Why is a Museum Director like Indiana Jones?

Written by Carey Hedlund on April 15th, 2014

While working with the records of Langdon Warner (Director of the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Arts, 1917 to 1923), we were struck first by the fact that Mr. Warner was far away from the Museum a good deal of the time: December 1917 through January 1919. And struck next by the interesting places that some of his correspondence was from. When in residence at the museum, his correspondence reveals that he wandered still: scattered amidst his administrative correspondence at the Museum are reports of archeological expeditions in the Middle East and Asia, photos of artifacts from far flung locations and reports of Bolshevik activity in Siberia.

With some time left the following week, we became curious enough to do a little exploring ourselves. If you Google Langdon Warner the first thing you find out is that almost everyone mentions him as a model for the character of Indiana Jones. We had to admit, the photos bear a distinct resemblance …

Langdon Warner and Indiana Jones. Striking, no?

Langdon Warner and Indiana Jones. Striking, no?

Warner became the Museum’s Director while relatively young, but his interests in Asian art and archaeology were already well established. While a student at Harvard University he traveled to Russian Turkestan with the Pumpelly-Carnegie Expedition in 1903. He traveled to Japan in prior to becoming the associate curator of Asian art at the Boston Museum of Art (1906 to 1913), and he was Director of the American School of Archeology, Peking, directly before coming to Philadelphia. While on leave of absence as the Museum’s director, his travels with a Smithsonian expedition were interrupted by the Russian Revolution and he was recruited as the United States Vice Council in Harbin, traveling extensively as the liaison between the State Department and Czechoslovakian exiles.

After leaving the Museum, he taught at Harvard University, became the Curator of Oriental Art at the Fogg Museum of Art and he participated in many other projects related to Asian arts and traveled an estimated 18 times to Asia.  Apparently quite modest, he was, however, highly influential as an educator and scholar, very well respected, and an entertaining and dedicated correspondent.

Photographs of artifact acquired and excursions made by Warner.

Photographs of artifacts acquired and excursions made by Warner.

Warner has not escaped controversy. Early discovery and collection of artifacts by Western scholars and archeologists has come under scrutiny and many now consider the actions taken by these early collectors as damaging, as well as ethically questionable. If Warner was indeed involved in such activities, it would certainly be balanced by his later work during World War II; as a “monuments man” –one of over three hundred other museum directors, curators, art historians, artists, architects, and educators–he was tasked with the mission of protecting cultural treasures in harm’s way. Warner is specifically credited with taking actions that protected the cities of Nara and Kyoto during the Allied bombings of Japan in 1946 and this work reflects his very real concern for the preservation of cultural heritage sites. Warner died in Cambridge, MA, in 1955; after his death Japan awarded him the Order of the Sacred Treasures.

All in all, maybe better than a movie…

 

“Two Gun” Bessie and the case for better folder titles

Written by Evan Peugh on April 14th, 2014

One of the issues with working with a legacy finding aid is that previous descriptions can easily fall short. Such is the case with the MOLLUS collection, and we tried to go back through folders with unclear titles to fix this problem. One such folder, titled “Front, 1941”, provides an excellent example of why accurate folder description is important.

Jessica and Evan process MOLLUS.

Jessica and Evan process MOLLUS.

Upon further inspection, “Front, 1941” contains a series of newspaper clippings related to the sudden resignation of Dr. Bessie Burchett. Dr. Burchett, known as “Two gun Bessie” for her tendency to carry two pistols to defend herself, was a Latin teacher at West Philadelphia High School who strongly opposed communism. She even wrote a book on the communist infiltration of American schools: Education for Destruction. In fact, Burchett was so strongly against communism that she was revealed to have Nazi sympathies. When news of her political extremism broke, there was a cry of public outrage against her, and rather than awaiting her inevitable dismissal, Burchett elected to resign.

The case of Dr. Bessie Burchett provides an interesting snapshot of Philadelphia and the United States during an era of extreme political movements. But if a researcher were to come across the title “Front, 1941”, the researcher could never be aware of the treasures in the folder unless they opened it because the folder title provides so little useful information.

Processed MOLLUS at home in the new Union League secure vault.

Processed MOLLUS at home in the new Union League vault.

This means that an archivist must choose between properly titled folders or item level description, and when using MPLP the latter is out of the question. Folder titles should thus properly identify contents, and it is important to conscientiously consider such titles. For “Front, 1941” we had some difficulty coming up with a title that adequately captured the contents, but after a while we settled on “’Front:’ Clippings regarding Philadelphia school teacher Bessie Burchett, especially regarding anti-communism and Nazi sympathy, 1941”. This title is a much more accurate description of the folder contents.

So much for this folder, but how many other folders are out there that fail to describe their contents? How many more stories like Dr. Burchett’s are hiding in the crevices of archives, waiting to be discovered?

 

Saint Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church records

Written by Steven Duckworth on April 11th, 2014

The records of St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church of Philadelphia, one of the collections held at Temple University’s Special Collections Research Center, sheds light on a unique aspect of Philadelphia history. The church was started in 1886 when African American Catholics in the region grew tired of the discrimination they faced at Catholic Churches of the day (if they were allowed in at all). Members of three parishes united together to form the Peter Claver Union with the goal of creating a “Church for Colored Catholics” in Philadelphia.

In 1889, they were officially recognized by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and in 1892, they moved into their new home at 12th and Lombard Streets (a former Presbyterian church). The church continued to function for almost a century until the Archdiocese suppressed the church in 1985, stating that due to the changing racial climate, a dedicated church for African Americans was no longer needed, thus removing their parish status, as well as all of their records. At this point, the church continued to function as a community, but could not offer most religious sacraments and services.

Steve processing at Temple University.

Steve processing at Temple University.

In processing the records of this collection, one obvious drawback is the lack of most records from before 1985 (outside of the school records). Rather than finding records focused mainly on the administration and rituals of a church, this collection’s focus is found in the community outcry over the suppression of the parish, clippings and other subject files covering the African American community at the time, the church community’s struggle to remain vibrant in a neighborhood that had lost its African American majority, and many issues of racism (real or perceived) within the Catholic Church as a whole.

From a processing perspective, this was my favorite collection from our time at Temple and that comes from it not having been previously processed. It was quite rewarding to take a box full of papers and create a logical order to the contents, rather than just relabeling folders or trying to figure out why someone had deemed certain records appropriate to folder together.  This collection, though smaller than our previous ones, offered a chance to do some actual MPLP processing (a goal of this project), as well as learn more about Philadelphia history. And while I’ll not comment on my personal views of the acts of the Catholic Church regarding St. Peter Claver’s, it is quite eye opening to read about this time in Catholic history.

 

Star-spangled MOLLUS at the Union League

Written by Evan Peugh on April 10th, 2014
MOLLUS whiskey label.

MOLLUS whiskey label.

When I was told that I would be processing the collection of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, or MOLLUS, at the Union League, I expected this to be an interesting project. While the name of the organization is impressive, I was certainly not disappointed by the contents of their collection.  Founded on April 15, 1865 in response to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, MOLLUS was established to preserve and celebrate the memories and camaraderie of Civil War veterans. MOLLUS membership was composed of Union officers that fought in the Civil War or their male descendants, and the organization has thus included and associated with many interesting characters throughout its 148 year history.

My first encounter with stardom occurred on my first day at work, when we discovered some letters MOLLUShandwritten by William Tecumseh Sherman. The moment of discovery when one suddenly realizes that they are holding a document written in the hand of someone so famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) is tremendous. A simple piece of paper can swiftly turn into an artifact of great intrinsic value upon brief examination of a signature, and the mundane thus transforms into the spectacular instantaneously. For a history-obsessed rookie archivist such as myself, it was a pretty great find, even though I couldn’t necessarily read Sherman’s handwriting.

The excitement certainly did not stop there, as we soon discovered some correspondence with General Douglas MacArthur. Documents signed by President Rutherford B. Hayes, who served two terms as the Commander-in-Chief of MOLLUS, were also uncovered, as well as many more records of notable Civil War veterans.  In addition to written documents, we also chanced upon numerous photographs of MOLLUS members, with moustaches, beards, and sideburns as impressive as their names.

Stonewall Jackson, sans epic beard.

Stonewall Jackson, sans epic beard.

Robert E. Lee, sans beard.

Robert E. Lee, sans epic beard.

Another interesting find was the discovery of two Civil War scrapbooks, which contain contemporary newspaper clippings and other primary records of the war. The scrapbooks also contained a group of portraits of notable generals and admirals from both sides of the war. From amongst these I was delightfully surprised to find portraits of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson without their signature epic beards.

These many discoveries left me star struck, and I could not imagine that I would encounter another collection as interesting as MOLLUS. Nevertheless, this was only the beginning of my involvement with this great project, and I’m sure that I will continue to be pleasantly surprised by what the various local archives have to offer.

 

“Are not pond scum and pistache green somewhat similar?”

Written by Alina Josan on April 9th, 2014

Written by Carey Hedlund and Alina Josan.

Our first assignment for the Hidden Collections project brought us to the archives at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), where we worked for four months. We began by processing the Edwin Atlee Barber records. Barber was an early curator and director at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art while it was still located in Fairmount Part at Memorial Hall—only later called PMA with the move to the Museum’s current location.

A man of detail, wisdom and wit, Barber wore many different hats in his work and was a detailed and attentive correspondent. In a letter to Morris Carter of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Barber outlined his responsibilities:

DSCN2444“Secretary of the Corporation and various committees, Acting Curator of all the twelve departments of the Museum; arrange and install all of the collections, prepare all of the labels for printing; edit the Museum Bulletin and Annual Report, and prepare for publication all of the Guides, Handbooks, catalogues and Art Primers; conduct the Bureau of Identification of Art Objects; collect the annual Membership dues; act as Superintendent of the building and have direct charge of the guards and all other employees.”

As the Curator and Director of the Pennsylvania Museum Barber was directly involved in the minutiae of everyday operations, writing often to the Fairmount Park Commissioners of such things as leaking roofs and missing floor tiles, plumbing and heating malfunctions, and untamed landscaping.

From the files of the Commissioners of Fairmount Park:

Mr. Oglesby Paul, Landscape Gardener, November 19th, 1903

“My dear Mr. Paul:-

I hope you have not forgotten about the vines on Memorial Hall which were to be pruned at the proper time. If that time has arrived, I hope you will be able to give the matter your attention…”

No issue involving Museum staff was too insignificant for his attention:

Mr. Jesse Vogdes, Chief Engineer and Superintendent, December 4, 1907

“My Dear Sir:

Mrs. Hamilton, in the Woman’s room, needs a new uniform, as she appears to have had none for two years. Will you please send me an order on Wanamaker’s…as follows: Four collars, No. 14; four pairs cuffs, No. 8; four aprons; one dozen caps.”

Barber’s administrative correspondence is lively and occasionally divisive, and it documents the early formation of the Museum’s collections. His correspondence with John T. Morris, especially, reflects their shared passion to build a world class collection.

July, 29, 1911 

“My dear Mr. Morris:

I have your letter of the 28th…and I thoroughly agree with you in many of your statements, and I would be very glad indeed to buy modern work, provided it is as good or better than the ancient. To buy it simply because it is modern, however and is not in good workmanship as the old, does not appeal to me. I agree with you that the best and rarest pieces..should be procured for the Museum at any price…”

And, all the while, his negotiations with donors were carefully tended. After agreeing to exhibit a donkey cart, a handful of letters between Barber and the donor, trace a discussion about the option of also borrowing the donkey harness. Barber tactfully concedes that a donkey may not be necessary:

The donkey cart.

The donkey cart.

Mrs. Richard Waln Meirs, May 28, 1913 

“My dear Mrs. Meirs,

We would be very glad, indeed, to place on exhibition the harness belonging to the Sicilian cart which you kindly lent us recently. This has attracted so much attention that I think it would be greatly improved by using the harness also. To be sure, we have not a stuffed donkey to use it on, but our carpenter can make a frame which will show it to good advantage. If you care to lend this to us, we shall take the best care of it and it will, of course, be subject to you order anytime.”

While attending to the day-to-day management of a museum and school, and an active publication and exhibition schedule, he also maintained an active correspondence with scholars and collectors, particularly in his chosen specialty, ceramics:

Mr. Thomas Clarke, New York, September 24, 1910 DSCN2449

“My Dear Mr. Clarke:

On my return from Europe, I find the memorandum which you sent to Mr. Kent of the Metropolitan Museum…

Is wet tea leaf brown similar to the tea dust soufflé glaze? Can you tell me the difference between dragon’s blood and pigeon’s blood red? Are not pond scum and pistache green somewhat similar?

I hope to be able to get in to see you some time when in New York, in the meantime, I shall thank you for enlightenment on these points.”

Barber held several long, collegial exchanges with expert craftsmen, notably Henry Mercer Chapmen and Taxile Doat. Towards the end of his life, while preparing an exhibition and the publication of “Fakes” and Reproductions Barber corresponded with both men. With Mercer he debates the qualities of “legitimate reproductions” and he consults with Doat, drawing on Doat’s earlier experience as a master craftsman at Sevres:

December 29, 1911 IMG_5350

“My dear Mr. Doat:

I saw yesterday a large cylindrical jardinière…The dealer who owns this values it at $900, although in my estimation it would be dear at $9…Thanking you for any facts you may be able to send me…”

These are just a few of the things that we found as we processed this. Researchers with more time for discovery and examination would, no doubt, uncover many more interesting treasures.

 

Processing up

Written by Steven Duckworth on April 8th, 2014

The Hebrew Sunday School Society (HSSS) collection at Temple University’s Special Collections Research Center contains roughly 35 linear feet of records that span two centuries (1802 to 2002) and document the history of the Society. HSSS was founded in 1838 by Rebecca Gratz (a Jewish philanthropist in Philadelphia and the basis for the character of Rebecca in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe) with the intention that all Jewish children could attend classes regardless of financial standing or synagogue affiliation. The collection consists of administrative records, papers and programs from school teachings and functions, some very cool artifacts (e.g., lantern slides, a large hand bell used for fire drills, books and other items originally belonging to Rebecca Gratz), and many photographs.

Hopping through the decades.

Hopping through the decades.

In working with the collection, my processing partner (Annalise Berdini) and I came across a somewhat frustrating issue – that of attempting to minimally process a collection that had been previously processed to a much more detailed level. This collection, which consists of no less than 17 different accessions, had been processed by various people, and to varying levels. Additionally, a number of the more ‘eye-catching’ items had been used in an exhibit, so they had been somewhat separated from their contextual homes. Many folders were found to contain just one document, or perhaps a few. Others had a slew of records stretching back many decades, but hopscotching through the years like a child at play. It’s not uncommon to find a date span such as “1877, 1882-1888, 1906, 1910-1913, 1930-1959, 1965-1985.”

Other folders seemed to be making a summary of the entire collection, with one or two examples of each type of document from each series we’d constructed, leaving us frequently asking, “How do I label this and where does this go?” (Personally, I’m planning to petition for the word hodgepodge to be added as acceptable terminology since miscellaneous is out of the question.) And then there were the occasional appearances of spotty preservation work (though I can’t be sure when that occurred).

Spotty preservation practices.

Spotty preservation practices.

The folder titles were sometimes helpful, but with any number of people having created the folders over those many many accessions, they were inconsistent. Some had specific titles (some VERY specific); some were quite vague (my favorite from the collection being “Miscellaneous, etc.”). Some had dates (often inaccurate); most did not. This all boiled down to a lot of folders being refoldered; all of which needed to be inspected for more accurate information; and this all slowed down the process considerably. One day, I spent close to five hours making my way through just one linear foot of folders.

The takeaway from the HSSS records is in highlighting the fact that MPLP (or maximal processing, really, which is closer to what we’re doing in this project) is not suited to every collection. This collection, though not done to our current standards, had been previously processed and some sort of inventory did exist. As such, it was most likely not the best choice for this processing project (though we all enjoyed the content of the collection quite a bit). If a collection has already gone past minimal processing, it’s rather difficult to back that process up.

 

The Abraham L. Freedman papers

Written by Annalise Berdini on April 7th, 2014

For our first project as student processors for the PACSCL/CLIR Hidden Collections Project at the Temple University Special Collections Research Center, my partner Steve Duckworth and I got to work with the Abraham Freedman Papers, a collection of business-related and personal documents from the Honorable Abraham L. Freedman, who notably served as Philadelphia’s City Solicitor and served as counsel in a landmark discrimination case against Girard College.

Freedman_Dilworth

Campaign materials for the Clark-Dilworth campaign.

This collection was, first of all, completely fascinating in ways I could not expect from papers that seemed mostly made up of case file documents and office memos. However, the fact that most of the order was Judge Freedman’s own made for a collection that was not only very well suited to MPLP, but also rich in contextual information that could not have been gleaned from the documents alone.  If anything, this collection was a case in proving how important that context can be to telling the whole story. These boxes were not simply filled with rusty legal bindings and onionskin, there was a whole life hiding in the spaces between the folders.

This isn’t the easiest concept to provide examples for, but one of the ways having this context helped us was when the original order filled in the gaps in our information. A folder full of bulletins from an event that didn’t seem to have to do with the rest of the box made sense when discovering the next folder was full of drafts of a speech Freedman gave there. Often, he kept his materials together so that searching wasn’t even necessary; everything was in its place with purpose. Each segment of his career was generally already together; his early private legal practice manuscripts in one section, his City Solicitor papers in another. Folder titles were clear and usually included accurate dates and descriptions; we were often able to tease out helpful research information without too much digging. There were often notes and edits on folder titles, clearly added when new documents were added; and often, not only were documents kept together by career, but often even by subject.

TU_Freedman_photo 2

Letter to Freedman signed by President John F. Kennedy.

Because we were able to use Freedman’s organization and order to figure out answers to our questions, this collection was quite easily minimally processed. Our only problems occurred when working with a smaller, separate accession within the collection, which had been previously processed and which unintentionally removed much of the context that Freedman’s order had provided. The stark contrast between processing those materials and Freedman’s original order highlighted how important it is to consider the shape of a collection before choosing MPLP as the processing method.

Aside from the ease of processing, learning about Freedman’s life was an experience in and of itself. Freedman was a huge advocate for equal rights and worked to end discrimination throughout his entire life. His correspondence with colleagues and friends is often beautiful and thoughtful, even for short notes. Some of his own personal writings, short stories and musings on his career, highlight his creativity and appreciation for the written word. For a first collection and foray into minimal processing, it’s hard to imagine a better place to have started.

 

We’re back! Bootcamp, processing, and progress so far…

Written by Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe on April 4th, 2014
Training_Processing

New project team during minimal processing bootcamp at the University of Pennsylvania.

Hello again! Time has flown by, and we’re just getting the blog started again by recapping the current PACSCL/CLIR Hidden Collections Processing Project of 2013-2014. I assumed responsibilities of Project Manager in August 2013 and it’s been a whirlwind of activity from the very first day. I had to quickly assess and plan how we would minimally process 46 collections containing materials from the 18th to 21st centuries, all specifically related to Philadelphia history. Processing will require us to process at a rate of 4 hours per linear foot at 16 different repositories over the course of one year.  In addition to 12 veteran participating repositories, we welcome four new institutions to the project, including two non-PACSCL members. With this project, we hope to refine, confirm, and better establish guidelines for applying minimal processing to a wide range of collections and types of institutions and creating high-quality finding aids for our ever-expanding collaborative site.

Surveying at Germantown Historical Society.

Surveying at Germantown Historical Society.

As you may recall, this project builds upon the predecessor processing project lead by Holly Mengel and Courtney Smerz from 2009 to 2011. Having served as one of the processors on that project, I began my work as Project Manager already very familiar with the “PACSCL” methods and approaches established by the first team. My familiarity with these approaches, along with additional archives management experience, gave me a bit of a running start, but I immediately found that I have my work cut out for me. More about the challenges and lessons I’ve learned so far will be chronicled in later posts.

In August, I quickly got started by surveying the collections selected for the grant that had not been surveyed previously by the fabulous PACSCL Survey Initiative Project. I followed and expanded upon the guidelines already previously established in earlier projects to assess these new collections. In September and October, I was able to assemble a fabulous project team of six processors and one assistant, who all attended the bootcamp training week designed to establish a good overview of the PACSCL approaches to minimal processing and the Archivists’ Toolkit. After training, I assigned pairs of processors to our first three repositories (Temple University, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Union League of Philadelphia) to kick off the year’s-worth of processing work ahead of us.

First day of processing at Temple University.

First day of processing at Temple University.

Already with many challenges and successes along the way that will be detailed further in the coming weeks on the blog, we hit our six-month mark this week right on track! At our halfway point in the project come mid-April, we will have processed an approximate total of 762 linear feet for 22 collections in 9 repositories, at an average rate of 3.45 hours per linear foot. Please stay tuned as we continue to add more frequent updates about our progress, lessons learned, and interesting finds!

 

Where are they now? Part II

Written by Sarah Newhouse on July 27th, 2012

The last time this blog heard from me, I had finished processing the papers of Dr. Stella Kramrisch at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In that blog post, you can tell that I’m a little surprised that the processing went so well. I thought it would be complex to reconcile two different phases of previous processing that had separated a collection into two physical groups.  I can laugh at that now, because it turns out 1-year-ago-Sarah had no idea how complex processing could really be. (Oh, little baby archivist, just you wait.)

Since I left the Hidden Collections project, I’ve worked on two projects at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (which participated in the CLIR grant but alas, I was not part of the team that worked there). The first was as project archivist for the Digital Center for Americana Project, Phase II. Both phases of this project had, at their heart, the drive to create access to the collections at HSP through digitization. Phase I focused on collections relating to the Civil War and Phase II on collections that documented immigrant families, individuals, and communities in the Philadelphia area. I feel especially lucky that I got to work on this project given the subject matter. Many researchers know about HSP’s treasures – and there are some amazing things in those holdings, believe me – but fewer researchers know about these collections that document the immigrant experience or represent minority groups. The history of the Philadelphia area is mostly a narrative of Western European families who, yes, were all immigrants themselves, but very well-documented immigrants. So I’m happy to be adding to the richness of that narrative by making collections of less well-documented minority and immigrant groups accessible to the public.

The project involved some MPLP and some full processing. Collections had to be arranged, described, housed, inventoried, conserved, and digitized. Some collections received full digitization, like the beautiful 18th and 19th century bound volumes in the Abraham H. Cassel collection and the tapes and transcripts in the Balch Institute’s South Asian Immigrants in the Philadelphia Area Oral History Project.  Others received “signpost” images, meaning that I selected items for digitization that represented the contents of the collection. This was actually a bit of a challenge, because I had to resist the urge to digitize the most unusual, amazing, or funniest items in a collection and just digitize things that wouldn’t mislead a researcher as to the collection’s contents.  So, for the Athena Tacha papers, rather than digitize a letter from one of Tacha’s famous artist friends, I chose one of her many letters to her family in Greece.

One of the biggest challenges with this project was the language barrier. I can read some German (but don’t ask me to speak it), as well as Japanese, Latin, and a tiny bit of Spanish, but this project also included Greek, Swedish, and French, languages that I had zero experience with. Luckily, I was able to fall back on the skills of two interns who were natives of Sweden and Greece. Without their help, the finding aids for these collections would have been a lot less informative and the processing experience a lot less fun. The interns had different levels of archives experience, so I relied on them mostly as translators rather than processors. But even our clever Swedish intern, who spoke German fluently, was stumped by some of the spidery, 18th century German handwriting and syntax we encountered.

Working on the DCAII has given me a deep respect and thankfulness for the work that Holly and Courtney did on the PACSCL CLIR project. Transitioning from a student processing intern to a project archivist had a very, very, very steep learning curve. But luckily I had some understanding coworkers who created a support system of archivists, conservators, and digital technicians, all willing to put up with my mistakes and answer my questions (although in hindsight, one of my biggest mistakes was not asking more questions). Coordinating moving collections between three departments was difficult, as was getting used to budgeting my time on a project for which I had to keep track of and participate in processing, conservation, and digitization tasks. I also managed interns, ordered supplies, blogged, helped organize an exhibit, helped arrange a talk, and generally tried to look like I knew what I was doing. (As the internet says: fail.)

Of course, I would not be where I am now — happily processing the papers of the Woodlands Cemetery Company at HSP — if I hadn’t been selected as a student processor for the Hidden Collections project. This project and others like it are truly wonderful ways for archives and LIS students to get their feet wet in the processing pool. Especially if they’re managed as well as we were, with readily available guidance and frequent on-site supervision, processing interns gain not only skills they’ll need for those first few jobs, but the confidence to use them.

For further reading, here are some links with information about the projects I’ve done since Hidden Collections:

HSP’s Digital Library: http://digitallibrary.hsp.org/

HSP’s finding aids: http://hsp.org/collections/catalogs-research-tools/finding-aids

HSP’s archives blog, “Fondly, Pennsylvania:” http://hsp.org/blogs/fondly-pennsylvania

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the DCAII and its collections, Woodlands Cemetery, or my experience with the PACSCL-CLIR Hidden Collections project. snewhouse@hsp.org

 

Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories

Written by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen on May 7th, 2012

If you’ve been following this blog of the PACSCL-CLIR Hidden Collections Processing Project, you might be interested in learning about the Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR, or the “Small Repository Project” for short). This post could be filed under “PACSCL-CLIR Student Processors–Where Are They Now?” since I, and fellow former student processor Michael Gubicza, are both currently employed on the Small Repository Project. But before you conjure up too many thoughts of drug-addicted 80s TV stars and one-hit-wonder 90s teen queens, think of this post also under the headings “Lessons Learned” and “Project Legacy.” The Small Repository Project carries on PACSCL’s commitment to uncovering hidden archival collections, and builds on the PACSCL-CLIR methodology, tools, and infrastructure–with a few new twists, of course.

Another creative storage solution at Millbrook Society! Hatboro Borough records, stored in a biscuit box.

Another creative storage solution at Millbrook Society! Hatboro Borough records, stored in a biscuit box.

First, some background on the Small Repository Project. It’s an initiative of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania–not coincidentally, one of the repositories where I processed for PACSCL-CLIR–with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Small Repository Project aims to make better known and more accessible the important archival collections held at the many small, primarily volunteer-run historical societies, historic sites, and museums in the Philadelphia region. It was envisioned as a three-part project, and right now we’re in the midst of Phase I, which focuses on Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties. My title is Project Surveyor, so my job is to visit all of the small repositories in those two counties and survey their archival collections. There are two major components to the survey work: description and assessment.

Historical Society of Tacony: Frank Shuman, a Tacony resident, developed the world's first solar power plant in 1912-1913!

Historical Society of Tacony: Frank Shuman, a Tacony resident, developed the world's first solar power plant in 1912-1913!

Description In just six months of surveying, we’ve already discovered many amazing collections! From big names–like Pennsylvania Governor Samuel Pennypacker and Civil War naval engineer John Ericsson–to names that didn’t make the history books–like Frank Shuman, who built the world’s first solar power plant in 1912, or Dr. Hiram Corson, an abolitionist and prominent advocate for women physicians. To make these important resources more visible, we are creating what amount to “stub” finding aids: we don’t have the time to physically process any collections, but we can provide collection-level descriptions with very summary information. To be as fast yet thorough as possible, Michael and I use Archivist’s Toolkit, Holly and Courtney’s data-entry best practices, and an Excel-to-XML worksheet of my own devising that was heavily inspired by Matt Herbison’s.

PACSCL and the University of Pennsylvania recently agreed to host our finding aids, so they will be on the PACSCL Finding Aid Site together with the PACSCL-CLIR “Hidden Collections” finding aids. I am personally thrilled about this detail, because it means Philadelphia will be one step closer to having one central database where all area archival collections could be searched. In one place, you will be able to search collections from the biggest professionally-run PACSCL member to the smallest all-volunteer historical society! None of the Small Repository Project finding aids are up quite yet, but keep an eye on the site…

Old York Road Historical Society

Old York Road Historical Society

Assessment As I mentioned, the Hidden Collections Project doesn’t have the time to physically process all the collections that we survey, but we do hope that at least some of them will be processed in the not-too-distant future! Toward that end, we not only describe but also assess each of the collections we survey. We look at the condition of the material, quality of housing, degree of intellectual access (existence of finding aids), physical accessibility (organization), and research value (a combination of an interest ranking, and a rating for how well those interesting topics are documented). These ratings help establish collection care and processing priorities–a collection with a high research value rating but low accessibility ratings should be processed first.

PACSCL did the same sort of assessments for its member institutions a few years back (PACSCL Consortial Survey Initiative), based on a survey project at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania before that. The collections processed for the PACSCL-CLIR “Hidden Collections” Processing Project were those identified by the PACSCL survey as having the highest potential research value.

The assessment methodology that we use in the Small Repository Project, down to the assessment criteria and ratings descriptions, is modeled after the PACSCL survey. Check out Matthew Lyons’ blog post about our methodology. We strive for consistency so that our ratings will be comparable to PACSCL’s. Only the future can say whether anyone will undertake a large-scale, multi-repository processing project like PACSCL-CLIR “Hidden Collections.” But our assessments can help individual small repositories best allocate their own limited resources.

Social Media While I worked on the PACSCL-CLIR project, I loved sharing my favorite “finds” from the collections I processed on the project Flickr page and blog. We do the same thing at the Small Repository Project! Check out our blog and our photoalbums. For updates, follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Holly, Courtney, and everyone who has worked on the PACSCL-CLIR Hidden Collections Project. The tools, techniques, and wisdom they developed and shared on their project website have proved invaluable to us in implementing the Small Repository Project. I’m sure that many other important and innovative archival projects will build on the PACSCL-CLIR project, and we all, collectively, thank you for enriching our communal knowledge.