Pitt lands massive collection of EU material

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The University of Pittsburgh says it soon will be one of the top places to come for archival material on the European Union, from the organization's birth in the 1950s as a hedge against a third world war to its role now as a political and economic power.

The Delegation of the European Commission to the United States, the equivalent of an embassy in Washington, D.C., is giving its library -- consuming as much as 3,400 feet of shelf space and 3,600 inches of microfiche -- to Pitt.

Rush Miller, director of Pitt's University Library System, called the collection a "treasure trove."

It's being touted as the largest collection of EU documents in the Western Hemisphere and something that will enhance Pitt's already strong standing as an EU research center. The collection includes cabinet-level reports, independent and internal studies of EU operations and records of official meetings.

"I think researchers from all over the world will come to Pitt to use it," said Alberta Sbragia, director of Pitt's European Studies Center and European Union Center of Excellence.

Dr. Miller said the documents will arrive on campus by the end of the summer and be placed in Hillman Library.

The archive isn't expected to contain confidential or personal files. But then again, Dr. Sbragia said, sometimes such collections contain a few surprises.

Some documents date to the 1950s, when Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany formed the European Coal and Steel Community. Born of a desire to link European nations closer together to prevent another war, the EU has evolved into a 27-nation union with a single market, a single currency and many common political objectives.

The number of documents in the delegation's archive ballooned in the late 1980s, as the EU grew in size and power, said Phil Wilkin, Pitt's bibliographer for West European studies. He said the delegation was impressed with Pitt's promise to digitize many of the documents and put them online, so they would be available to students worldwide.

That will be an expensive proposition. Dr. Wilkin said an outside vendor charges the university 15 to 20 cents per digitized page.

As one of nearly 60 EU depository libraries in North America, Pitt already receives a large number of EU documents and has digitized about 3,600 of them. But Pitt said the delegation's collection is far more comprehensive than what the university has now.

"Basically, there's no other university in the United States that will have access to as many documents ... It is a significant collection," said Fritz Breithaupt, director of West European Studies and co-director of the European Union Center of Excellence at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. Indiana and Pitt are 10 "centers of excellence" in the United States funded by the European Commission, the EU's administrative arm.

Delegation spokesmen could not be reached yesterday, and it was unclear why it was giving up the archive or how many universities offered to take it. Dr. Breithaupt said Indiana passed on the call for proposals, believing the EU documents already at the school are adequate for the research conducted there.

The archive contains information on a range of issues, from agriculture to transportation to the admission of former Soviet bloc countries. Especially interesting, Dr. Wilkin said, are the "research files," 50 file cabinets of official documents and related news stories arranged by topic.

Dr. Sbragia said she wasn't able to compare the quality of the delegation's library to archives at EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. But she said the delegation's collection is meticulously organized, noting that one researcher who used it told her that she found in four days material that would have taken her months to track down in Europe.


Joe Smydo can be reached at jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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