By Jack McCarthy
Work began recently on the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’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.