The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections (PACSCL), composed of some of the finest archival repositories in the United States, embarked on the “Hidden Collections in the Philadelphia Area: A Consortial Processing and Cataloging Initiative” Project. A selection of the 24 participating institutions’ greatest “hidden collections” have been 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.”
Employing recent trends in archival thinking and technologies, such as minimal processing, consortial efforts, and the Archivists’ Toolkit, the Hidden Collections in the Philadelphia Area Project developed a model for reducing backlog and making collections accessible at both large and small institutions by creating common approaches, standards and training materials. This 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 Hidden Collections Project 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.
This 27 month project:
- Processed and created EAD finding aids for 125 collections with a research value rating of 7 or above, as determined in the Consortial Survey and the predecessor survey at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Library Company of Philadelphia.
- Worked with the University of Pennsylvania to develop the PACSCL Finding Aids Site.
- Upgraded substandard descriptive tools to EAD for seventy-seven collections. The existing inventories, card files and obsolete finding aids were of limited use to researchers because their information was inaccurate, incomplete or badly organized, and the majority were available only in paper format. These include descriptive tools for high research value processed collections not surveyed during the Consoritial Survey, which focused on unprocessed collections.
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.