The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections (PACSCL), composed of some of the finest archival repositories in the United States, embarked on the “Uncovering Philadelphia’s Past: A Regional Solution to Revealing Hidden Collections” Project. A selection of the 16 participating institutions’ greatest “hidden collections” are being revealed to researchers through this innovative and exciting endeavor. According to the Council of Library and Information Resources, the administrators of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundations Grant which made this project possible, “libraries, archives and cultural institutions hold millions of items that have never been adequately described …[which] nationally, … represents a staggering volume of items of potentially substantive intellectual value that are unknown and inaccessible to scholars.”
This current project builds upon the previous 2009-2011 Hidden Collections processing project that employed recent trends in archival thinking and technologies, such as minimal processing, consortial efforts, and the Archivists’ Toolkit, to develop a model for reducing backlog and making collections accessible at both large and small institutions by creating common approaches, standards and training materials. This previous project resulted in a centralized Encoded Archival Description (EAD) repository, the PACSCL Finding Aids Site, housed at the University of Pennsylvania. This is “a significant contribution toward achieving PACSCL’s goal of providing a single access point for all of the region’s research collections,” (Hidden Collections in the Philadelphia Area: A Consortial Processing and Cataloging Initiative Project Proposal) which provide insights into the country’s political, economic, social, religious and cultural experiences and Philadelphia’s role in shaping America and its citizens. The current project will continue to add to and expand the finding aids site.
The Hidden Collections Projects have followed the PACSCL Consortial Survey Initiative Project, which assessed unprocessed archival collections in 22 participating institutions and identified collections with high research value. Each institution then selected certain collections to be processed and made more accessible via Encoded Archival Description (EAD) and the Internet. The 2013-2014 Hidden Collections processing project also extends to 23 collections that were not surveyed originally during the original survey initiative.
This current 17 month project will:
- Process and create EAD finding aids for 46 collections documenting the cultural, economic, and social history of Philadelphia,
- Work with the University of Pennsylvania to maintain and improve the PACSCL Finding Aids Site,
- Work with several non-PACSCL member institutions in an effort to foster greater regional collaboration.
The thirty-six member libraries and archives of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) collect, care for, and share with a world-wide audience collections that, in their depth and variety, comprise an internationally important body of unique materials for students, scholars and lifelong learners at any level.
The collections of PACSCL member libraries include a total of more than 3,000,000 rare books, 200,000 linear feet of manuscripts and archival materials, and 9,000,000 photographs, maps, architectural drawings, and works of art on paper. PACSCL member libraries hold rich collections of materials on national, regional, and local history; the natural and social sciences; world history, literature and religion; art and architecture; and business and industry.
PACSCL is unique among library consortia in this country. It was born out of the conviction that the extraordinary collections of Philadelphia area libraries deserved greater visibility and broader support. In 1985, sixteen institutions came together to create PACSCL as an informal cooperative group with a shared agenda ranging from access to public programs and development. Now, over twenty years later, PACSCL has grown in size to its present thirty libraries and evolved into a mature organization. During that period, PACSCL has compiled an impressive track record in developing projects and programs that have greatly benefited member institutions and their diverse constituencies. Past and present projects include the development of a shared online public access catalogue for selected PACSCL institutions and a federated search interface that will eventually provide access to all PACSCL members’ catalogues; the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network, a project to include information from PACSCL collections in a web-based Geographic Information System (GIS); training and support for encoding finding aids into Encoded Archival Description (EAD); and the curation of the 2001-2002 exhibition Leaves of Gold: Treasures of Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections.