Thursday, March 8, 2012

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Many years ago I visited the Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies in Philadelphia, as it was one of two large American archives that contained Latvian materials. I remember my sense was that they didn’t have very much, and that Latvians should send their materials to the Immigration History Research Center in MN. Last spring, when I attended a conference in Philadelphia, I went looking for Balch and when I arrived at the address that was still out on the Internet, Balch was not there though maybe there was a sign that it had moved, but I didn’t have any more time to pursue it. Now, from the Lithuanian archives list I found that Balch had become part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP).

Before visiting the HSP, I looked them up online and found a fairly extensive list of finding aids for Lithuanians and Latvians. When I visited the downtown Philadelphia building, I knew I was going to pay dearly for parking ($18 for 2 hours), so if I was really going to do research, I would again have to go searching for cheaper parking options or park outside and take public transportation into the city. I have not worked in archives to any extent, so I had forgotten all the rules and regulations. First, I had to pay $8 to use the archive for a day, then I registered and signed a consent form that I would abide by the rules – I had to lock my purse and other stuff in a locker, I could only bring in my computer and loose papers, and camera without the case. These were all checked as I left.

There were a few ways to discover what is in the collection. One is the online catalog, which I had already looked at, and could peruse at my leisure back home. Then  they had a system only available at HSP called MANX: Archival Collections of the HSP, which is an Access database that has 25 fields nicely laid out on the screen, so besides the title and description of the archival collection, you can easily find the dates of coverage, the extent of it (in linear feet, boxes, and volumes), if it has a finding aid, etc. This is where I found the most useful information. The reference person (probably not called librarians in an archive) was helpful and gave me three things to look at, a 1992 guide to the Balch Institute collections, a 2008 listing of the Balch microfilms, and a binder with a list of newspapers both processed and unprocessed. This isn’t the place to list what I found, but basically there is very little from Estonians – some newspapers and one archive. The Latvians have more newspapers and periodicals, one on microfilm, partial American Latvian Association materials (1949-96) and most importantly archives from the Latvian Ev. Lutheran Church of St. John (1893-1995.) The Lithuanians have the most with 15 reels of newspapers, more in print, some substantial individual archives, and extensive collections for the Federation of Lithuanian Women's Clubs, Lithuanian Music Hall Association (1873-1992) and the Voice of the Lithuanian Community (radio program, 1908-1992.)

I now have to write the director of the archives to find if they are still interested in accepting materials, and specifically what types of materials. I think they could also use some volunteers from each ethnic community to help process the archives, as some stated “since materials were in X language, we were unable to determine…”

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