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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Library Collections Enhancement Initiative builds partnerships between faculty and librarians to secure resources needed for innovative and emerging research

The Library Collections Enhancement Initiative (LCEI), an Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education program, builds on the strengths of current UW Libraries holdings while also expanding campus research capacities to serve critical and emerging collections needs. After successfully supporting 20 combined projects in its first and second cycles, the initiative is now offering a third round of funding.

Abstracts briefly describing the proposed titles to be acquired are due by 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 15, with complete proposals due on Jan. 29, 2024. Award notifications will be sent in late March 2024 with funding to begin on July 1, 2024. Award recipients will be asked to complete a brief report at the end of the grant period.

“The Library Collections Enhancement Initiative provides UW–Madison libraries with flexibility to address collections needs in a timely way,” says Florence Hsia, associate vice chancellor for research in the arts and humanities. “Past projects have shown how effectively faculty and librarians can together assess library resources needed to support ongoing as well as new research on our campus. We are also looking for projects that will make rare resources more widely accessible to researchers, including our students.”

Proposals for one-time purchases of library titles focused on a specific research area must be made by at least one faculty member in partnership with at least one librarian with relevant subject expertise.

One project funded in the second round of LCEI, “Collection Development of Digitized Chinese Local Gazetteers,” for example, has led to acquisition of a database consisting of 2,000 Chinese local gazetteers published between 960 and 1949. The gazetteers contain extensive information on law, education, agriculture and medicine.

“This database will save numerous hours of research time spent visiting distant and often inaccessible libraries and archives that hold the originals,” explains Joseph Dennis, professor of history and project principal investigator. “These digitized gazetteers are especially important in the current environment in which politics have reduced access to Chinese libraries and archives. Several of our advanced graduate students have been unable to do their dissertation research in China in recent years and expanding our digital collections is a way for them to stay on track.”

Anlin Yang, co-principal investigator and East Asian Studies Librarian, adds, “From the point of view of the UW Library, this database not only enriches the comprehensiveness of our pre-modern Chinese collection, but also offers a preservation solution. By using the digital resources, we often eliminate the need to handle physical copies, or reduce the overall amount of handling required in the initial phase of research, thereby minimizing potential damage to these precious texts.”

Because each gazetteer is tied to a known location and gazetteers were periodically re-compiled, they make it possible to do big-data spatial and chronological analyses. By taking the entire gazetteer corpus as a data set, a researcher can ask new historical questions and test previous theories that were argued based on scattered anecdotal evidence. An important trend in Chinese studies is the development of digital humanities tools based on local gazetteers.

“Having this database will increase our ability to keep faculty whose research depends on gazetteer collections and to recruit top graduate students in China-related fields. and will be useful across multiple UW units,” Dennis says.

In addition to building collections in specific research areas, the LCEI extends the ability of UW–Madison scholars to conduct and broaden their research with rare and hard-to-find works. It also allows researchers to bolster their grant writing proposals with greater likelihood of generating extramural funding.

For the project, “Strengthening Psychedelic Collections:  From Classic to Underrepresented Resource,” the LCEI supported two areas. One is related to psychoactive and psychedelic literature not previously available in the UW library system. The second area supported is pharmaceutical trade catalogs.

The School of Pharmacy (SoP) at UW–Madison is home to a Psychoactive Pharmaceutical Investigation MS program as well as the Transdisciplinary Center for Research in Psychoactive Substances (TcRPS). In both cases, students and faculty are exposed to interdisciplinary coursework and programming related to psychedelics and other psychoactive substances in science, medicine, and larger society.

“LCEI funds supported the purchase of foundational and more rare texts related to psychedelic history, sociology, ethnobotany, horticulture, and religion – among other areas. These books have the potential to serve as key research sources for students associated with the above academic units,” says Lucas Richert, professor of pharmacy and project principal investigator.

The School of Pharmacy at UW–Madison also houses a nation-leading pharmaceutical trade catalog collection administered by the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, located in Rennebohm Hall. LCEI funds were used to enhance the scope of the existing collection through the purchase of 26 additional texts.

Prior to LCEI funding, the pharmaceutical trade catalog collection contained more than 400 individual items, making it one of the most extensive such collections in the country. The earliest volume dates to 1829. Most libraries, archives, and other repositories have not preserved historical pharmaceutical trade catalogs. LCEI support ensures the collection’s continued importance at the national level.

This rare collection, which is being digitized in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center (UWDCC), will serve as a valuable resource for scholars attempting to understand medical, social, economic, technological aspects of health and business history. For example, the collection has the potential to shed light on the immigrant experience in the US, American capitalism and consumerism during the Depression, and the nuances of the evolving medical marketplace in the absence of national laws/regulations related to safety and effectiveness.

“The acquisitions, as well as the wider psychedelic book collection, are an unparalleled resource that could aid student and postdoctoral researchers looking to develop original areas for theses, dissertations and book manuscripts,” explains Micaela Sullivan-Fowler, research librarian for the Health Sciences Library and co-project principal investigator. “The acquisitions, moreover, could serve as the foundation of outreach or public-facing initiatives.”

The new materials acquired with LCEI funding played an important role in grant-writing activities that led to a to preserve and modernize collections at SoP and AIHP.

The LCEI is supported by a $150,000 investment from the OVCRGE with support from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).

For questions about abstract and proposal development, please contact Florence Hsia (

### By Natasha Kassulke,