The Bartholomew County Public Library will assume ownership of the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives via a merger that will be effective Jan. 1, according to leaders of both entities.
The move will be announced at 6 p.m. Tuesday during the archives’ annual meeting at the Columbus Area Visitors Center.
The action is one way to ensure the future support and stability of the archives, currently supported by private donations and an endowment, said Jason Hatton, library director and an archives board member.
The archives’ board approached the library about the move, but Hatton said officials at the library — long a close partner and the physical home of the archives — had been thinking of the same idea because of the archives’ significance in a city known worldwide for its heralded Modernist structures.
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“The architectural archives can remain a strong community asset forever,” Hatton said. “It will have a new plan for moving forward, and we’re all very excited.”
The Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives collects, preserves and documents the design and construction process of significant architecture that has made Columbus and Bartholomew County an internationally recognized center for modern architecture.
The archives also collects documentation on significant landscape architecture, public art and public planning.
Since the current library opened in 1969, it has been the home to the archives collection and has provided various levels of support throughout the years, including staffing, technology support, and collections care.
The archives features more than 30,000 drawings, 100 linear feet of documents, 60 models, and thousands of slides and photographs documenting the community’s design history from the late 19th century to today.
Digital access looms
Tricia Gilson, the archives’ archivist and curator since 2014, said the impact on the future is profound with the latest announcement.
“By becoming a part of the Bartholomew County Public Library, we will be able to use the broader library community’s resources such as how the public is able to discover and to access our collection digitally.”
Gilson said the archives owes gratitude to the late Lynn Bigley, the former community leader who established the agency’s endowment.
“The long game for the (archives’) board has been to find a path to ensure the collection is both cared for and accessible to the public,” Gilson said.
She said she would hate to consider the long-term future without the library’s newfound help.
“Instead, as so many in the community counseled me to do, I believed that the community would come together to find a solution,” Gilson said.
“The library is stepping up to support and sustain a collection that is tremendously important not to Columbus, but to the world,” said Richard McCoy, an archives board member and also director of the nonprofit Landmark Columbus, which cares for local significant architecture and public art.
“We know so well from Exhibit Columbus how many people use the archives to find out about the buildings here,” McCoy said.
Like others, he sees the merger as an important step.
“With projects such as Exhibit Columbus, and the higher profile through the (new) IU masters in architecture degree, people will realize that Columbus isn’t yet that well studied. And there’s a lot more to learn about it.”
The Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives traces its history to 1967, when John Ross West began to collect materials related to Columbus’ Modern architecture. West, a Columbus city planner and a member of the Bartholomew County Library Association, worked with fellow city planner Dean Smith. The goal was to make the materials available to the public in the newly constructed Bartholomew County Public Library.
By 1969, Columbus boasted nearly 30 Modernist buildings, of which 12 were designed with support from the Cummins Foundation Architecture Program. That same year, West sought the help of J. Irwin Miller, chairman of Cummins Engine Company at that time.
Miller wrote a letter to lend support to the architectural archives. This letter was used to solicit collection materials from national architects who had designed buildings in Columbus. The growing collection was housed in the Bartholomew County Public Library, and for many years library staff maintained the archives and provided public access to it.
Since its founding, the archives has relied on community partners to fulfill its mission. These partners include Bartholomew County Historical Society, Bartholomew County Public Library, Columbus Area Visitors Center, and IUPUC.
In 2005, under the leadership of the late Lynn Bigley, a longtime community leader, the archives became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
In 2010, Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives received the Walter S. Blackburn Award from the American Institute of Architects Indiana. The jury noted that “Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives promotes design excellence and educates us about Columbus, Indiana’s rich Modern architectural traditions — a civic portfolio of Modern architecture of international consequence.”
Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives annual meeting
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, open to the public
Where: Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St.
More information about archives: Visit columbusarchives.org