Back Generous grant matches timeless writing with twenty-first-century printing technology

The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, a noted sponsor of scholarship in the humanities, has awarded a grant to allow The Library of America to complete the conversion of old film used to manufacture its books.

With a commitment to keep series volumes permanently in print, Library of America began publishing titles in 1982. In the more than three decades since, printing technology has rapidly changed; early volumes in the series were printed using compositors, cameras, and photographic film to produce the plates used on press. Today, all major printing firms use desktop publishing and digital plates—and virtually no commercial printer is able to use the old film and plates for their presses.

Pages of a Library of America reprint at Edwards Brothers Malloy in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The challenge: the first 115 titles in the LOA series were still in film—and equally troubling was the fact some of the film in storage was beginning to show signs of age, including warping, scratches, and tears. Thus, in 2006 LOA staff began converting all its old film: digitizing 125,243 pages with ultra-high-resolution scanners; positioning the images so they will correctly align in the book; checking each scan for dust, scratches, warping, and broken letters; and retouching or re-typesetting pages that show signs of damage or wear.

The process has been both expensive and labor-intensive. But by this past summer all except ten titles had been converted. The remaining titles:

  • Henry Adams: Novels, Mont Saint Michel, The Education
    William Bartram: Travels & Other Writings
    Ralph Waldo Emerson: Poems & Translations
    Washington Irving: Bracebridge Hall, Tales of a Traveller, The Alhambra
    Washington Irving: History, Tales and Sketches
    Francis Parkman: France and England in North America, vol. I
    Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism 1969–1975
    Eudora Welty: Complete Novels
    Edith Wharton: Novellas & Other Writings
    Richard Wright: Later Works

The generous grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation will allow LOA staff to finish this project during the next year. In fact, the Wharton volume is already in production and will be available again in bookstores in late November.

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From poetry, novels, and memoirs to journalism, crime writing, and science fiction, the more than 300 volumes published by Library of America are widely recognized as America’s literary canon.

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