Friday, November 14, 2014

“Genius of Freedom “ Opens

On November 11, the Library Company unveiled our newest exhibition, which documents African American political and social activism in the North in the decades after Emancipation.  “The Genius of Freedom: Northern Black Activism and Uplift after the Civil War,” Curator of African American History Krystal Appiah’s first major exhibition since joining the Library Company in 2012, will run through June 26, 2015. Collection materials on display include rare documents from nineteenth-century Colored Conventions, political activism and civil rights organizing across the North, and movements to reclaim history and instill racial pride, “Genius of Freedom” turns the spotlight on the relatively less-studied Northern States in the period of Reconstruction.

The end of the Civil War and the subsequent abolition of Southern slavery were a source of jubilation for African Americans throughout the United States. Black activists and their white allies were instrumental in the passage of federal laws that expanded civil rights for African Americans. African Americans in the North, however, learned that local laws and social customs often still left them on the fringes of citizenship and success. As a result, Northern blacks sought to empower their communities through political protest and uplift initiatives that emphasized equality, self-reliance, and pride.

As the 19th century progressed, the domestic parlor became an increasingly important symbol of middle-class respectability in the US.  African Americans in the North expressed racial pride and celebrated their new citizenship status by decorating their homes with inspirational pictures and texts of black life and accomplishments. Visit the exhibition to view large-scale lithographs of black political and social leaders and editions of the first histories of the contributions made by Americans of African descent written by black people, among the many other documents of the struggles and triumphs of Reconstruction.

At the opening reception,  Dr. Kali N. Gross of the University of Texas, Austin, gave a talk entitled "Race, Sex, and Criminal Economies in Turn-of-the-Century Philadelphia," which looked at the socioeconomic backdrop to expressions of crime, sex, and violence by black women to propose that they may sometimes have been unique opportunities to exercise agency.  A former fellow at the Library Company, Dr. Gross is the author of Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910.

Librarian Jim Green Talks Junto

In September 2013 Geoff DiMasi, principal at the South Philadelphia web design firm P’unk Avenue, organized a two-day meeting that he called the Junto Retreat.  According its website, it was “a place for business leaders to talk about how to make a positive impact.”  Afterwards Geoff said, “While they were interested in personal improvement, there was also this idea of making the city and the places they lived, the community they lived in, a better place."  The common bond for those gathered, he said, was an affinity for "ideas like 'for profit, for good' or 'not-just-for-profit' business models."  It was a big success, and he promised to hold a second Junto Retreat this year.

Geoff and the other organizers were of course modeling their Junto on Franklin’s “Club for Mutual Improvement,” which first met in the fall of 1727, so this year they decided to begin their 2014 meeting with some background on the original Junto.  Years before, Geoff was an MFA student in the Book Arts Program at the University of the Arts, where he took a course at the Library Company on the history of the book taught by Librarian Jim Green.  The class always began with a little talk about the Junto, so Geoff asked Jim to do something like that for his group.

And so it was on a rainy Saturday in September, Jim found himself standing just under the pulpit at historic Christ Church, only a few feet from Franklin’s pew, preaching Franklin’s secular gospel of doing well by doing good to the fifty or so participants of the second Junto Retreat.  The burden of his talk was simply that the Library Company, which was a direct outgrowth of the Junto, was the first American voluntary association, and thus the progenitor of thousands of other ad hoc community and social groups.  In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, “Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society. Wherever at the head of some new undertaking you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.”  Voluntary associations were then and still are a unique feature of American life, and all of them carry the DNA of the Library Company.  

See page 3 at this link for lots of good pictures.

LCP’s Digital Guestbook

Thanks to a simple online form builder called JotForm, visitors are now able to sign in to the Library Company electronically.  For fellows who come in and out several times a day, for a period of weeks, the convenience and time savings is enormous.  And the efficiency of gathering information about who uses the collections and visits the public exhibitions, how, and why has increased exponentially.

The process of reader registration—formerly involving completion of a lengthy form by hand—has also been put online, allowing for more efficiency and better record-keeping.  We somehow think that Ben would have smiled on our embrace of simple, functional technology to make everyone’s life a little easier—and give them all more time to make discoveries in the Reading Room and galleries! 

For those who are just not ready to make the plunge, however, there will always be a bound paper guestbook at the Front Desk.  

Giving Tuesday

After the traditional day of family togetherness and gluttony that is the fourth Thursday in November, and the somewhat newer traditions of commercial mayhem that are the following Friday and Monday, the non-profit community has thoughtfully proposed “Giving Tuesday.”  Giving Tuesday is conceived as a day to express the sentiments of the season through philanthropic gestures—and particularly various instant electronic ways of giving.

Giving Tuesday has been growing steadily since its creation in 2012.  The number of not-for-profits participating in 2013 grew to 10,000 from 2,500 in the first year; online activity was intense, as in the previous year, but the day also got coverage in print and broadcast media last year. #GivingTuesday trended #1 on twitter for the day, and the “unselfie”—in which you take a picture of someone in the act of giving back—was born.   And of course, collectively the not-for-profit sector raised substantially more money.

You will be hearing more and more about Giving Tuesday in the days ahead, and there are many worthy and important causes seeking to encourage your spontaneous outpouring of generosity.  But we would like to make the case for Benjamin Franklin’s library among them.  By carefully conserving the printed history of this nation and others—and making it available to the public free of charge—we are preserving essential cultural treasures. The true meaning of this work hits home to us when we our visitors are awed and moved by the collections—and when their scholarship, artistic creation, or public history work carries their insights out into the larger world. 

So we would like to ask that this Giving Tuesday, you help us continue to provide sustenance for the spirit by supporting the work of rare book and manuscript conservation. Click here today to get an early start on your own celebration of a new tradition of generosity.

On December 2, we will try to raise $2,500 to support the purchase of conservation materials for three months. The delicate rice papers, bookbinding cloth, and acid-free housings that your gift will support are the keys to preserving our previous collection materials for generations of scholars and visitors.  So your gift will directly contribute to the ability of future generations to come face to face with their cultural heritage.

But there are many other ways to express your generosity toward the Library Company.  Help us spread the news about our campaign by forwarding this message, like us on Facebook and forward our Giving Tuesday post, or send a #GivingTuesday tweet with the hashtag #LCPbooksmatter.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Marriott C. Morris Collection Online

Over the next year, more than 1600 glass negatives, photographic prints, film negatives, and lantern slides by Philadelphia photographer Marriott Canby Morris (1863-1948) will be processed, digitized, and used to create a permanent online exhibition.  This project is being made possible through the generosity of Morris’s grandchildren—David Marriott Morris, Eleanor Rhoads Morris Cox, and William Perot Morris—who wanted to commemorate their ancestor, preserve his remarkable work, and make sure that his photographic legacy would be widely accessible. In addition to giving extensive collections, the Morris family gave generous financial support to ensure that the Library Company had the resources to process and preserve this valuable material on a timely basis.  

The collection, which documents Morris’s travels as well as many aspects of his life in Philadelphia, has long been a favorite of Print Department Staff who produced this blog post inspired by his images in November 2011.  Prominent in the collection are photographs of his Germantown neighborhood, his alma mater Haverford, and his family’s cottage located in Sea Girt and quirkily named Avocado.

Alison Van Denend, who served as Curatorial Intern for the Print Department this summer, is taking on the role of Assistant Project Manager for the Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection.  In addition to processing and digitizing the collection, she will research and curate an online exhibition of Morris photographs.  Fortunately for her, the Library Company also owns Morris’s photographic journals, in which he took copious notes regarding the date, time, lighting, and camera used for many of his prints.

An integral part of the Marriott C. Morris Photograph Collection project will be ongoing documentation and dialogue.  Alison will be updating both the Print Department blog and Twitter feed with discoveries, questions, and intriguing images in the weeks and months ahead.  You can follow her progress at and

Light from Dark: Woodcuts Old and New

A new mini exhibition by Conservator Andrea Krupp explores her fascination with historic woodcuts—which speak to her in a language that is abstract, abbreviated, coded, and also timeless—and presents her own original contributions to the conversation. 

Chestnut Street Theatre, Pauvrette! or, Under the snow! … (Philadelphia, 1864)

With a sharp blade, the artist removes wood from the surface of a smooth wooden plank, paring away what is not needed.  What is left is a raised design that will carry the ink to the paper.  The process of working from dark to light (through cutting) forces the artist to make bold, black-or-white choices. It requires directness in both cutting the block and in editing the message that one is trying to convey.

Ercker.  Beschreibung allerf├╝rnemisten mineralischen Ertzt vnnd Bergkwercks (Frankfurt, 1598)

A wide variety of woodcuts crosses Andrea’s desk in the McLean Conservation Department, and she is continually inspired by their immediacy, the clarity of their intent, and their hand-hewn charm.  The work commands attention, even 200 years later, and speaks clearly in a timeless and universal visual language. As an artist and printmaker who makes her own woodcuts, Andrea feels connected with the anonymous makers who came before.  A recent series of original woodcuts, inspired by an artist’s residency in Iceland, expresses the power of the Icelandic landscape and the history embedded in it. 

Andrea Krupp, Mountainside, 2014

Come to the Library Company to see “Light from Dark” in the cases outside the Reading Room through January 2015.  To see more of Andrea Krupp’s original work, visit Twenty-two Gallery  at 236 South 22nd Street in Philadelphia through November 9 for her exhibition “North of Here.”

WWI Graphics on ImPAC

On the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand this June, a consortium of archival institutions in the Delaware Valley launched "Home Before the Leaves Fall:  The Great War," a digital resource highlighting little-known primary source materials relating to World War One. Digital images and descriptions of the contributions to that effort from the Library Company’s collections of 300 unique WWI posters and over 100 photographs are now also available in our digital collections catalog ImPAC, grouped as Posters and Photographs and Ephemera

Beginning in fall of 2013, the Library Company teamed up with several local colleges and cultural institutions including the American Philosophical Society, the Chemical Heritage Foundation, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the German Society of Pennsylvania, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Independence Seaport Museum, Swarthmore College, the Union League, and Villanova University to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the beginning of World War One by highlighting research resources in the area available for study of the war and its aftermath.

Library Company posters encouraging military recruitment, the purchase of liberty bonds, support for the Red Cross, and home front frugality and our nearly 100 photographs of the Philadelphia Navy Yard and patriotic parades and rallies held around the city were inventoried and digitized for the project through the work of project interns Rebecca Solnit and William Robinson.

Hosted by Villanova University, “Home Before the Leaves Fall” features digitized materials, including images, memoirs, diaries, and periodicals, accompanied by contextual essays, news of commemorative events, interactive data, and geographic information system (GIS) mapping. The project aims to promote the use of these materials to students, scholars, and the public, and to commemorate the services and sacrifices of soldiers and civilians a hundred years ago. Partner organizations will curate and contribute Great War content to the site through 2018.

In addition to the digitized images of our collection materials, the Library Company has contributed several blog posts providing background on this material.  To keep informed about commemorative events throughout the centenary, follow the Print Department on Twitter @LCPPrints.

LCP in Demand in Cyberspace

Partnerships with a range of online publications are giving the Library Company’s collections and curatorial insights new visibility. The Print Department’s charming and informative blog posts began to reach an audience of a whole new magnitude this summer, when Curator of Prints and Photographs Sarah Weatherwax was invited to blog for the Huffington Post about the rich photography collections at the Library Company. Her two posts to dateabout vacationing at the New Jersey Shore and Bob, the beloved dog of Philadelphia photographer William Rauhave received hundreds of “likes,” shares, and retweets. has a huge worldwide following for its wide-ranging coverage of politics, business, entertainment, technology, and the arts, receiving a record high 84 million unique visitors in October 2013. This invitation is a wonderful opportunity to introduce a new audience to the depth of the Library Company’s photographic holdings, and to extend our online audience.  Look for subsequent posts by Sarah monthly.

Closer to home, the Print Department’s collections are also being given a broader audience though a recent collaboration with the Philadelphia Daily News. The partnership began with a visit by Editorial Page Editor Sandra Shea last spring to view photographs depicting impoverished neighborhoods and street scenes in Philadelphia to accompany a series on poverty. 

Shea selected several images to accompany the article entitled “In Ruins: How Philadelphia became the poorest big city in America.” “I was so delighted with how the images in the Library Company were able to enhance our reporting, by providing historical context on the issues facing the city today,” she said. “By helping us reach into the past, the Library Company’s archives added rich texture and dimension to our stories, and we look forward to regular and ongoing collaborations.”

Most recently, Shea contacted the Print Department to find images for a forthcoming article on graffiti in Philadelphia.  Despite the ubiquity of graffiti in today’s streetscapes, before the invention of spray paint graffiti was more subtle as exhibited in the photograph above.  A scorecard handwritten on the brick fa├žade of a house seems to keep tally for someone possibly named “the Bum.”

The Philadelphia Daily News also publicized the digitization of our African Americana collection, completed with funds provided by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education under the Library Services and Technology Act.  Their multi-page article on the collection showcased several images and highlighted the research value of our holdings. 
Finally, when Rebecca Onion of discovered the Guide to the Stranger, or Pocket Companion for the Fancy, on the Library Company’s “Capitalism by Gaslight” exhibition online, she was very taken with this mid-nineteenth century Tripadvisor for brothels. Philadelphia Magazine online made hay from this essay and provided an updated look at the sites reviewed in the Guide. 

Be sure not to miss the next appearance of Library Company materials in cyberspace by following us on Facebook and Twitter!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Iraqi Delegation Tours the Library Company

On August 15, the Library Company hosted a delegation of Iraqi librarians and museum administrators on an official visit under the US Department of State’s International Visitors Leadership Program. Responsible for “American Corner” centers in Baghdad, Basrah, Dohuk, Erbil, Maysan, and Sulaimaniyah, the dignitaries spent part of their first day on a 21-day tour to American cities across the country at the Library Company.

Our Iraqi colleagues were eager to learn about the Library Company’s history, especially the institution’s foundational role in the development of American civil society. But, as so often during the course of a tour of Ben Franklin’s library, it was when the curators began showing our visitors the materials they had selected from the collections that the real power of this institution hit home. Among the items the visitors viewed were a 17th-century Koran printed in Hamburg from the collection of James Logan, and a manuscript page containing a Koranic verse that had been penned in 18th century St. Domingue by an enslaved Muslim man originally from West Africa. These documents speak eloquently to the Library Company’s role as a premier archive of early America’s sophisticated connections with the rest of the world.  

In addition to the Library Company, the group visited the National Constitution Center, the Free Library, and Independence National Historic Park. The State Department had selected these four sites to demonstrate the role that American libraries and community-based cultural institutions play in building a vibrant democracy. The visit was facilitated by Philadelphia’s own Citizen Diplomacy International, which is the exclusive State Department partner in the region for cultural exchange visits.

American Corners are the result of partnerships between the public affairs departments of US embassies and host institutions abroad that provide foreign citizens with a window into American culture and values. Often housed in libraries and other community spaces, these centers attract younger audiences and provide cultural programming targeted to students who are interested in knowing more about US culture and study in the United States.

Digital Friendship

The Program in African American History and the Print and Photograph Department are pleased to announce the launch of, which annotates and contextualizes our three prized African American women’s friendship albums. The Amy Matilda Cassey album and the Martina and Mary Anne Dickerson albums have long been some of the Print Department’s most-requested items. Visual, textual, and material, these rare artifacts of 19th-century African American history continue to inspire amazement in the casual observer and fresh research questions for new and established scholars.

The project took shape when the Library Company was approached in summer 2013 by Swarthmore professor Lara Cohen, who wanted her class to do some intensive work on the albums, and offered their help in creating a website in exchange. The albums proved to be a fertile basis for a digital humanities project, which expanded into a collaboration among students and faculty at Rochester Institute of Technology, Bryn Mawr College, Rutgers University, Swarthmore and the Library Company’s Summer 2014 Mellon Scholars interns.

We are pleased to share this beta website and welcome feedback. Long-term goals for the project include 3-D representations of the albums, illustrated biographies of the contributors, textual data mining, and a virtual reality module depicting the interior of a mid-nineteenth century African American home.

Google Glass

The Library Company had a real treat in July: a visit from Google Glass. The new eyewearwhich is still hard to get in many placescomes equipped with audio and video recording technology, and a range of software applications. It’s the next wave of the computing revolutiona camera and pc at the tip of your eyebrow!

How can archives, historic sites, and researchers use Google Glass? That was the question public historian Dr. Liz Covart asked early American historians visiting Philadelphia this summer. We jumped at the chance to try the digital monocle and provide some answers. After all, what better place to experiment with this new technology than Franklin’s Library (where we still have Ben Franklin’s original electrostatic machine).

When Dr. Covart arrived, we let various staff members and interns try out “Glass,” as the eyewear is called. We then toured different departments, recording interviews with curators and conservators at work. In the McLean Conservation Department, Andrea Krupp expertly explained how she repaired rare books. In the basement, we recorded staff members looking through the old, old card catalogue (from the 1800s!). In Jim Green’s office, we heard about Peter Collinson’s famous copy of Maitland’s The History of London (1739), which features a series of fascinating annotations and marginal notes about the way London had changed through Collinson’s lifetime.  These interviews were automatically uploaded to a Google account, ready for online viewing.

It was a great demonstration of the way that the Library Company can use new technologies to tell scholars, students, and the informed public what we do. Even Google Glass agreed. When we tweeted a picture of our Digital Humanities Intern Giles Holbrow facing the famous picture of Ben Franklin in the Logan Room, Google wrote back: “Pensive pose from two eras. This is great….”

Wolf Papers Now Available to Researchers

The personal and professional papers of Edwin Wolf 2nd are now available for research! Containing correspondence, research files, books, photographs, and other records, the Wolf Papers document the education, career, and family life of one of Philadelphia’s most prominent 20th-century bookmen.

Edwin Wolf 2nd (1911-1991) was a librarian, bibliophile, author, historian, Franklin scholar, and civic leader in Philadelphia. Wolf joined the Library Company as Curator in 1953 and became the Librarian in 1955, a post he held until 1984. During those years, he led the organization through a period of rejuvenation, growth, and prosperity. In particular, Wolf recognized the value of the collections and the potential of the Library Company as a non-circulating scholarly research library. He facilitated the move from the Ridgway Library on South Broad Street to the current location, refined the collecting scope to focus on American history and culture through 1880, and helped to increase the visibility of the Library Company through his Annual Reports, which led to donations of material, as well as funding.

Jessica Hoffman, who served as Project Assistant for the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives project, was thrilled to assist with the processing of the collection. She says, “I feel as if I’ve gotten to know Edwin Wolf fairly well through this endeavor. As a student and new professional in the field, I regard this as a great honor. His perseverance and enthusiasm for the Library Company is evident in our rich collections and in our continuing and varied efforts to serve the research needs of people all over the world.”

View the finding aid for a comprehensive description of this collection. Funding for the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives Project of the Council on Library and Information Resources was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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