& Digitization Project
The last ten years of the Print Department’s history are most notable for the ascendancy of the digital world into the day-to-day operations of the department. Gone are the days when researchers requested black and white prints or color transparencies for use in publications, a process that ended with the filing away of thousands of negatives, transparencies, and 35mm. slides for possible future use. Now, our rights and reproduction activities provide primarily digital images for books, videos, websites, and personal use, with our digital assets nearly exceeding three terabytes of storage capacity.
Funders of cataloging projects now expect that graphic items will be digitized, and our cataloging initiatives throughout the last decade have all included a digitization component. In 2002, to accommodate our expanding digitization activities and the continually growing collection, the Print Department took over another room on the second floor, which now houses two scanners and a digital photography set-up in addition to a freezer for historical film negatives and more collection shelving. In 2006, through the efforts of then-Associate Curator Jennifer Ambrose, we launched ImPAC, the Library Company’s digital collections catalog. In 2017 we launched a new Digital Asset Repository using the Islandora Open Source platform.
The Print Department has also in recent years collaborated closely with the book department to stimulate a greater scholarly appreciation of our visual resources. No longer considered secondary to text and used merely to illustrate the written word, visual materials are taking their rightful place as primary evidence that document the past and influence our understanding of the present. Launched in 2008, the Visual Culture Program (VCP at LCP) promotes the use of historical images ranging from book frontispieces to large panoramic photographs as primary sources for studying the past and fosters research, collection, and interpretation of historic visual materials. VCP at LCP pursues its goals through exhibitions, research fellowships, symposia, and other programming.
The Print Department continues the tradition of promoting our collection through publications and presentations. In the last few years staff has presented papers at meetings of Photo History, the Popular Culture Association, and the Center for Historical American Visual Culture and contributed articles to the Daguerreian Annual, Imprint: Journal of the American Historical Print Collectors Society, Art Documentation, and the Journal of the Ephemera Society of America, to name just a few publications. In 2006 department members contributed entries about Philadelphia photographers to the Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography and collaborated on the book Center City Philadelphia in the 19th Century, part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. Containing more than 190 photographs highlighting subjects such as residences, businesses, modes of transportation and institutions, the book showcases the strength of our Philadelphia images. From 2007 to 2010 our marvelous collection of Philadelphia related lithographs was the focus of Philadelphia On Stone, a William Penn and Independence Foundation-funded project to catalog and digitize more than 1,300 lithographs; develop an online biographical dictionary of Philadelphia lithographers; and produce an exhibition. A heavily-illustrated companion volume of scholarly essays exploring Philadelphia’s 19th-century commercial lithographic trade, edited by Associate Curator Erika Piola, is scheduled to be published by Penn State Press in the fall of 2012.
Although the spiraling cost of some historical material has made it challenging for institutions like the Library Company to compete in the marketplace, exciting materials continue to find their way into the Print Department’s collections through both gifts and purchases. Year after year for more than a decade, shareholder David Doret has donated prints, photographs, and ephemera obtained from antique shops and flea markets located up and down the east coast. From large colorful membership certificates to a very early example of American lithography, Mr. Doret’s gifts are eye-catching and worthy of close study. Other recent generous supporters of the Print Department not yet mentioned include Raymond Holstein, who donated 2,000 Philadelphia related stereographs; David Long, who has given us all types of photographic formats and prints; Michael Zinman, who has greatly enriched our collection of unusual and beautifully bound photographic albums and material relating to world’s fairs; and the Estate of Helen Beitler which is filled with wonderful examples of ephemera. The nearly 100 maps recently acquired as part of the McNeil Americana Collection adds significant examples to our existing collection and will be featured in 2012-13 exhibition.
We continue to build on the strength of our existing collections and during the last decade have purchased material that complements collections already in our holdings. In 2008 we bought 178 photographs by early-20th-century Philadelphia photographer John Frank Keith, increasing by threefold the collection of his work we acquired in 1981. Keith’s photographs of working class Philadelphians have an appealing directness and rapport between subjects and photographer. In 2010 we had the opportunity to purchase at auction material relating to Philadelphia photographer William Jennings. In 1978 and in 1981, we had acquired hundreds of Jennings prints and original negatives and scrapbooks compiled by the photographer. Jennings’ work for the Pennsylvania Railroad and his construction progress photographs were already well-represented in our collection, but our most recent acquisition allows us to explore more of his personal life with photographs of Jennings, his wife, and his children relaxing at home and at their summer camp along Wissahickon Creek. And the important acquisitions we made at the Jay T. Snider auction sale in late 2008 (with the financial support of Mr. Snider himself) allowed us to understand more completely the material that had long been in our collections. That idea served as the organizing principle of our spring 2009 exhibition, Mirror of a City: Views of Philadelphia Recently Acquired from the Jay T. Snider Collection.