The thirty-six member libraries and archives of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) collect, care for, and share with a world-wide audience collections that, in their depth and variety, comprise an internationally important body of unique materials for students, scholars and lifelong learners at any level.
The collections of PACSCL member libraries include a total of more than 4,000,000 rare books, 260,000 linear feet of manuscripts and archival materials, and 9,000,000 photographs, maps, architectural drawings, and works of art on paper. PACSCL member libraries hold rich collections of materials on national, regional, and local history; the natural and social sciences; world history, literature and religion; art and architecture; and business and industry.
PACSCL is unique among library consortia in this country. It was born out of the conviction that the extraordinary collections of Philadelphia area libraries deserved greater visibility and broader support. In 1985, sixteen institutions came together to create PACSCL as an informal cooperative group with a shared agenda ranging from access to public programs and development. Now, almost twenty years later, PACSCL has doubled in size and evolved into a mature organization. During that period, PACSCL has compiled an impressive track record in developing projects and programs that have greatly benefited member institutions and their diverse constituencies.
With generous support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the William Penn Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Council on Library and Information Resources, the Delmas Foundation, and other foundations and corporations, PACSCL has demonstrated its commitment to the importance of rare book, manuscript, and archival collections and to their role in scholarship and in public life. Current projects and past accomplishments include:
- Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis: a project to digitize all Western European medieval and early modern manuscripts in PACSCL member collections and to place the images in the public domain (funded by the Council for Library and Information Resources, ongoing)
- In Her Own Right: Women Asserting their Civil Rights, 1820-1920: a project to identify material documenting the early struggle for women’s rights in the collections of members of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) and to share a sampling of them online (planning grant, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, ongoing)
- a "hidden collections" manuscript processing project involving 140 collections from 24 member libraries, and the creation of a unified repository for electronic finding aids (2009-2012 and a successor project, 2013-2014, funded by a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources,);
- an online public access catalog upgrade for several members, in addition to "one click" search capability, using the Z39.50 interface, that will allow users to search the special collections portions of members' online catalogs at one time (ongoing);
- a consortial survey initiative to assess and provide information on approximately 35,000 linear feet of manuscripts and archival material in member collections (2006-2008);
- a geohistory initiative that allows users to explore the Greater Philadelphia area through time and place by entering a street address or other information, based on the City of Philadelphia's landmark Geographic Information System (2005; now sustained and extended by PACSCL member the Athenaeum of Philadelphia);
- the Leaves of Gold medieval manuscript exhibition, catalog, website, CD-ROM, and children's programming (2001-02)
- a Finding Aids Project including EAD training, digitization of existing finding aids, and establishment of a unified search interface (1998-ongoing);
- the creation of a Collaborative Online Public Access Catalog for those member libraries without individual OPACs (1997-ongoing);
- its Initiative for the 1990s I and II cataloging and access projects (1991-96);
- the PACSCL Name Authority Project (1991-94);
- a Museum Loan Program for auction and booksellers catalogs (1990-93);
- its Legacies of Genius exhibition and catalogue (1988).
PACSCL also has shared its skills and expertise with the broader profession of librarians and archivists through a series of workshops and seminars on a variety of cataloging issues ranging from the description of nineteenth-century imprints to the intellectual control of ephemera. Recent conference have explored the topics of library collaboration (2003), geographic information systems (2005), library/museum collaboration (2006), deaccessioning (2007), and new approaches to surveying special collections (2008). PACSCL also took the lead in local arrangements for the 2010 preconference of the Rare Book & Manuscripts Section of the American Library Association, "Join or Die: Collaboration in Special Collections."
As it looks to the future, PACSCL has identified some key priorities for the next few years. One involves improving access for all users through expanded, integrated, and networked cataloging/processing and digitization programs that will build on systematic assessment of the preservation, processing, and other access needs of members' holdings. A second priority is to capitalize on members' individual professional development activities to build cooperative programs that anticipate and serve the needs of the community that we are working to build among the staffs of member institutions. To that end, PACSCL is also collaborating with a number of other consortia in the region and the state.
The third priority involves outreach. PACSCL is committed to helping its members enhance their reach and value to diverse research constituencies and educators, as well as supporters. Beyond that, PACSCL is committed to contributing to the cultural and economic life of the Greater Philadelphia region. PACSCL and its members support the efforts of individuals and organizations engaged in promoting awareness of the area's rich cultural and heritage resources, both as information brokers and, in the case of many members, as important tourism destinations in their own right.
We invite you to explore PACSCL's resources together with its vision for the future on this website.
Illustration, above, courtesy of The Library Company of Philadelphia.