Library acquires vast collection of textile industry materials

Woman at spinning machine
Cornell University Library
A worker at a spinning machine in 1920 at Palmer Mill, in Palmer, Mass.

A massive collection documenting the U.S. textile industry is set to become one of Cornell University Library’s largest acquisitions ever.

The collection, from the Osborne Library at the recently closed American Textile History Museum (ATHM), is expected to fill eight or nine tractor-trailers when it arrives in Ithaca this spring. It comprises around 90,000 books, periodicals, manuscript collections, photographs, textile sample books, tintypes, glass plate negatives and trade catalogs that tell the story of the textile industry in New England and across the country.

The textile collections will complement textile union collections in the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, including the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union archives. Materials related to textile production, science and agriculture will become part of Mann Library; rare items will become part of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC).

“The American Textile History Museum and Cornell University Library share core collection strengths in fiber science, apparel design and labor history,” said Curtis Lyons, the Harriet Morel Oxman Director of the Hospitality, Labor and Management Library. “Bringing these collections together will strengthen these areas, while also expanding the library’s traditional collecting areas to include business history, industry studies and related topics. The resulting collection will serve diverse researchers in all of these areas, from Cornell University faculty and students to researchers from across the globe.”

The ATHM, in Lowell, Massachusetts, was an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. Due to financial deficit, the ATHM board of trustees voted in May 2016 to seek approval from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and Supreme Judicial Court to close permanently. As a result, the museum’s collections committee and board of trustees have been working to identify long-term stewards of the museum’s collections.

“As we engage in this painstaking process to transfer our collections, we are seeking organizations of good reputation that can ensure the greatest continuing public access and benefit,” said Todd Smith, ATHM interim executive director. “As one of this country’s outstanding university library systems, Cornell University Library fully meets these criteria, and we are confident they will best ensure long-term preservation and continuation of this component of ATHM’s mission.”

The physical transfer of the Osborne Library material is scheduled for April. Though the items will become part of the collections of Mann, Kheel and RMC, most will be housed at the Library Annex.

Melanie Lefkowitz is a writer for Cornell University Library.

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