Fondly, Pennsylvania is HSP's main blog. Here you will find posts on our latest projects and newest discoveries, as well articles on interesting bits of local history reflected in our collection. Whether you are doing research or just curious to know more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at HSP, please read, explore, and join the conversation!
This past weekend I attended a Guild of Bookworkers, Delaware Chapter workshop taught by Pamela Spitzmueller. Pam is the first James W. Needham Chief Conservator for Special Collections in the University Library and the College Library at Harvard University. The workshop was to inform us about considerations that must be taken into account with folded items within an atlas structure. This workshop was important for us, not only because we have so many maps in book as well as atlases, but also for all of the genealogical charts!
Each participant in the GBW workshop completed a 3x5 sample book of different kinds of folds as well as several models of other books.
The sample book:
The squashed scroll:
The side cut fold:
side cut fold again:
map which unfolds completely outside of the book allowing for the rest of the book to be read with the map unfolded for reference:
and the Chinese Road Atlas:
The workshop was great for bringing awareness to what can go wrong when maps are folded into books. When I got back on Monday I was excited to pull some of our older atlases and take a look at them with a fresh eye.
One of my favorites is this "Atlas" presented to John Hancock, Esq. Yes, THE John Hancock.
This is a large volume with maps showing the coastline from Maine to Florida. It gives information about how to avoid the gulf stream as well as some of the more treacherous shoals. The book is made up of the maps which have been printed on several different sizes of paper. Some of them fold out, some do not. A label on the front says 1780.
Next I looked at "Europe Divided after D'Annville" 1795. This atlas had a lot of good packing and compensating material. Much thought went into the construction by the binder. You can see all of the compensating material in this spine shot. This was used to create enough room in the spine so that the folded maps - which are thicker than a single sheet of paper - wouldn't make the book splay open. (the book was also "repaired" at some point and you can see the new material under the spine)
Inside the book are some fantastic engravings. This map of Minorca is beautifully designed. It includes a larger map in the upper left, a view of the harbor in the upper right, the actual island in the middle and two elevations of different cities in the bottom right and left. This map is printed on one sheet of paper which is folded in half and glued to a tab. The tab is what is sewn into the spine and binding of the book.
This large engraving of the southern half of Ireland has suffered from use in this perfect example of when things go wrong. Here is the image before it's opened:
However, that area shows typical damage of a folded map tipped in too closely to the spine.
And finally another atlas, the Altas Geographicus Maior, 1759-1762, is much thicker than either of the previous books. It contains maps which fold out in various directions. Including this one of the "Filipines".
It is possible to see where the folding has damaged the book in both of these images.
This page also has a beautiful little compass rose. Here's a detail for you:
This last book had another especially nice little image on the title page:
Last week, Cary wrote here about the end of the PACSCL Hidden Collections Processing Project at HSP. While she was composing that post, two local news organs were covering one of the HSP collections that the PACSCL team processed. The Harold E. Cox transportation collection caught reporters' attention because of an unusual stipulation from the donor.
Harold Cox originally gave the collection to the Atwater Kent Museum (now the Philadelphia History Museum) and then approved its transfer to HSP, which as a special collections library is better able to manage and provide access to the records. In his letter approving the transfer, Dr. Cox wrote that "Anyone wishing to use the Harold E. Cox Transportation Collection shall be told of the heroic efforts of Jeffrey Ray [PHM senior curator] 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."
PACSCL processors Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza wrote about this letter back in March on the PACSCL processing project blog, and offered a few verses of their own composition.
Last month, two Philadelphia news outlets picked up the story. Freelance reporter Anthony Campisi wrote about the Cox collection at PlanPhilly.com, a daily news site that focuses on the built and planned environment and is affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania's School of Design. Meanwhile, WHYY radio (an NPR affiliate) broadcast an interview with Michael and Celia about the collection. (A write-up is available at WHYY's affiliate, NewsWorks.org.)
We're happy for the media coverage. In case anybody is wondering, we don't literally enforce Dr. Cox's stipulation. But Jeffrey Ray has been a good friend to HSP for years, and we're always happy to sing his praises.
Earlier this year, I posted about the end of the PACSCL Hidden Collections Processing Project at HSP. Well...it wasn't quite the end. Earlier this month, Holly and Courtney, spent time finalizing the finding aids for the six collections that they and Michael and Celia processed during their months here from January to June. It was very sad to see them go (for real, this time), yet what they left behind is nothing short of exciting. The team processed two moderately useable collections (WWII and League of Women Voters of Phila.), two of our most use collections (Penn and Logan), and two almost inaccessible collections (Belfield and Cox transportation). The finding aids for these collection are now up on the PACSCL website and well as HSP's own site. Links and descriptions follow.
HSP collection of World War II papers (Collection 1479) In late 1942, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania solicited materials to form an artificial collection to document the war effort of a number of community and social service agencies in Philadelphia. The collection, which dates from 1938 to 1948, consists of press releases, administrative records, correspondence, financial records, photographs, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, posters, and ephemera.
League of Women Voters of Philadelphia records (Collection 1940) The League of Women Voters (LWV) was established in 1919, to help educate women on the civic responsibilities of voting. The Philadelphia chapter communicated with the national and state League organizations, politicians, civic leaders, and organizations. The League of Women Voters of Philadelphia records include administrative documents and organizational papers for the Philadelphia branch of the League of Women Voters. The collection, which dates from 1920 to 1984, consists of materials from the national, state, and local branches of LWV. In particular, there are financial records, membership lists, publications, program materials, meeting minutes, correspondence and memoranda, newspaper clipping scrapbooks, and audiovisual materials.
Penn family papers (Collection 485A) The British colony of Pennsylvania was given to William Penn (1644-1718) in 1681 by Charles II of England in repayment of a debt owed his father, Sir Admiral William Penn (1621-1670). Under Penn's directive, Pennsylvania was settled by Quakers escaping religious torment in England and other European nations. The Penn family papers house the personal and governmental records of William Penn, the proprietor of Pennsylvania, and his family. This collection, which dates from 1592 to 1960 (bulk of materials dating 1629 to 1834), consists primarily of correspondence, legal records, governmental records, surveys, deeds, grants, receipts, and account books; there are also 19th and 20th century auction catalogs and other secondary materials.
Logan family papers (Collection 379) The Logan family was a prominent Philadelphia family dating back to 1699, when James Logan, the family patriarch, arrived in Philadelphia to serve as the first secretary of the Pennsylvania colony. Through work in agriculture and politics, Logan and his descendants were intimately involved in the development of the Pennsylvania colony and, later, the fledging United States. James Logan's prominence resulted in connections, both professional and familial, with other prominent colonial families, including the Norris and Dickinson families. This collection is rich in the history of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Delaware, the formation of the colony of Pennsylvania, the relationship of early colonials with the Native Americans, the bid for independence and the later formation of the United States of America. Included in the papers are correspondence, legal records, estate records, financial records, land and property records, diaries, and writings.
Belfield papers (Collection 3159) The Belfield papers include materials from families who lived in the Belfield mansion in Germantown, Pennsylvania from 1826 until 1984; however, the papers span the years 1679 to 1977. This collection includes correspondence, financial records, ephemera, photographs, scrapbooks, pamphlets, periodicals, and other items. Featured individuals include William and Sarah Logan Fisher Wister, their son John Wister and his wife, Sarah Tyler Boas Wister, their granddaughter Sarah Logan Wister Starr and her husband, James Starr, and their great-granddaughter S. Logan Starr Blain and her husband, Dr. Daniel Blain. Topics that are particularly well documented in the Belfield papers include: Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania; Colonial Dames of America; the Sesquicentennial Exposition; stamp collecting; world travel during the Great Depression; twentieth-century psychiatry; nineteenth-century industry and legal practice; and the genealogy of the Logan, Fisher and Wister families.
Harold E. Cox transportation collection (Collection 3158) Prior to the 1870s, Philadelphia's public transportation system consisted of dozens of independently owned and operated horse drawn streetcar lines. In the 1880s and 1890s steps were taken toward electrification and unification, a goal finally achieved in 1902 with the founding of Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (PRT). PRT constructed subway and elevated train lines, and managed public transportation until 1940, when the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) was established, absorbing PRT and all of its functions. The Dr. Harold E. Cox transportation collection is composed primarily of records from PTC and PRT, as well as PRT's subsidiary and predecessor rail lines. This collection dates from 1803 to 1967, with the bulk of materials ranging from 1858 to 1960. It consists of financial records, legal records, correspondence, administrative records, ephemera, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, atlases, and route maps and diagrams. The collection documents the growth and development of public transportation in Philadelphia, with a focus on the business activities and legal affairs of the PTC and PRT. To the PACSCL team members who worked here, Good Night! Good Night! Parting is such sweet sorrow.
Work on processing the Indian Rights Association records (Collection 1523) has begun and will continue for the next three months. This is another one of the Civic Engagement collections funded by NHPRC. Since portions of the collection had been previously processed here at HSP our work will consist of arranging the part of the collection that haven’t been touched (multiple boxes of unsorted materials), integrating it to the processed portion, and creating an updated guide to the collection. To help with all this work we have the help of a wonderful intern, Jenna Marrone that comes to HSP with previous archival experience obtained with the PACSCL/CLIR project.
The Indian Rights Association records (IRA) is a very rich collection featuring materials of interest for those researching the history of Native Americans, particularly the work and lobbying done on their behalf in the nation’s capital. The IRA was founded in 1882 by Hebert Welsh and Henry S. Pancoast with a main office in Philadelphia and a field office in Washington. The organization had two chief purposes: to protect the interests and welfare of the American Indian, and, in the association’s own words, “to bring about the complete civilization of the Indians and their admission to citizenship”. Paternalistic attitudes aside, the IRA was for the first forty years of the twentieth century the major non-governmental organization offering support and protection to Native Americans. Besides its work as a lobbying group on behalf of Native Americans, the association monitored the policies and actions of the Secretary of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Board of Indian Commissioners. They also helped create or promote legislation favorable to the Indian cause, and in some cases actively supported legal cases in both state and federal court. To spread knowledge about Native American culture and the association’s work, the IRA published many pamphlets and a serial titled Indian Truth.
Documents in the collection span form 1830 to 1986 and include correspondence, organizational records, pamphlets, annual reports, draft legislation, photographs, audio-visual materials, maps, and clippings. Also in the collection we can find materials from the Council of Indian Affairs, documents about traditional Pueblo Indian dances, and legal papers about struggles faced by the Oklahoma Indians, and papers generated by Herbert Welsh.
As a sample of the contents of the collection here’s a letter by a William Phillip Knight, asking IRA for help with a freedom of religion problem while incarcerated in Ohio in 1984.
An updated finding aid for the collection will be published in the upcoming months, though you can access the current finding aid on our website here.
Thanks to HCI-PSAR Project Director Jack McCarthy who wrote the following introduction to one of HSP's newest endeavors. CM
Work began recently on HSP’s new Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR). Commonly referred to around HSP as the “small repositories project,” its goal is to make better known and more accessible the important but often hidden archival collections held by the many small, primarily volunteer-run historical organizations in the Philadelphia area, including local historical societies, museums, historic sites, and other institutions. The project will achieve this goal by creating an online directory of these institutions and a searchable database of their archival collections. The project is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Project staff include Project Director Jack McCarthy, Project Coordinator Andree Mey Miller, and Project Surveyors Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza. HSP Director of Archives and Collections Management Matthew Lyons serves as Project Supervisor.
The first phase of the project is the current fourteen-month pilot project, which will run through September 2012. In the pilot project, we are focusing on two counties - Philadelphia and Montgomery - creating a directory of all the small archival repositories in those two counties and surveying the collections of certain institutions as a representative sample. We hope in this pilot phase to test and refine data gathering and collections survey methodologies in preparation for the larger follow-up project, which will encompass the entire five-county Philadelphia area. Following that, we will explore the possibility of implementing the project on a state-wide basis, in cooperation with other state and regional archival organizations.
Project Coordinator Andre Mey Miller has been busy identifying and contacting repositories and scheduling site visits by Project Director Jack McCarthy and Project Surveyors Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Michael Gubicza. Celia and Michael have been out “in the field” since mid September, surveying the archival collections of various repositories. To date, they have surveyed the collections of some seven institutions, uncovering a number of important but heretofore hidden collections, from those in small historical libraries to those at grand estates that are now historic house museums. Descriptive information on these collections will be made available on a project website which is currently in development and will be accessed through HSP’s website.
Postmodernist theory, which emphasizes the inevitable existence of individuals’ subjectivity and bias, has for the most part, become commonplace thinking. Within academe, postmodern critical analysis has affected all disciplines, including the “pure” sciences, which are no longer viewed as completely objective and neutral.
The reality of subjectivity has caused scholars in the humanities and social sciences to try to be more balanced in their work and/or transparent about their own personal biases as well as the biases inherent in their work. In the case of historians, this means acknowledging the subjective nature of the materials with which they use to construct past events. Historical records—primary source materials—are not static and objective carriers of truth. Among other things, they are the products of persons or groups who had the means to create and maintain them. Produced for specific purposes and within specific contexts, records harbor their creators’ biases and viewpoints.
With regards to the Greenfield Digital project, there is bias inherent in the records that Dana and I are using to tell the story of Bankers Trust Company. About 95% of the records that we are editing come from the Albert M. Greenfield Papers (1959). Thus, it is largely through Greenfield’s eyes that the history of Bankers Trust Company will be told. Although the story of the bank was closely interwoven with that of Greenfield, who played a principal role in the bank’s founding, expansion, and subsequent demise, his documentary records only captures part of the story.
Dana and I have made it a point to try to be as transparent as we can in order to make clear that this project is not an authoritative or all-encompassing analysis of the story of Bankers Trust Company. Following the lead of other documentary editing scholars and TEI best practices, we are employing several means with which to do this.
We have developed editorial principles for our document selection process as well as for our encoding and transcription practices. These principles will be included on the web site. The document selection principles outline the criteria we used to decide what materials from the Greenfield papers and other collections, including the Philadelphia Record clippings and photo morgue, to include to tell the story of Bankers Trust and why.
With regards to our transcription and encoding methodology, Dana and I agree with Michael E. Stevens and Steven B. Burg’s assertion that documentary editors “…have an obligation to explain how they have treated the text” since there are multiple ways to present the text of a document, “ranging from heavily emended to absolutely literal.” In explaining our methodology, we will be following the lead of other digital editing projects, such as the Women Writers Project, that have provided such transparency.
We will also include information about our editorial decisions for each document and also document decisions such as the taxonomy we’ve chosen to use to describe the documents which will affect users’ search capabilities. For this project, we're using the Library of Congress Thesaurus for Graphic Materials. This information will appear in the header of the TEI documents:
Moreover, Dana and I have discussed the possibility of incorporating Web 2.0 technologies into the project to allow users, especially educators and scholars, to contribute their knowledge of the materials as well as how their using the materials in the classroom.
Despite the inadequacies and biases that we face, the Greenfield project, part of a larger effort funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation, will contribute new and intriguing information about bank failures and Philadelphia during the Great Depression, and serve as an important resource for educators and scholars among others.
The following recollection of one of my work days is dedicated to (1) anyone who’s ever asked me “So what do you do at HSP?” or (2) anyone curious to know what an archivist might actually do on any given a day. This "day in the life" represents my own experiences and does not speak for archivists working in the field generally. Even other archivists who work at HSP have completely different chores and take on many other challenges.
Date: the recent past
Time: the standard work day, 8:30-5:00 with ½ hour lunch
Place: the corner of 13th and Locust streets
Around 8:30am, I log into computer network, get settled, and write out today’s to-do list. Because I’m not scheduled for public service (helping patrons in the library), I know I have some flexibility in setting my priorities for the day. So I decide to try to deal with quick things in the morning and leave more extensive tasks to the afternoon.
First on the list is dealing with a request regarding the Glen Mills School collection.
This school, once known as the House of Refuge, is a residential and reformatory school for boys. Its large collection of records at HSP is closed to the public and people must apply through the school to gain access to students’ records. Once Glen Mills approves and notifies us of a research request, we go through the many volumes hoping to find the student(s) in question, make photocopies of the records we do find, and mail them off to the person who requested them. Since I had already located the record books for this particular request, all I had to do was make copies – no easy task since some of the volumes are up to 6 inches thick! I haul the two extra-large volumes down to our book scanner and make, well, the best copies that can be made. On at least one page, much of the text is illegible, so that means transcription. Sigh. I certainly respect that it’s part of the job and that it’s what some archivists love to do and make a living at, but it’s low on my personal list of fun archival activities. Nevertheless, once I get the copies and volumes back to my desk, I set up the volume from which I need to transcribe and begin. Luckily, the handwriting is easy to read and I’m able to use a previous transcription as a template. This doesn’t always have to happen – some volumes from the collection photocopy just fine, and all I need to do is drop the copies in the mail with a cover letter. But for now, I continue reading and typing. This task does not turn out to be quick at all.
About an hour and a half later, I re-shelve several prints that were digitized. A few weeks ago we had a George Washington document display for which I pulled a bunch of large prints
These prints were then sent to R&R to be digitized for an online exhibit. (I'll post a link here once the display is online.) The other day I learned that some of the prints were ready to be put away, I offered to take care of them since I pulled them in the first place. Whenever we remove something from a collection, standard procedure calls for a call sip to be left in its place so we know where to put it back and to alert others that something is been pulled. Internally, we use bright orange “staff call slips.” Thanks to all the little orange slips I left behind, this task goes quickly and smoothly. George Washington, at least some of him, is back in his place.
Moving on, I tackle new accessions. I regularly help out with new donations as they come in and with accessions a few times a year. For new donations that come in, I enter information about them into our database, create deeds of gift, and place the donations on holding shelves. Every few months, the collections committee of our board meets to approve new donations. One of these meetings just happened, and now it’s time to place accession numbers (which are assigned by our library director, Lee Arnold) on collections and in the database. I also have to shelve new accessions with the general collections and enter their new locations into the database.
Each new accession has its own collection folder and the lot of folders goes to our director of archives, Matthew Lyons, to file. Now it’s time to wait for more new collections to roll in. (In fact, there’s one in queue now – I see it from my desk waiting oh so patiently. Will get to it tomorrow.)
Needing a break from the moving and lifting, I return to my desk to consider what to do for the next question of the week. They are prepared two weeks in advance, so the question I create this week will appear mid-October. Sometimes the questions are date specific. But lately it’s been harder and harder to find unique topics by date that relate directly to our collections, so I’ve been doing more general questions, and they’ve gone over well. This time round I decide to focus on the Cope family. I come up with a suitable question and leave writing the answer for another day.
After taking a real break and running an errand, it’s back to work. A new finding aid is ready to be posted to our site. It’s an easy enough task – a little file transferring, CMS stuff, typing, and linking. Then wait a couple days till the site gets updated, and BAM! New finding aid ready to go public.
Now it's on to my big task for the day and one that takes up the rest of the day: inventorying of the Jane Campbell papers (#3203). This is an ongoing project at which I chip away a little each day. There’s no timeline for the project except for the one that I self impose – try to get through at least four boxes a day. (Some days though, it’s an event to just get through one.) There are 42 cartons in the collection and I’m at box 17.
Based on priorities that Matthew and I set earlier in the year, this collection was flagged because it received low survey ratings but came from a very important figure in Philadelphia women’s history: writer, historian, and suffragist Jane Campbell (1844-1928). When the collection was originally surveyed, surveyors noted “The documentation quality of the collection is difficult to determine as it is entirely unprocessed.” Indeed, it is very unprocessed, and messy, and dirty.
Earlier this year, a researcher looking for stuff on Campbell paged the collection, and she valiantly waded through box upon box of unorganized chaos, but the mess proved too much. Based on the fact that the collection was getting some use and Campbell’s historical importance, it became a priority to inventory the boxes. On to my to-do list it went, and I’m now on my eighth day with the collection. Putting it lightly, it is a beast, a beast that's covered in soot and crumbly paper.I start this session with Campbell by doing a little genealogical work because during yesterday's work I came across some papers from other Campbell family members. Using a few notes I found in the collection and internet research, I manage to come up with a small family tree that helps me discern the Johns and Williams from different generations. (You can view the genealogy report as a pdf.) I also learn that the family originated in Ireland. This would explain the items I’m finding from the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Hibernian Society.
After about half an hour of computer work, I start in with Box 17. While the actual papers, letters, pamphlets, etc., that are in the collection are in really good shape, most are bundled in envelopes, homemade folders, and cardboard enclosures that are simply falling apart. Some paper is so brittle that more pieces remain at the bottom of the box than intact. Thing is, almost all these horrible enclosures were labeled by Campbell, so they can’t just be chucked. Neither photocopying nor re-housing is part of my work right now; I’m just supposed to write down the contents of each box and move on. It seems simple enough, but when trying to both figure out what something is, as well as “preserve” crumbly bits of paper, the task becomes a chore. Plus, since there’s no organization, it’s hard to figure out just how to descriptively summarize the contents of each box – “miscellaneous writings, pamphlets, and scrapbooks” only goes so far. I spend at least 45 minute or more with each box, carefully moving bundles of writings, scrapbook pages, booklets, pamphlets and clippings out to identify them, and then moving them back into the box trying not to do further damage. Despite the soot and dust, each box does bring new discoveries.
On this day, in Box 17, I find a homemade folder titled only “Leaf with bird":
This lovely little painting of a bird on a treated leaf was crammed in between two scrapbooks, neither of which had anything to do with leaves or birds or related subjects. The leaf itself is clear and real – you can see the woody veins on the back – and was covered with something to make it opalescent (which you can’t see in this scan, sadly). On top of the finish is the painted bird, colorful, delicate, and done in astounding detail. It’s the strangest find in a collection that has so far consisted of anything but artwork, and I’ve no idea why it’s in the collection or who made it. I can only guess that maybe it was given to Campbell or one of her family members, and that it was somehow scooped up with the piles of papers that came to HSP. It's unfortunate that, for now, it's an anomaly in the collection. But I’ve still got 25 more boxes to go through, so there may be more treasures in the wings.
During these afternoon hours I also field usual compliment of emails, phone calls, and questions that come with each day. Sometimes the interruptions provide welcome relief from the occasional boredom associated with long-term projects; other times, they are just that, interruptions. Today's calls and emails, though plentiful, aren't too disruptive, so I still manage to reach my 4 box quota - yay!
With my final Campbell box packed up, it's day's end and time to start winding down. I flag some emails that need answering, write down a few items to place on tomorrow’s to do list, and ponder a few more tasks that need attention in the coming days. 5:00pm hits and it’s time to log off and go home.
If your archives has limited resources and lots of collections that need attention, how do you decide which ones to focus on? In the HSP Archives Department, one of the main tools we use is the HSP collection survey methodology, which has become a model for collection assessment work at dozens of institutions around the U.S. In this blog post I'd like to give an overview of our survey method -- how it works, how we use it, and where we're headed with it in the future.
The HSP survey methodology uses a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures to assess collections. Each collection is rated on a 1-5 numerical scale for physical condition, quality of housing, physical access, and intellectual access, with 5 being the highest. A research value rating is determined by adding together separate 1-5 ratings for a collection's interest and documentation quality. Surveyors also record notes that provide substance and specifics to help explain the numerical ratings.
As an example, the numerical ratings for the Beath family menu card collection, 1860-1913 (7.5 linear feet) look like this:
The General Note and Conservation Note for this collection look like this:
Here are a couple of examples of what the different survey ratings mean. Before it was processed in 2010, the George G. Meade collection got a middling score of 3 for quality of housing. This photo is above average for that collection -- closer to a 4 than a 3:
By contrast, the Belfield papers got a 1 for quality of housing -- as low as you can go. This image from the PACSCL processing project blog shows why:
Numerical survey ratings enable us to set priorities across all of our archival collections. Generally speaking, a collection that gets a high research value rating (7 or above) and low ratings for physical condition, housing, and/or access is a high priority for processing (and in many cases for conservation work). This helps us pick collections to include in grant proposals, feature in our Adopt-a-Collection program, and assign to staff members and interns. We don't rely on ratings alone to make these selections, but they are a starting point.
Suppose we want to put together a grant proposal focusing on business history collections. Using database query functions, we can generate a list of candidate collections that have specific rating combinations and feature business-related keywords in their descriptions. If we want, we can factor in collection size, span dates, or other attributes as well. Then we can go through the candidate list and pick out the collections that are most appropriate for this particular grant. This stage usually involves staff discussion, poking around in the collections themselves, and considering issues that the survey data can't capture. (Is a given collection likely to grow or shrink when it's processed? Could we feature it in a publication or public program? Does it tie in with particular interests of the funder we're going to pitch to?)
Querying the survey numbers usually turns up some high priority collections that are already on our radar, but there are often some surprises as well – collections that have lots of potential but haven’t gotten any attention since they were surveyed years ago. I used to think HSP didn't have any sports history collections to speak of. Then I crunched some survey numbers and rediscovered a 100-linear foot collection that documents the development of a local tennis tournament into an international event.
The HSP survey methodology was developed by David Moltke-Hansen, who was HSP's president from 1999 to 2007, and Rachel Onuf, who led a Mellon-funded project to survey HSP's manuscript and graphic collections in 2000-2002 and then headed HSP's Manuscripts and Archives Department until 2004. Since then, the Mellon Foundation has funded survey projects based on the HSP methodology by Columbia University, the University of Virginia, the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL), and the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC) in Chicago. Other institutions that have conducted collection surveys based on the HSP method include the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the Chicago History Museum, and Penn State University (for a survey of Civil War homefront collections at small repositories around Pennsylvania). Each of these institutions has adapted or modified the survey method to some degree to meet its particular needs.
In 2009, the developers of Archivists' Toolkit, an open-source archival collections management database application, added an assessment module based closely on the HSP survey method. This made it possible for HSP to begin shifting our collections management data from our old MS Access database to AT.
At HSP, we have attempted to make surveying an integral part of the accessioning workflow. This has not always been successful, mainly because of lack of time, but after a hiatus we are back to surveying regularly and chipping away at the small backlog that has built up. Currently, each new collection larger than 1 linear foot (and some smaller ones) gets surveyed within a couple of months after it is acquired. Cary Majewicz (HSP's technical services archivist) and I do the surveying together as a team. Sometimes we invite other staff members or interns to join us, both to get the benefit of their knowledge and expertise and to help more people understand the survey methodology and its uses as a collections management tool.
Numerical ratings have an aura of objectivity that can be misleading. Inevitably, different people looking at the same collection will sometimes come up with different ratings. This is especially true when assessing a collection’s research value, where individual interests and biases most easily come into play. It’s important for surveyors to have a grounding in different areas of knowledge, be familiar with broader trends in historical research, and learn to set aside their own likes and dislikes as much as possible. Working in teams also helps to even out differences between individual surveyors. In the end, we see the survey ratings as an imperfect but useful tool. They’re not fully objective, but they do provide a consistent yardstick and shorthand for comparing different collections.
Over the past couple of years we've made a couple of small additions to the survey protocol. First, we added a numerical rating for "Recommended Processing Level," to represent our five possible processing levels, from basic collection-level record (Level 1) to full-scale traditional processing (Level 5). (We developed this five-tiered processing schema starting in 2007 based on "More Product, Less Process" principles.) More recently, we started including a processing cost assessment as part of the survey record for all collections that get a research value rating of 6 or higher. This makes it easier to plug these collections into our Adopt-a-Collection program [link].
This fall, we'll be exploring a new use of the survey method. HSP recently launched a pilot project to gather information about archival collections at small, non-professionally run repositories in the Philadelphia area, such as historic houses, small museums, and neighborhood historical societies. The project has the unwieldy name of Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR). Once again, the Mellon Foundation is the funder. (For more information on this grant, see our press release.)
HCI-PSAR surveying began this week at the Byberry Library in northeastern Philadelphia. We'll be featuring reports on this work both on Fondly, Pennsylvania and on a new project blog to be launched soon. We expect that the HSP survey method will need to be further adapted to address the particular circumstances of non-professionally run institutions, especially given the lack of standard archival management practices. (For example, are materials even divided into discrete collections?) It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.
Since starting at HSP in July as the new Rights and Reproductions Associate, I’ve handled lots of orders for digital reproductions of HSP materials and permission to distribute these materials in books, exhibitions, and other media. Processing R&R orders provides a great front row seat to HSP’s unique and diverse materials, not to mention the cool ways in which patrons are using our historical artifacts. While some materials are perennial favorites with patrons (Francis Place’s chalk portrait of William Penn is especially popular among textbook publishers), here’s a snapshot of MY favorite (and sometimes less well-known) R&R materials from the past two months:
Not long after I began working at HSP, I received a request from Christie’s New York for a copy of a watercolor of Harriton House by William L. Breton. Built in 1704 by a Welsh Quaker, Harriton is located in Lower Merion and is best known as the home of Charles Thomson, “the Sam Adams of Philadelphia.” A Philadelphia merchant, Thomson became the first and only Secretary to the Continental Congresses and, in April 1789, traveled to Mount Vernon to inform George Washington that he had been elected the first President of the United States. Over 200 years later, a carved mahogany side chair belonging to Charles Thomson was featured in Christie’s September auction of American furniture, folk art, and decorative arts and the watercolor of Harriton House was used as an illustration in the auction catalog.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is perhaps best known for its colonial and early American history holdings, but we also have many collections of compelling twentieth-century materials. One of my favorites is the Work Projects Administration posters collection, which includes over 900 examples of works by Federal Art Project artists from the 1940s. While the Work Projects Administration was a federal program, it spawned many state and local subsidiaries, among them the Pennsylvania Art Program. Accordingly, while the subjects and styles of the artworks in the poster collection are diverse, many are also specific to Philadelphia and feature such local landmarks as the Philadelphia Zoo and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The color and style of these woodblock prints notably contrasts with the charcoal shades of more well-known WPA artworks like Horatio Forjohn’s “Defense Steel,” which will be published in a forthcoming volume on industrial art.
We just produced a brand new video introduction to HSP that contains useful information on our policies and procedures. (Further visitor information can be found on our website.) Whether you're a first-time visitor, a seasoned patron, or just someone curious to know what we're all about, we hope you take a moment to watch!