Harriet (left) and Paul Weissman ’52 talk to Brenda Bernier, the Paul M. and Harriet L. Weissman Senior Photograph Conservator, about the analytical equipment used to identify the material makeup of objects.

Kristyn Ulanday/Harvard Staff Photographer

Arts & Culture

A celebration of substance

3 min read

Weissman Preservation Center observes its 10th anniversary

Friends and members of the Harvard community gathered in Lamont Library to mark the 10th anniversary of the Weissman Preservation Center. The center specializes in the treatment of rare and unique books, manuscripts, maps, drawings, music scores, photographs, and other objects held in repositories across the Harvard University Library system.

“It is in the Weissman Center,” said Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and director of the University Library, “that Harvard cares for its greatest treasures. In the Weissman Center, we seem to accomplish miracles every day. And our ability to do so is firmly rooted in the support and commitment of Paul and Harriet Weissman.”

On March 20, 2000, the center was named in honor of Paul M. Weissman ’52 and Harriet L. Weissman for their visionary support of library preservation at Harvard.

In 10 years, the Weissman Center — with its distinct conservation programs for books, paper, and photographs — has earned recognition as a national and international leader in library preservation.

The center focuses on the research needs of individual faculty and students; classroom use, digitization, exhibitions, and loans to other institutions; and identification by curators of materials at great risk. The center treated more than 19,000 items in the 2008-09 academic year.

True to the center’s goals and the Weissmans’ vision, the anniversary observance, held on Thursday (March 18), balanced substance with celebration.

In a panel presentation, Helen Vendler, A. Kingsley Porter University Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, discussed Harvard’s world-renowned Keats manuscripts and underscored their value in teaching. In counterpoint, Leslie Morris, curator of modern books and manuscripts in Houghton Library, and Debora Mayer, Helen H. Glaser Conservator in the Weissman Preservation Center, delineated the role of preservation in teaching with rare manuscript materials.

Robin Kelsey, Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography and director of graduate studies in the History of Art and Architecture Department, focused on 18,000 photographic records of the 19th century French physician Jean Martin Charcot. Kelsey’s impassioned views of a vital but lesser-known collection at the Countway Library of Medicine were expanded on by Kathryn Hammond Baker, deputy director of Countway’s Center for the History of Medicine, and Brenda Bernier, the Paul M. and Harriet L. Weissman Senior Photograph Conservator.

“The library is the heart of this institution,” Paul Weissman once said, “and a vital part of all the Harvard libraries is the Preservation Center, which ensures that the University’s great collections remain forever safeguarded for students and scholars.”

The Weissmans’ generosity is palpable across the University. Undergraduates benefit from the Weissman International Internships and the Weissman Family Scholarships. The Weissmans have provided critical support for academic programs in the Villa I Tatti and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, for the Harvard College Fund, and for Harvard’s golf and hockey programs.