HBCU Library Alliance HBCU Library Alliance

Building Capacity for Humanities Special Collections at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded the HBCU Library Alliance a $365,000 one-to-one challenge grant for “The Building Capacity for Humanities Special Collections at Historically Black Colleges and Universities” project. The HBCU Library Alliance must raise $365,000 to fulfil the obligations of the challenge grant.

Building Capacity is a five-year program designed to build capacity for the long-term preservation and conservation of collections at each of the member libraries. Building Capacity will offer a menu of preservation planning documents, collection surveys, treatment and rehousing services, and educational programs to the member libraries. Through this outreach, the HBCU Library Alliance will assist the libraries in building capacity for fundraising for special collection initiatives, documenting cultural heritage materials, increasing accessibility of special collection items, and promoting the humanities significance of their broad collections of rare materials and their irreplaceable cultural heritage artifacts.


The humanities special collections of the HBCU Library Alliance’s 71 member libraries contain the unique stories of the development and evolution of HBCUs dating back to the early 1800s. The manuscript, book, photograph, and audiovisual material in these special collections provide vital perspectives on local and regional history in 19 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. Perhaps even more importantly, they offer irreplaceable documentation on the African American experience in the 19th and 20th centuries, reflecting the monumental themes of slavery, Civil War, Restoration, the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights Movement, the recent Black Lives Matter, and so much more.


Grant funds for Building Capacity will strengthen and improve knowledge and understanding of the humanities through capacity building strategies focused on the preservation and conservation of special collections at member libraries. The total $730,000 project, with both federal and 1:1 nonfederal matching funds, centers upon the use of $658,000 in Spend-down Funds to assist member libraries in improving collection stewardship through a menu that will include preservation planning documents (preservation needs assessments, preservation plans, emergency response plans, and collections management development policies); item-level conservation assessments and condition reports for paper, photographs, books, paintings, textiles, objects, or audiovisual media; conservation treatment and/or housing; and educational programs that can be delivered at the requesting library and customized to meet the library’s needs.

A pool of $520,000 of Spend-down funds will be established to provide four years of funding (through equal allocations of $130,000 in Years 2, 3, 4, and 5) of projects at the member libraries. While the libraries will be encouraged to follow a systematic process for improving collections (with an initial investment in preservation planning and any needed environmental improvements, followed by assessments of collections and items by conservators who will generate condition reports and cost estimates for treatment, and last of all, the implementation of recommended treatment and/or rehousing), the libraries will be granted freedom to apply for funding for any projects from the menu which they feel will benefit their institution most or that are most urgently needed.

Webinar Recordings

  1. Wednesday, July 31: Introduction to Building Capacity
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  2. Wednesday, August 14 Collections Care Basics PDF

  3. Tuesday, August 27: Know Your Collections: Collections Management
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  4. Thursday, September 12: Building Momentum: Promoting Your Collections
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Application Materials

Building Capacity – Year 1

The HBCU Library Alliance has received a one-year grant for the Building Capacity—Year One program. Awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this program will develop the infrastructure to support the NEH funded “Building Capacity for Humanities Special Collections at Historically Black Colleges and Universities”, a five-year HBCU Library Alliance program that has received partial support from a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Challenge Grant. Building Capacity—Year One tasks are focused on four areas: 1) Raising the matching funds required by the NEH Challenge Grant to fully fund the five-year program “Building Capacity—HBCU,” 2) building long-term fundraising capacity at the HBCU Library Alliance, 3) implementing educational and promotional activities needed for the successful launch of the regrant component of “Building Capacity—HBCU,” and 4) selecting the first round of regrant awardees through the convening of an Advisory Committee.

The Mellon Foundation grant will fully fund Building Capacity—Year One, providing needed support to build fundraising capacity at the HBCU Library Alliance, develop and present promotional material to launch the five-year program, and pilot implementation of the first selection process to choose regrant awardees. As a matching contribution, this Mellon grant will trigger the first infusion of NEH funding, which will be invested for funding in year two.