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Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories

Monday, 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.

The Vote!

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

My partner Michael and I are coming to the end of six months processing at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. We’ll be sad to go, but we’re excited about moving on to the National Archives and Records Administration (Mid-Atlantic Branch). We hear they’ve got an interesting collection for us to dig into! But first things first, we’re finishing up our final collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania: the League of Women Voters of Philadelphia records.

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The League of Women Voters (LWV) was formed in 1920, replacing the National American Woman Suffrage Association just before the passage of the 19th Amendment granted American women the right to vote. The Philadelphia branch of LWV was founded soon afterward, with the same goals of educating women voters and generally promoting issues of interest to women. The Philadelphia LWV included among its storied members Sarah Logan Wister Starr, that philanthropic powerhouse of 20th-century Philadelphia’s social and political circles, whom we came to know and love while processing the Belfield papers. She wasn’t the only powerful women in LWV, however. Those ladies knew how to take care of business. Accounting for the special interests of half the American population, the LWV wielded real political power and they knew it. They kept an eye on every politician’s voting record; they tracked developments in issues relating to education, the environment, international relations, and women’s rights; they even found time to hold local events, including car care clinics!

The collection is an amazing resource for anyone studying the League of Women Voters or grassroots political action in the context of an inner-city environment. Because the LWV was tracking a diverse number of subjects and keeping tabs on numerous politicians, education, Philadelphia government reform, and other political and social issues of special concern to the League of Women.

Voters are also well documented in this collection. We hope you’ll come to the Historical Society soon to check it out!

THE (yes, THE) William Penn papers

Friday, June 24th, 2011

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When our friend and co-processor Jenna heard that Michael and I were working on the Penn family papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, she was a little bit jealous. “That’s amazing!” she gushed. “But, you do realize, you have officially peaked in your careers as archivists. It doesn’t get any better than William Penn!”

Truly, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s collection of William Penn and family is unparalleled. It is a rich and vital source for anyone studying the history of the Pennsylvania colony, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), European-Native American cultural encounters, colonial administration, inter-colonial disagreements, the transition of colonial government at the time of the American Revolution, and myriad other topics. Michael and I were fascinated to find treaties upon which the Native American parties had drawn “pictograms” of their names next to the English equivalents. We were blown away by the sheer volume of records relating to the Maryland-Pennsylvania border dispute, which dragged on for many decades. I’m a bit of a Quaker history nerd, so I was thrilled to see Penn’s correspondence with George Fox. All of which is to say that from the perspective of a researcher, Jenna is right: it doesn’t get any better than the Penn family papers.

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From the perspective of an archivist, however, I have to say: I hope that wasn’t the peak of my career. The Penn family papers were frustrating to process precisely because they are such an important and frequently-used collection. As an archives student I’m often told that archival processing and description are iterative processes, and this collection really brought that truth home. Almost two centuries have passed since the Historical Society was founded, and the Penn papers seemingly represent a cross-section of every fad, trend, and development in archival theory. There are huge bound volumes of collected documents, custom-size boxes for individual items, and several generations of Hollinger boxes; they are described in volume indexes, outdated finding aids, and a card catalog; important documents have been hand-copied, microfilmed, and photocopied. The collection is all over the place.

Under the auspices of this minimal-processing project, we didn’t have the time to update everything according to today’s standards and best practices. But even if we could, it might not even be desirable. Decades of scholars have used the collection as it is and cited their sources accordingly. While working on this collection, Michael and I had to ensure that nothing we did would inhibit the ability of researchers to find materials they used last week, or chase scholarly citations from 100 years ago. What processing we did was necessarily minimal, but our major objective was to create an online finding aid that would serve as an entry point to the collection. That much we accomplished, and we are pleased to make this contribution to the field. Welcome to the digital world, William Penn!

What have we learned from the experience?

Here are our words of wisdom to researchers: Come to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania! The Penn family papers are an incredible resource. We recommend you consult the card catalog on site to ensure you will have a fruitful experience.

Here are our words of wisdom to archivists: Come to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania! Maybe ask if you can get your hands dirty on an unprocessed collection instead of the Penn family papers. If you do work with the Penn family papers, allow at least 150 years to do a thorough job. At which point archival theory may have changed sufficiently that it will be time to start all over again….but you can worry about that when you get there.

Chaos to Order, in 4 hours or less

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Written by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza.

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When we first saw the boxes holding the Belfield papers, stacked on shelves in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, we said to each other: “Ohhh boy, I bet there’s good stuff in there!” That was our Pavlovian response: the collection was stored entirely in candy-bar and liquor boxes.

Our next response was anxiety about our 2-hour-per-linear-foot target processing speed: the collection was stored entirely in candy-bar and liquor boxes. Were these boxes packed by a child or a drunkard?

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We’re still not sure who packed the boxes, but they were truly a mess. Sometimes documents were folded up and tied together in little packets, but more often the materials were just loose. The Belfield papers seemed insurmountable. But we’re proud to say that we managed to process them more or less on time. With help from Holly and Courtney we finished before our 6-week deadline was up, although if you count man-hours we clocked somewhere around 3.7 hours per linear foot. That’s not bad—it’s almost twice our target speed (2 hours per linear foot) and a bit above the project average (2.8 hours per linear foot), but it’s just under the speed Greene and Meissner suggest for minimal processing (4 hours per linear foot, and that’s for large 20th century collections of business records).  It is well under the speed of traditional processing, which can take up to 40 hours per linear foot!

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Most importantly, we are pleased with the finding aid we produced. We didn’t quite manage folder-level description, but we did at least provide subseries-level description. And now that everything is arranged in folders and document boxes, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania can finally grant physical access to the materials.

As much as we dreaded having to paw through the disorganized boxes of the Belfield papers, in retrospect we’re almost glad they were such a mess at the beginning. It forced us to do lots of research and explore related subject material in order to understand the collection well enough to arrange it properly. Don’t get me wrong, this was still minimal processing. We didn’t spend weeks checking books out of the library. But whenever we needed some additional context, we did hop on the computer for a quick Google search or visit to Ancesty.com. Over the course of 6 weeks of processing, we covered a lot of interesting topics. Lucky for us, the Fisher-Wister-Starr-Blain families happened to be involved in some fascinating things. We learned about Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Colonial Dames of America, the Sesquicentennial Exposition, stamp collecting, world travel during the Great Depression, twentieth century psychiatry, and nineteenth-century industry and legal practice, just for starters. The Belfield papers will prove to be an amazing resource for researchers in these, and many more subject areas, and we are proud to say that we were able to make the collection serviceable for them—in less than 4 hours per linear foot!

Harold E. Cox transportation collection at HSP

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Written by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza

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The Harold E. Cox transportation collection at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) is a rich resource for anyone wishing to study public transportation in Philadelphia. It consists largely of records from the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC), which operated the city’s transit from about 1940-1964, and the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (PRT), which operated the city’s transit from about 1902-1940. There are also many records from the many small predecessor and subsidiary rail lines that existed before public transit was consolidated.

We just finished processing the collection, and we’re working on a finding aid that will soon be online. Nonetheless, using the collection isn’t as simple as walking through the door and asking to see it. When Dr. Harold E. Cox, Professor of History Emeritus and University Archivist at Wilkes University, donated the collection to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, he made an unusual stipulation:

Anyone wishing to use the Harold E. Cox Transportation Collection shall be told of the heroic efforts of Jeffrey Ray [Curator of Collections at Atwater Kent Museum] to save the collection from destruction and how he has been a ‘living saint’ for the last 13 years and put up with not only me, but all of the crazy idiots who have wanted to use the collection. The recitation of this glorious saga shall last no less than 20 minutes, and be set to verse.

As a courtesy to HSP staff, we put together a few verses just to get things started. Enjoy.

Listen, my researchers, and we shall say,
The midnight ride of Jeffrey Ray.
(If it was midnight, to tell the truth,
We don’t know) but forsooth
He saved everything in this rich collection,
And for over a decade he gave it protection.

Ray got the collection from Dr. Harold E. Cox,
Who kept it in many a big cardboard box.
Cox found it in the bowels of SEPTA’s subway.
Someone had trashed it! But without delay,
He saw it was treasure: maps and reports,
Financial, administrative, and records from courts.

Two-hundred feet of such quality goods!
Cox had no space, and knew that he should
Bring it to Atwater Kent Museum.
He called Jeffrey Ray to come out and see ‘em.
Ray saw the treasure and cried in delight,
“Researchers will love this! I’ll take all in my sight!”
That was nineteen-ninety: the next thirteen years,
Jeffrey Ray faced bravely, and without fear,
All researchers who came to see
The archives of Philly Rapid Transit and the PTC.

But time does pass, and when the Atwater Kent
Became the Philadelphia History Museum, they sent
Their archival holdings our way:
To the Historical Society of P. A.

Now the collection is processed, finding aid online,
So we hope that you’ll come visit some time,
To learn of subways, the trolley and bus,
In Philadelphia—or at least how it was.

Face powder and gun powder

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Everyone recognizes the image of “Rosie the Riveter,” that symbol of female power and resolve born of World War II. Not every woman could be Rosie, but every woman wanted to do her part to assist the war effort. Or at least, that’s the impression we got while processing the Historical Society of Pennsylvania collection of World War II papers this past month, our first processing project at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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Among the highlights of the collection are photographs taken from inside the Stage Door Canteen, a USO club that offered servicemen on leave in Philadelphia free food and entertainment. And, most importantly, the club had hostesses for those without a date! We gather that this line must have been the most effective advertising technique, because we saw it everywhere. Girls, girls, girls! We found photos of girls dancing, girls serving drinks, and…well…what else do girls do? Oh yes, they look pretty.

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But times were tough during the war, so staying pretty was no easy business. Food was rationed, travel was discouraged (gas was rationed too-as were tires!), scrap metal was collected in great quantities. Among the most daunting challenges for our lovely hostesses at the Stage Door was a make-up shortage due to rationed ingredients. It must have been a happy day for servicemen and hostesses alike when a substitute was finally discovered. When we found a press release with this statement in it, we sighed with relief too: “American women-housewives, career girls, and war workers-won’t have to choose between face powder and gun powder!”

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To be sure, being a woman during war time wasn’t all about being pretty. It was also about cooking. And that, too, was made difficult by all the rationing we already mentioned. Luckily, the government had a few crack suggestions for cooking up delicious dishes out of surplus food items. Check out these recipes for spinach. If you’re brave enough to try the Spinach Salad with Mayonnaise Dressing, let us know how it turns out! Molded veggies are always a classy choice.

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We don’t want to give the wrong impression, though. We found some strong female personalities in this collection, and the servicemen’s appreciation for them had nothing to do with their beauty or cooking skills. “Mother” Weber, a member of St. Mark’s Church, corresponded with over 76 Philadelphian servicemen lonely for a voice from their home town. She saved money for their birthday presents (a $1 bill) by skipping her weekly movie. There was Harriet Favorite (her name says it all!), the bold and capable president of the Stage Door Canteen. There were the women who went to work in factories, real-life Rosie the Riveters. And, of course, there were also servicewomen who served our country right alongside the men, and partied with them in USO clubs or in their own Servicewomen’s Club. All of these women did their part with grace and courage, whether their responsibilities required the use of face powder or gun powder.

Early Philadelphia Litterateur: Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson was such an amazing lady!  She was a poet and an intellectual whose opinions mattered to people developing the world in which we live today.  She is found not only in her own collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia, but also in the John Dickinson papers and the Rush family papers.

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The Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson papers consists of six volumes of her writing.  It is probable that these volumes represent the bulk of her writing.  The content of the volumes is very indicative of who she was:  there are two volumes of poetic interpretation of Psalms, with an introductory letter explaining her project to her friend Reverend Richard Peters; two volumes of poetic translation of Fenelon’s Adventures of Telemaque, which was, according to notes within the volumes, a favorite book during her childhood; and two volumes containing a variety of writings including poetry, prose, letters and memorandum.  All these volumes include writings about topics which meant something to Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, but the last two do so in an unstructured manner.  A poem memorializing a yellow fever victim might be next to query regarding currency.  These volumes show the lively and diverse intellect of a woman in the late 18th century.

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I would love to have the chance to write all about Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson who was, as mentioned before, a truly amazing lady … but I am not going to because there is already a really good biography of her.  But to pique your interest and encourage you to read about her, let me simply say that she is a plucky figure (engaged to William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin, who married someone else; married to Hugh Fergusson, whose loyalty to the new United States was questioned; vilified by many of her contemporaries for her relationship with her husband; and championed by her friends in helping her regain her property after it was seized as a result of the Confiscation Act of 1778). After writing that, I am surprised there is not a film about her!

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I am going to write, instead, about my discovery of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson.  Not being an early American scholar, prior to processing this collection, I did not know anything about this woman, but now I have worked with three collections in which she is referenced or to which she contributed:  her own, the Rush family papers, and the John Dickinson papers (all at the Library Company of Philadelphia).  Together, with a few other collections at Dickinson College and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, these collections paint a fairly complete picture of this woman’s life—far more complete than a researcher would find if accessing only her collection of poetry and writings.  For instance, examples of the legal aid provided to her by her friends in order to help restore her property after her husband’s alleged treachery is found within the John Dickinson papers.  Benjamin Rush, one of her closest friends, received letters, poems and drafts from Fergusson, which he saved and are now available for research.  The real question I have is how many more collections containing material created by or about Fergusson are still out there, unprocessed and still hidden?  Regardless, when the Library Company of Philadelphia’s finding aids are made available, researchers will have a lot more to look at when researching Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson.

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Right around the time that I was processing this collection, I was on my way to a coffee shop and passed directly next to Christ Church.  As I was slowly meandering through the tombstones, I happened upon Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s marker.  After all the time I spent with her (intellectually speaking), I felt as if I was greeting an old friend.  I was actually a little surprised when I reminded myself that only a few months earlier, I had never even heard of her.

__________

Art in the Archives: Doodles, Sketches, and Fine Art

Monday, January 24th, 2011

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People often think of archival collections as dusty boring boxes of papers, but even if the boxes are dusty and full of paper, they are rarely (never, in my opinion) boring.  Who knows what you will find when you pop open that liquor store or candy bar box ?  One of the things that I love finding is artwork, which is very prevalent in archival collections, in varying degrees of artistic quality.  Regardless, I love it because it really allows you to see the world through the creator’s eyes.  Textual material allows you to discover the way the creator thought , but art allows you to see what they saw (or maybe not … maybe it is what they wanted to see).  Fascinating!

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The kind of art that our project has revealed was created for lots of purposes:  work, clarity, creativity, and boredom (or perhaps nerves—I am a nervous doodler).  Workwise, we have found amazing sketches in the Academy of Natural Sciences Exhibit records reflecting the creation of the dioramas  with plans for the backgrounds, the foliage, and habitat.  A professional artist’s work is represented in the Thornton Oakley collection on Howard Pyle and his student.  The John H. Mathis Company records contains ship plans; and when we process the Armistead Browning, Jr. papers at the University of Delaware, we will be working with landscape plans.  Natural historians documented their scientific studies as well as amazing new things they discovered:  Pierre Eugene du Simitière and J. Percy Moore are notable examples.  The Logan family papers include some drawings that show James Logan’s interactions with the Native Americans in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s.

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We also have student artists who saved their work—this is evident in the Reinhardt, Hawley and Hewes family papers, the Marvin Rosefield Keck, the Vaux family papers and Nicholson and Taylor family papers.  The artwork in these collection is far beyond amateur and both William Nicholson Taylor and Mary Vaux Walcott studied art formally.  Taylor and Keck used their considerable talents to draw humorous cartoons of the world they observed.  Mary Vaux Walcott created beautiful paintings from her experiences with the United States Board of Indian Commissions.

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Others drew plans of their hopes … James Rush has amazing sketches of architectural features for a home he was building on Chestnut Street.  In John Dickinson’s papers, there are sketches of a bathtub (introduced by Benjamin Franklin) as well as plans for succeeding in a military battle.  I can only imagine how wonderful a bathtub seemed in a time when plumbing was scarce.  The Logan family papers at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania include tons of land surveys—quite beautiful … I don’t know if the Logan, Dickinson and Norris families were planning to buy land or or already owned it.

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Finally we have the doodlers … and I love the doodlers!  I cannot decide if I like the doodles on the inside covers of Benjamin Rush’s financial books or John Dickinson Logan’s doodles on the list of rules for officers serving in the Civil War.  Either way, these doodles are of a most decidedly human nature … I have a strong suspicion that I, and many of the readers of the blog post, would doodle in similar situations.  Hopefully, you have not been doodling during the perusal of this post!

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!

    Processing plans for minimal processing

    Monday, March 1st, 2010

    You haven’t heard much from me in the past month or so because I have been out in the field on a reconnaissance mission, so to speak.  Since the middle of January, I visited Independence Seaport Museum and Presbyterian Historical Society, and Holly joined me at The Library Company, Free Library of Philadelphia, Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Chester County Historical Society, to gather information about collections for the creation of processing plans.

    Our processors do not have a lot of time to think about their processing decisions and once those decisions are made there’s no turning back.  Not to mention, we are working with students, who are learning the art of archival processing as they go and therefore do not have a lot of experience to draw from when making decisions about arranging collections.  Even so, because of the nature of the project, we need our teams to work independently.  As such, the processing plan is a very important part of our work flow.  It is completed prior to the processors’ arrival, provides them a place to start, and guides them in their decision making as they begin to divide collections into series and subseries.

    Unknown size: small.

    I spent from one to four hours with each collection, its accession file (if there was one), and collecting biographical information about its creator(s). Taking this information (and lots of photocopies) away with me, I created processing packets.  Each collection’s packet contains the processing plan, a preliminary biographical/historical note (written by Holly or me), copies of useful documentation from the accession file, a copy of the PACSCL survey record, and copies of any historical/biographical information we found about the creator(s). The processing plan itself identifies basic information about the collection, including its date range, linear footage and container count, and a basic list of supplies needed for processing.  More importantly, the plan offers a list of proposed series and subseries as well as specific processing instructions for collections that are especially unique or potentially problematic.  For example, at the Independence Seaport Museum, numerous collections contain large numbers (1000s, actually) of rolled ship’s plans, which will present significant problems in terms of time–the students will not have time to unroll the plans in order to identify them nor will they have time to figure out how to effectively deal with them.  As such, Matt Herbison, the Director of the Library at the Seaport Museum, and I took some time one afternoon to figure out the best way to handle those collections that would enable both greater intellectual and physical access.  The systems we came up with are outlined in the processing plans for those collections for the students to replicate.

    Our teams are instructed to completely read all the materials in the processing packet prior to processing.  In doing so, the teams quickly become acquainted with the collection and its creators and are made aware of the various types of records to look for and how to group them.  Additionally, through the packets students gain a sense of the historical context in which the records were created—information that they do not have enough time to uncover on their own and that we believe to be essential in understanding archives and their value.

    Since the students will ultimately devote a lot more time to the collections than we can, we do allow them to adapt the processing plan as they see fit.  If they feel additional or different series are necessary to maximize the collection’s accessibility, they may make those decisions on their own.

    At all the repositories I have visited thus far (there are a few more stops along the way) I have gotten quite an in depth “sneak peek” at what’s in store.  Based on my experience over the past couple of weeks, we have some exciting collections coming up that are sure to be both interesting and challenging from the perspectives of history AND minimal processing — so stay tuned!

    Here are some teaser snapshots of what’s to come: