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Chapter Eight of the story of the New-York Historical Society

Chapter eight: facing tough choices today

Another new beginning

The appointment of Betsy Gotbaum as executive director marks yet another "new beginning" in The New-York Historical Society's long and troubled history. At first glance, one cannot help but wonder about the Society's chances for success. Its endowment has dwindled, its donor constituency is narrow, and it has run deficits in twenty of the past twenty-five years. Since 1987 alone, the Society's cumulative operating deficits (including depreciation) have totaled more than $15 million. Ironically, it is the very severity of the Society's situation that has made it possible to try again. The truly dire circumstances, combined with public recog­nition of the enormous value of the Society's unique collections, have resulted in the first direct and substantial support from the state and city government since well before the turn of the twentieth century.

Unfortunately, however, the $12.6 million appropriation made by the New York State and City governments neither solves the Society's financial problems nor provides the means for the Society to address many of its other programmatic and organizational difficulties. So what is next for the Society? The latter part of this chapter outlines a series of options the Society could consider as it plans for the future. First, however, to frame the various choices the Society's leaders face, it is useful to begin by recapitulating the fundamental threads, themes, and problems that emerge from this study of the Society's 190-year history.

The major issues before the Society fall into three broad categories. First, there are the burdens incumbent on any organization responsible for valuable old col­lections and an aging physical plant. These can be separated into questions of collections management, preservation and conservation, and building mainte­nance. Second, there are issues associated with the Society's obligation to provide public service. Finally, there are institutional and governance issues, including those arising from the Society's effort to manage and balance the needs of both a mu­seum and a library.

Collections management

The oldest problem for Society management stems from the undisciplined accu­mulation of materials during the Society's first 150 years. The steady inflow of tens of thousands of books, boxes of manuscripts, paintings, prints, and ephemera was literally impossible for the Society's tiny staff to keep up with. In addition, during the first seventy-five years of its existence, the Society was on its own, stor­ing and categorizing the items as well as it could, without any established, pro­fessionalized standards to guide it. Library and museum norms simply did not exist. By the time professionalized standards for cataloging and sharing collections became widely recognized and used, the Society already faced a hundred-year cataloging backlog.

Today, the backlog remains extremely large. Even for the parts of the col­lection that have been cataloged, there is no single unified record of the materi­als, making it difficult for library staff to access the Society's collections with efficiency. Although the exact size of the Society's catalog backlog is uncertain, there is no doubt that to catalog the Society's entire collection would take a very long time, probably decades.

Questions & Answers

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Damian Reply
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Stoney Reply
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Adin Reply
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Damian Reply
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Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
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Damian Reply
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s. Reply
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Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
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Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
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so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
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Do you know which machine is used to that process?
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s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
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Sanket Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, The new-york historical society: lessons from one nonprofit's long struggle for survival. OpenStax CNX. Mar 28, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10518/1.1
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