University Libraries Digitize Planned Community History

Posted: January 9, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

With the help of generous donors, the George Mason University Libraries have increased efforts to digitize rare or important collections to make them more available to students, faculty, staff and the public. One prominent collection being selectively digitized by graduate history students is the Planned Community Archives (PCA) Collection.

Digitizing consists of restoring and scanning manuscripts, documents and images, and then storing them in an electronic archive that can be accessed by people anywhere in the world via the Internet. Digitizing also ensures the safety and preservation of these collections for future generations.

“No other collection about planned communities like this exists,” says Paul Koda, head of the Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives. “Scholars from across the United States and from as far away as Japan have come to Mason to access these distinctive materials.”

The records in the PCA Collection were assembled by the nonprofit Planned Community Archives Inc. and cover the years 1961 to 1994. The collection comprises correspondence, reports, minutes of meetings, newsletters, newspapers, publicity, maps, architectural drawings, slides, videotapes and photographs that chart the history of the planned community movement worldwide.

Depending on the number of items, digitizing can take a few months or as long as a year. In terms of man-hours alone, the costs associated with digitizing a large collection are staggering. Private support from individuals and grants from foundations and corporations allow the George Mason University Libraries to continue these endeavors.

Catherine Baum, BS Business Administration ’81, has been a donor and supporter of the University Libraries’ collections in planned communities such as Reston, Va., where Baum has lived for more than 30 years. Baum is president of the Washington division of Drees Homes and previously was executive vice president of Stanley Martin and vice president of sales and marketing for John Laing Homes.

Architect's conception of Lake Anne village
An architect’s conception of Lake Anne village in Reston, from 1962.
Planned Community Archives

The PCA Collection is particularly strong in its documentation of the history of Reston, and includes Reston-related oral histories, architectural plans, photographic images, newspapers and records of civic organizations.

As a student at W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Baum went on a tour of Reston in 1967 as part of government class. Reston founder Robert E. Simon conducted the tour, and Baum says she knew then that someday she would return to Reston to live. “It was just the perfect place – a place that was interested in bringing adventurous people to the community.

“The idea that you could walk everywhere, the small town feel and the adventure of thinking that you were starting something brand new” is what attracted her. More important, however, was that Reston was one of the few places a single woman could purchase a home.

“At that time, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act had not been passed, so it was very difficult for a woman to get a mortgage,” Baum says. “Gulf Oil Co. owned Reston and they had their own mortgage company. So they were much more willing to forgive the fact that it was a woman buying because they wanted to help women, they wanted to help minorities, buy a home.”

The PCA Collection also contains information from planned communities and new towns across the nation as well as communities in Israel, Russia and France.

“Ms. Baum’s generosity will be put to good work,” says John Zenelis, university librarian. “A portion of the funds will immediately go toward selective digitization of the core of the Libraries’ PCA Collection focusing on Reston, which is clearly a community of great significance for Ms. Baum.”

Remaining funds from Ms. Baum’s donations have been placed in an endowment to support the collection in the future and acquire primary source materials focusing on new towns and planned communities.

All of the George Mason University Libraries’ digitized collections can be found online.

This article was adapted from articles that originally appeared in Full Text.

Best Small House '84
Called “the best 1,500 square feet in America,” this Reston home was named the Best Small House of 1984.
Planned Community Archives

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