MARAC in Philadelphia: Temple University, Historic Urban Educational Landmark

by Katy Rawdon, Local Arrangements Committee

In 1884, a working-class printer with little education named Charles M. Davies asked Russell Conwell, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, to tutor him at night. One pupil quickly became several, and Conwell soon recruited other volunteer teachers and moved classes to the basement of his church. The night classes grew quickly in size, and in 1888 Temple College was chartered and incorporated, “intended primarily for the benefit of Working Men.” The congregation of Conwell’s church grew rapidly as well under Conwell’s leadership, leading to the construction of a new church building known as the “Baptist Temple.” Its founding location continues to serve as Temple’s main campus—located approximately two miles north of Center City Philadelphia.

Temple University along Broad Street. Photo by author.

From these beginnings grew Temple University as it exists today: a major coeducational research university that includes seventeen schools and colleges, nine campuses in three countries, hundreds of degree programs including schools of law, medicine, and business, and more than 35,000 students. Temple has been recognized as one of the most diverse universities in the country. Temple University Libraries serves the university’s many schools and campuses, ranks among the top university research libraries in North America, and is a member of the Association of Research Libraries.

Samuel L. Paley Library, 1966. Special Collections Research Center, Temple University.

Temple’s history and mission can be found within the university traditions and on the campus itself. The Baptist Temple still stands, and currently serves as the Temple Performing Arts Center. Russell Conwell himself is buried on campus (perhaps peacefully, perhaps not) in the Founder’s Garden. The university motto, Perseverantia Vincit, or “Perseverance Conquers” reflects Temple’s origins as a night school for motivated students, as does its mascot, the nocturnal owl. The Temple “T,” symbol of the university, was designed by a student in the Tyler School of Art, and features open ends intended to represent the free exchange of ideas.

The main campus is urban, eclectic, and always alive and busy – a compact space for an enormous community of students, faculty, and staff. Food trucks line every block, and on a fair weather day, students can be found spread out on “Beury beach,” a rare spot of green grass near the Bell Tower and opposite from Paley Library. Paley itself is a monument of 1960s-era architecture. Other notable buildings on the main campus include the new Tyler School of Art, the Gothic Mitten Hall, and Sullivan Hall, former home of the main university library, and current location of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection.

Within Paley Library, the Special Collections Research Center collects, preserves, and makes accessible the Libraries’ rare books, manuscripts, archives, and University records, to support research, teaching, learning, and administration at the university. The SCRC was established in 2011, merging the staff and collections of the former Special Collections and Urban Archives departments. Like the university, SCRC collections are large and diverse. Collecting areas include the Contemporary Culture Collection, Conwellana-Templana (University Archives), the Paskow Science Fiction and Fantasy Collection, the Philadelphia Dance Collection, the Philadelphia Jewish Archives, Printing, Publishing, and Bookselling, rare books, and the Urban Archives. Recent estimates of the size of SCRC’s collections weigh in at a hefty 60,000 linear feet of archives and manuscript collections, and around 200,000 rare books. The SCRC reading room is open to all during the regular hours of Monday-Friday, 8:30-5:30.

Special Collections Research Center reading room. Photo by author.

MARAC is offering a tour of the Special Collections Research Center on Thursday morning, November 7. The behind the scenes tour will include the reading room, storage areas, and the current exhibition featuring significant acquisitions from 1966 to the present. After the tour there will be plenty of time to walk around the campus, eat at the nearby food trucks for lunch, or visit the Blockson Collection or the Wagner Free Institute of Science, a Victorian natural science and history museum and educational institution located a half mile away. The tour is not yet filled, so be sure to register for the tour when you register for the conference (registrations will be accepted until October 23). If you have already registered for the conference, you can still sign up for the tour by contacting the MARAC administrator. Registrations will also be accepted on-site at the conference as space allows.

Items from the Special Collections Research Center. Photo by author.

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