The Illinois State Historical Records Advisory Board Historical Records Grant Program has awarded Northeastern Illinois University a $5,000 grant to digitize the archives of former Illinois Congressman and Northeastern alumnus Luis Gutiérrez. The award is the highest amount a project can receive.
Gutiérrez donated his Congressional archives to Northeastern’s library in 2018. The collection contains 41 linear feet of documents, awards, letters and other paraphernalia. The archives were originally meant to be accessed only in-person, but the library staff modified its plan after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the public has access to the Gutiérrez archives as originally planned for 2021.
“When the University was shut down due to the pandemic in mid-March and we were mandated to work from home, I saw an opportunity to work on additional grant proposals,” Northeastern Archivist Hanna Ahn said. “One of my primary concerns during the shutdown was the accessibility of our materials. I was also worried about how long this pandemic would last. In addition, I had received several questions concerning the availability of the Gutiérrez papers from interested researchers. So, I tried to find a solution that addressed those questions and concerns, and in my mind, digitizing the highly anticipated congressional collection would be a way forward for the University Archives during this time of crisis.”
Ahn and Library Specialist Fritz Eifrig were nearly finished with the physical processing of the archival materials when COVID-19 caused the University to shift to remote learning and working. Ahn and Eifrig knew that digitizing the collection would ensure that it was searchable and freely available online to anyone looking for that research. Through the grant, they were able to bring on part-time Project Assistant Anna Augustyn. Between Ahn, Eifrig and Augustyn working on digitizing the archives, Ahn anticipates that the collection should be available for the public to view online by the summer of 2021.
“Congressman Gutiérrez was well-known for his robust and progressive legislative agenda, which included immigration reform, maintaining funding for healthcare research and protecting victims of sexual assault,” Ahn said. “He is also known for contributing to the overhaul of the nation’s banking industry by shaping the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and for his commitment to improve Chicago’s mass transit system, the second-largest system in the country. Digitizing the Gutiérrez collection materials related to those topics and actions will show the role of Congress in creating national laws and serving as the voice of the people and the states in the federal government.”
Ahn also noted that according to the National Archives, Northeastern is one of only five colleges or universities in Illinois that currently house congressional collections. The rarity of a college or university housing these collections highlights the significance that the Gutiérrez Congressional Archives will have for the school as well as public researchers.
“We are very excited for this collection and digital project,” Ahn said. “The congressman's work seems more relevant than ever, given the current political climate and recent headlines as they relate to immigration reform and immigration rights, healthcare reform, racial equity, veterans' issues, and violence against women, among others. We are honored to have been given the opportunity to preserve his legacy here at NEIU.”