Mellon Foundation grant will fund new directions for the Social Welfare History Project

July 17, 2023

Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries has been awarded a $65,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to fund new directions for the Social Welfare History Project that will deepen its scholarship and connections to libraries’ Special Collections and Archives materials. Specifically, the one-year project will include processing a “hidden” collection, the Jean Lokerson papers, focused on policy and program development for people with learning disabilities. Content from these materials will be contextualized and showcased as part of the Social Welfare History Project. 

The Mellon Foundation grant allows the project to expand understanding of social justice and human health equity. “We are delighted with the prestige of support from the Mellon Foundation and recognition of the value of this planning grant project as contributing to the cultural and scholarly record,” said Irene Herold, dean of libraries and university librarian. “We are proud of our selection for this award and how it further reflects our dedication to the values of embracing diversity and inclusion to foster excellence through supported and funded work.” 

The grant, one of only three VCU has received from the Mellon Foundation, is an institutional achievement for VCU and a first for VCU Libraries. Expanding public knowledge is key to the Mellon Foundation’s vision. According to its website: “A full and rich cultural and scholarly record is essential to understanding who we are. How we access and interact with books, archives, technology, and other artifacts is one of Mellon’s core interests as a grantmaker. By increasing equitable access to resources, and ensuring knowledge production and preservation are just, we can help foster a more informed, heterogeneous, and critically engaged society.” 

The Social Welfare History Project was launched in 2010 by John E. Hansan, Ph.D., (1930 – 2019) who researched and gathered articles from social work and social welfare scholars. Seeking to sustain the project, Hansan invited VCU Libraries to assume responsibility for the site. In 2016, VCU Libraries began transforming the site from an individual digital research project. VCU Libraries has made significant progress over the past seven years to position it as a sustainable institutional resource. The SWHP has considerable global reach with more than 3,000 visits daily (1.2 million per year) and is often cited by scholars and in the popular press. VCU Libraries has updated the site to contemporary standards (hosting, accessibility, usability, and copyright review), expanded its content, and has created a 2021-2028 seven-year sustainability plan. 

The new award will help VCU Libraries pursue the broad vision of the Social Welfare History Project to actively engage diverse communities. "We are excited about the opportunity to improve the project’s sustainability and to test new approaches  focused on the broader dissemination of scholarly materials to researchers.” said Karen Bjork, head of digital libraries and publishing

The archival processing focus of the project is The Lokerson Collection. Jean E. Lokerson (1936-2016) was professor emerita from the VCU School of Education. Known as a trailblazer in the area of learning disabilities, she was dedicated to improving the lives of children. Lokerson’s scholarship and service reflected that passion. During the Kennedy administration, she was instrumental in advocating for federal legislation establishing special education in public schools. She continued her work as the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) representative to the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities and was a past president of the Division of Learning Disabilities for the Council of Exceptional Children.

The Lokerson collection has primary source materials that will be of potential value to researchers on learning disabilities and people working on national policy development around learning disabilities. High value portions of the Lokerson Collection will be processed for the project.  

Over a one-year period, this project will test a new model for VCU Libraries to elevate awareness and access to hidden primary source materials for researchers and the public. It will model and test a cycle where archival collections are intentionally processed or mined with an eye toward creating summary research findings in an existing digital scholarship project. "Through this grant we will be able to pilot a workflow to enhance the reach of primary sources beyond our traditional archival access points,” said  Chrystal Carpenter, head of Special Collections and Archives. “This approach will allow us to quickly and effectively connect materials directly with broader academic and community audiences.”   



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