(Raleigh, N.C.)—The North Carolina State University Libraries has received substantial funding to organize and make accessible an important body of rare materials that documents efforts in animal welfare and the animal rights movements of the second half of the 20th century.
Supported by a two-year, $219,600 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), Acting for Animals: Revealing the Records of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare Movements will allow the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at the NCSU Libraries to catalog one of the most comprehensive troves of such material in North America.
In 1979 universities in the United States offered only a total of nine courses focused on human-animal studies. Today more than 25 academic disciplines at 120 U.S. universities and colleges teach courses in the field. What has been called the “question of the animal” has become a recurrent challenge in our daily lives and a central issue within academic research across the humanities, human and veterinary medicine, and the sciences. However, the lack of substantial archival collections continues to hamper study of these movements. The work at the NCSU Libraries will help remedy this situation by making accessible the records of the Animal Rights Network (ARN), portions of the records of the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), and the Ron Scott videotapes.
Animal advocacy movements since the 1950s have tended to move in two key directions. The animal welfare movement has worked for reforms in how animals are treated in all aspects of society, including agriculture, industry, science, conservation, and recreation. The AWI was at the center of this movement, playing a key role in much federal legislation related to the humane treatment of animals in laboratories and farms across the country. The AWI collection contains correspondence and other material from the AWI and its lobbying organization, the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, including a large number of files on international issues such as whaling and the exotic animal trade. The AWI collection also will make accessible hundreds of files documenting groups opposed to the animal welfare movement.
The animal rights movement historically staked out the position that non-human animals have inherent moral status–usually including the right not to be treated as property. The ARN, primarily through its magazine The Animal Rights Agenda, was at the core of this line of argumentation. As Dr. Tom Regan, professor emeritus of philosophy at NC State University, has explained, “it would not be possible to understand the growth of animal rights advocacy during the last fifty years without having access to the . . . archival materials in the ARN collection.”
Finally, Acting for Animals will catalog and preserve hundreds of audio and videotapes documenting conferences, demonstrations, debates, and oral histories with important figures in the these movements, most recorded by Ron Scott, a retired Air Force pilot who travelled extensively in the United States and abroad filming key events during the formative history of animal advocacy.
In addition to making these collections available, the Acting for Animals project will do extensive and ongoing user testing in the process of developing its finding guides. The knowledge gained will advance our understanding of how users of archival materials actually navigate and suggest how they can more easily discover information in modern mixed-media collections that can intimidate with their size, inconsistent organization, and vast range of formats.
Created in 2008 with funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the CLIR Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program that will support Acting for Animals is designed to bring to light the staggering volume of items of potentially substantive intellectual value that are currently held in museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions, but are largely unknown and inaccessible to scholars and the public.