Archivists and the Greater Philadelphia Area

Author: Laurie Rizzo, MARAC Secretary, Fall Conference 2013 Program Committee Co-Chair

Early in my career I met with Charles Greifenstein, the Associate Librarian and Curator of Manuscripts at the American Philosophical Society (APS). I asked him many questions about his work and career path in hopes of learning how to find a position I want that I am a good fit for. His intimate familiarity with the collection at APS was something I was envious of. He told me many helpful things, but one thing has always stuck out in particular, he told me that I should make sure to find a collection that I loved. A few years have gone by since then, and recently Charles asked me to be program committee co-chair for the upcoming MARAC Philadelphia conference for the Fall 2013, so of course I had to say yes!

I am excited to be part of the planning team for the MARAC conference in the City of Brotherly Love because I *love* the collections in the Philadelphia area and the history they document! The Greater Philadelphia area is packed with amazing archive and manuscript repositories, museums and libraries; I have had the privilege of working at several of them and touring behind the scenes at many others.

There is a wonderful network of support and collaboration that goes on between Philly archivists and institutions. Take the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collection Libraries (PACSCL) for example. Since 1986, PACSCL has grown to include 36 archives and libraries as its member institutions. PACSCL receives support from various foundations to work on amazing collaborative projects such as; The Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network which gathers thousands of geographic materials from six partners to create a web-based repository of geographically organized historical information about Philadelphia. It is useful for the study of the geography, buildings and people of Philadelphia from the 1600s through today.

Another PACSCL collaboration was a two part project. From 2006-2009, the PACSLC Consortial Survey Initiative was a 30-month project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to assess backlogged archival collections at 22 Philadelphia area libraries, archives, and museums. The result is a database that contains information on 1,745 collections held by 16 participating PACSCL institutions that would not otherwise been accessible to researchers. The second part of the project was the CLIR PACSCL Hidden Collections Project which processed 140 collections from 24 member libraries, and the creation of a unified repository for electronic finding aids (funded by a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources from 2009-2012).

More recently was the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s new Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) a three-part project which began by surveying the collections of twenty-five repositories at small historical societies, museums, historic sites, and other institutions, resulting in a Regional Directory of Small Archives.

The fascinating history of science has strong roots in Philadelphia, which boasts a large number of repositories dedicated to collecting materials related to various aspects of science. There are also several educational institutions with strong science programs, whose papers are housed in the archives of those colleges and universities. Continuing with the spirit of collaboration, in 2006 The Philadelphia Area Center for the The Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science was formed which currently includes 12 member institutions.

There are a number of active local professional organizations like the Delaware Valley Archivists Group (DVAG) which meets quarterly, and because that wasn’t enough there is Archivists Being Awesome (ABA) which provides another opportunity for local area archivists to get together.

There are two educational programs, Temple University’s Public History program and Drexel University’s MLIS with an archives management concentration – so there are a lot of students and emerging professionals in the area who are active in student chapters of professional organizations as well as being active in DVAG, ABA and MARAC.

Philadelphia is so bustling with historical and cultural materials to collect that there are a number of community run archives such as: Radical Archives of Philadelphia which is an all-volunteer, collectively-run community archives that acquires, preserves and makes available the material history of radical individuals and organizations in Philadelphia; The Soapbox: Philadelphia’s Independent Publishing Center which is a West Philadelphia-based space that fosters the creative and political voices of the community and the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) which is the only independent non-profit organization working to document, preserve and provide access to the rich history of South Asians in the United States.

This post is already long and I haven’t even scratched the surface! There is so much more that I could say about each individual archive, library, and museum in the Greater Philadelphia Area, but you’ll just have to come and see for yourself in the Fall of 2013!


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