City of Philadelphia Department of Records

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Legacy Finding Aids

Monday, July 12th, 2010

For the past two months I’ve been entering legacy finding aids into Archivists’ Toolkit.  So far, most of the finding aids I have entered have been from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania.  I have also worked with finding aids from the Drexel University College of Medicine, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and I just started on a couple finding aids from the City of Philadelphia Archives.

The Penn finding aids were all electronic documents that I could easily cut and paste into the appropriate fields in Archivists’ Toolkit.  The finding aids were complete with extensive biographical/historical notes, scope and content notes, and detailed container lists.  I began with these because they were so complete and posed few obvious problems.

While the PACSCL/CLIR project is using MPLP to process collections at the individual repositories, the legacy finding aids that I am dealing with are for collections that have been processed to a variety of levels.  At Penn, all the finding aids are for collections that have been processed to the folder and sometimes item level.  The problems that did come up with these finding aids resulted from how detailed they were.  One collection had a 45 page biographical note.  Archivists’ Toolkit would not save this massive note and kept showing a bug report.  Thinking it was a formatting issue, I copied and pasted a few pages at a time and saved each time, until it produced the error report.  I then typed the note in Archivists’ Toolkit and saved until it produced the same error report.  This way I was able to confirm it was the size of the note that was producing the problem.  Another problem, with the same finding aid, was footnotes.  This was a very detailed biographical note and it referenced items in the collection.  Archivists’ Toolkit’s text entry is very basic and keeping most formatting that is in the original document is very difficult.  I was able to solve this by making the footnotes endnotes.

Drexel University College of Medicine’s finding aids often had detailed container lists with clearly identified series, so the data entry was rather straightforward.  However, each finding aid had only sketches or timelines for their biographical notes so I had to do some research and expand on them, which turned out to be a lot of fun, and I want to talk about them at greater length in a future post.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s finding aids are a mix of standard finding aid, narrative description, and inventory.  So far, I have only worked on three collections.  The finding aid for the Mutual Assurance Company records, better known as Greentree, was fairly complete.  The problem with this collection was that it was written as a narrative rather than as a standard finding aid.  Many of the paragraphs began with a box number and a general description, and then finally, a list of what was in the box.  It was fairly easy to extract the box number, a general title, and the container list.  However, because it was a narrative, what would typically be the biographical note was spread throughout the entire document.  I was able to go through it and put it all together for a more traditional note.  Some of the other finding aids are more or less just container lists and I will need to write notes for them.

One thing I have learned over the past couple of months is that standardization is strongly needed in the archival community.  Learning about different attempts at standardization and standards that have been created is one thing, but this experience has shown me why it is needed.  That being said, it has also shown me how and why it is so difficult to create standards for archival collections.

Legacy finding aids entered into the Archivists’ Toolkit thus far:

Drexel University College of Medicine

  • Lida Poynter collection on Mary Walker, 1850-1946
  • Longshore Family papers, 1819-1946
  • Northwestern University Women’s Medical School records, 1870-1947
  • West Philadelphia Hospital for Women records, 1889-1932
  • Women’s Hospital of Philadelphia records, 1861-1964
  • University of Pennsylvania

  • Musical Fund Society records, circa 1820-1994
  • Musical Fund Society Supplementary records, circa 1820-2004
  • Mahler-Werfel papers, circa 1880-2004
  • Edward F. Fry papers, 1947-1992
  • Learned Collection on German-Language Theater, 1832-1898
  • The Records of the Women’s Health Concerns Committee, 1974-1984
  • Collection on the Physician’s Forum, 1939-1998
  • Paul Lowinger collection, 1951-1986
  • Historical Society of Pennsylvania

  • Mutual Assurance Company records (Greentree), 1784-1995
  • The records of the Second Baptist Church of Philadelphia, 1803-1972
  • Boies Penrose Pictorial Philadelphia collection, 1855-1992
  • These collections will be available for research soon!