Bentley archive will preserve contributions of U-M’s first female president


The Bentley Historical Library is preserving Mary Sue Coleman’s legacy through paper and digital documentation stored at the library building on North Campus, and digitally on servers.

The records also will document her efforts to promote capital campaigns, her commitment to diversity and inclusion, and her service as the university’s ambassador to key regions and countries of interest including China, India, Brazil and Africa.The substance of Coleman’s records reflect her expertise and promotion of the life sciences, her role in expanding the physical infrastructure, and her welcome to luminaries to campus — Presidents Obama, Clinton and Ford included, says Nancy Bartlett, Bentley Historical Library archivist and acting associate director.

“Because our archives contain the materials for both the history of the state of Michigan and the University of Michigan, they document the hopes and sacrifices of every generation that has worked so hard to make this a world-class university. For every president, therefore, the archives constitute both a significant historical responsibility and an extraordinary platform for greatness,” says Terrence McDonald, Bentley director, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of history, LSA.

This photo of President Mary Sue Coleman and Gov. Jennifer Granholm is part of the Bentley Historical Library exhibit. (Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library)

Bentley Archivist Brian Williams says the Mary Sue Coleman material will take its place in the record group under “University of Michigan President.” The group comprises nearly 500 linear feet of material (roughly 500 bankers boxes) beginning with the presidency of Robben Fleming. (Earlier presidencies were cataloged as individual collections.)

“The portion of Coleman material processed to date includes 63 boxes of material. The boxes contain annual topical files composed of correspondence, memos, reports and background material; budget files, committee and task force files, policy records and issue files,” Williams says. Along with paper records are digital files maintained by the Bentley’s Digital Curation staff.

Within the boxes also are folders of material pertaining to China. The folders contain communications with Chinese educators and government officials, affiliation agreements, background on visiting delegations, reports, thank you letters and details on arrangements for travel and hosting. Bentley staff members seek to enable access to all materials and ensure the long-term preservation of the archive.

“We know from experience that there is an intense interest in the role of the president of the university, with common questions relating to important issues and initiatives,” Bartlett says.

Coleman’s announcement last year that she would retire in 2014 was not exactly a signal to begin collecting her records. That’s because archivists are always in the process of preserving the presidency of the university, Bartlett explains.

“Every year a transfer of records occurs. We work with the staff of the Office of the President on an ongoing basis. They are expert at organizing records in the first place, both those on paper as well as those that are digital. Our role as archivists is to work with the president’s staff in the orderly transfer of records to the Bentley once they are no longer needed in the daily operation of the office.”

The archives include a photograph of Coleman, U-M’s first female president, alongside Michigan’s first female governor, Jennifer Granholm, whose papers the Bentley also houses.

At the website University of Michigan Archives @ the Bentley Historical Library, periodic captures from the website for the Office of the President are available to the public.

“We have captured the site since she began her presidency. The website is a great source for advisory committees, speeches, commissions and task force items,” says Nancy Deromedi, Bentley archivist and head of the digital curation division. Earlier captures are accessible in the university’s online Deep Blue institutional repository.

 “Mary Sue Coleman is a trailblazer in every sense of the word,” says Molly Malcolm, graduate student in the School of Information and in the Museum Studies Program. She also is curator of a new Bentley exhibit on the president’s tenure. The exhibit will explore more personal aspects of the president — such as her favorite books. The exhibit “Both Sides Now: The Professional and Personal Life of Mary Sue Coleman,” opens March 10.

The exhibit also will portray how Coleman led the university through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, to help U-M flourish.

“She continued to work on growing our campus in new and exciting ways, by renovating buildings, acquiring new research spaces, and forging partnerships with other Michigan communities,” Malcolm says.

Coleman also hired new faculty members at a time when many big universities did not because of the economy.

 “As the first female president of our university, she brought a fresh life and new perspective to our community. She is a powerhouse, and it is her energy and enthusiasm for public education, past, present and future, that has helped characterize Michigan as an internationally renowned and greatly dynamic research institution over the past 12 years,” Malcolm says.


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