Susan Brynteson (left) and L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin with the senatorial papers of Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

Biden papers arrive

Vice President Biden's collection from Senate career comes to UD

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10:02 a.m., June 11, 2012--Over a span of almost 40 years, a person accumulates a lot of items: photographs, documents, videotapes and files. When the accumulator was one of the nation’s most powerful and senior senators, the collection also includes committee reports, drafts of groundbreaking legislation and various other historical treasures, enough to fill 1,875 boxes.

This week, the senatorial papers of Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., were delivered to the University of Delaware Library. The vast collection will be processed, preserved and housed in the UD Library's Special Collections Department, where staff members are nationally known for their expertise in managing political archives.

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Biden, a 1965 graduate of UD, served as Delaware’s senior senator prior to becoming vice president in 2008.  In September, he donated his papers to the library, signing the agreement during a ceremony in Mitchell Hall.

The papers and other media reflect Biden’s 36-year tenure in the U.S. Senate. His six consecutive terms spanned seven presidents and ended with Biden as chair of the prominent Committee on Foreign Relations. The collection offers a glimpse into some of modern day’s most notable events, including wars in Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The Biden Senatorial papers will document a remarkable personal career, but equally will help scholars understand a great deal about those significant decades,” said Susan Brynteson, vice provost and May Morris Director of Libraries.

Senatorial papers contain the voices of Biden and his staff who worked diligently answering constituent questions, researching and formulating policy and writing legislation. 

“I do think you gain a better respect for what Congress and our government is about. That’s one of the great things about study and research is bringing people to understanding and appreciating American government and the role of Congress,” said L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin, head of the library’s manuscripts and archives department and curator of the collection.

Johnson Melvin said in cataloging collections like this, she is always struck by just how much bipartisan effort goes into legislating. She hopes other scholars uncover similarly interesting topics in the Biden collection.

“There are so many issues you can look at, such as leadership in Congress.  What were the various social and political issues over time – foreign relations, economic issues, any number of topics? There’s something for everyone in this collection,” she said. 

Library staffers say they look forward to collaborating with UD faculty to integrate the collection into curricula.

“I can see term papers and master's degrees and dissertations as well as books from faculty researching in the areas in which the vice president was involved with legislation,” Brynteson said.

The papers are expected to be available to the public two years after Biden’s last day in elected public office.

New compact shelving was installed to house the immense collection.  The mechanized shelves, colloquially called “stacks on tracks,” compress together, eliminating the wasted space typically dedicated to aisles. At the push of a button the stacks separate to create an aisle when needed. 

In addition to the contents of the boxes, the collection also includes 415 gigabytes of electronic records.  The library received a $30,000 directors grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities to support computer technology for the e-storage and other archival supplies.

Article by Andrea Boyle Tippett

Photos by Kathy Atkinson

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