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.

LCP News Menu