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The Work of Preservation

Posted on Tuesday, June 5th, 2012.

Father Columba Stewart, O.S.B. is used to assumptions. He is Executive Director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, a 2011 winner of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. When we met it took all of my power to not ask if his life was anything like an Indiana Jones movie. HMML specializes in preserving early religious manuscripts, keeping digitized copies place far away from the originals to prevent loss in cases of accidental fire or flood.

StoryCorps participants Dr. Patrick Henry (l) and Fr. Columba Stewart, O.S.B. (r)

Fr. Columba assuaged my fears during his conversation with Dr. Patrick Henry. In reality, Fr. Columba and the HMML team spend more time and energy digitally photographing manuscripts and significantly less time hunting down hidden rooms. But this is not to say Fr. Columba hasn’t had that experience too. He told Patrick about on excursion in which he entered a room via a door hidden behind a bookcase, only to find another hidden room…and then another. Indy’s theme music played in my head as I listened to him.

It’s easy to guess why so many of our other participants mentioned Fr. Columba when speaking about HMML. He is passionate about his work with manuscripts and the Benedictine culture, and it’s easy to understand and feel close to the pieces housed at HMML. Think of their importance in literary terms or in religious terms, but the fact remains that at some point in the future, we can all look back and find, safe and sound, a story that was important enough to write down.

In StoryCorps’ case, we’ll find the conversations worth recording.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awards The National Medal to five libraries and five museums for extraordinary civic, educational, economic, environmental, and social contributions to their communities. This award is the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries, and StoryCorps is proud to record the stories of these distinguished institutions. Click here for a full list of this year’s winners.

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