SEC Archive Enriches Library Holdings

Most good things are a long time coming. But a wondrous few just seem to happen. Such a boon from the blue materialized in March 1999, when Elizabeth Clarage received an e-mail from an old friend in New York.


William Contessa
The friend, with whom she once worked at Columbia University Library, had a question. Did Clarage, who is now assistant commerce librarian and assistant professor of library administration, think the University of Illinois might be interested in providing a home for a major business archive? "I think his reasoning was that we're in the Midwest and have a lot of room," Clarage dryly recalled. The upshot of that conversation is literally enormous — a rare microfiche collection of SEC filings, weighing in at a couple of tons and valued at $1 million. Now owned by the University Library, it is housed at several secure places around campus as Clarage works to get it organized and moved to a permanent site.  Covering 1978-1995, the collection includes virtually every annual report and statement filed by every publicly traded company in the United States during that seventeen-year period. Not only do many of these companies no longer exist, the documents themselves are artifacts, having been replaced in recent years by electronic filings. "This is truly a historical collection," Clarage said.
And it is huge. "Before this acquisition, microfiche and microforms at the Commerce Library numbered around 250,000," said Clarage. "This archive contains approximately 3.5 million pieces." This boon is the result of the generosity of William Contessa and Edmond Francis, founders of, a New York company that provides E-commerce combined with digital document production and expedited delivery services from the Internet. About two years ago, Contessa and Francis came into possession of the microfiche collection when they acquired another document delivery company. When Contessa began making inquiries about donating the collection, he found that space in the Big Apple was characteristically tight. "Neither Columbia University nor the New York Public Library could accommodate it physically," he recalled. "But the chap at Columbia put me in touch with Elizabeth. When I spoke with her, she was extremely excited, and she organized the whole thing. Logistically it was very difficult. The cabinets are extremely heavy.  And the collection was housed on the 20th floor at 195 Broadway in lower Manhattan." Getting it from there to Champaign-Urbana was no small feat — and Clarage had less than a month from the time she got the phone call to make all the arrangements. "The cabinets were so heavy that one blew a tire on a dolly," she recalled. "I didn't think that was possible."

And getting it here is just the beginning. Clarage, who graduated from Commerce in 1991 with a B.S. in business administration and went on to earn an M.S. in library and information science in 1993, is now faced with the Herculean task of organizing the archive. "The microfiche was housed in two separate collections, each of which was alphabetized," she explained. "We're hiring a team of students to merge the two, but it's slow going. There are between 180 and 190 pieces of fiche per inch." And when those inches translate into hundreds and hundreds of drawer feet in a couple of dozen cabinets, it's a long, long way from A to Z. Nonetheless, Clarage is determined to have the collection fully merged as soon as possible.

"I feel the collection is now in excellent hands," noted Contessa. "Before this came about, I knew very little of the University of Illinois. But, on a human interest note, after my local paper in Bronxville printed a press release from the university about the gift, a prominent member of the community, Ray Pfeister, came up to me and said `Thank you for your gift to my alma mater.' Until then, I did not know that Ray was a U of I graduate." (Pfeister graduated from Commerce with an MBA in 1971, and also earned a BS from ACES in 1969.)

"This is also the first time I've ever made a donation of this type," Contessa concluded. "Had this gifting opportunity not presented itself, we would have sold the fiche collection, parsing it out to collectors and commercial entities. I'm glad it's intact at the University of Illinois instead. I also welcome the possibility of a follow-on relationship with the university. Indeed, I am very mindful of the fact that in the emerging knowledge economy, strong academic/ business ties will be an increasingly essential success component."