initiative, the construction of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. For the first time ever, Mount Vernon’s vast collection of George Washington’s books, manuscripts and archival materials will be organized, conserved and made available in the National Library.  In addition to safeguarding Washington’s books and manuscripts, the 45,000-square-foot National Library will serve as a scholarly retreat, create educational outreach programs on Washington, and provide seminars and training programs with a special focus on Washington’s leadership. Construction began in fall 2011 and is expected to be completed in 2013.

For more information on Mount Vernon’s library and research resources, visit librarycatalog.mountvernon.org.

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Events, programs, and activities are subject to change.

Public Information: 703-780-2000; 703-799-8697 (TDD); www.MountVernon.org

Since 1860, over 80 million visitors have made George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens the most popular historic home in America.  Through thought-provoking tours, entertaining events, and stimulating educational programs on the Estate and in classrooms across the nation, Mount Vernon strives to preserve George Washington’s place in history as “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen.”  Mount Vernon is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, America’s oldest national preservation organization, founded in 1853.  A picturesque drive to the southern end of the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway, Mount Vernon is located just 16 miles from the nation’s capital. 

Hours of operation: April-August, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; March, September, October, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; November – February, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Regular admission rates: adults, $15.00; senior citizens, $14.00; children age 6-11, when accompanied by an adult, $7.00; and children under age 5, FREE.  Admission fees, restaurant and retail proceeds, along with private donations, support the operation and restoration of Mount Vernon.