Followers of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s Question of the Week may already be familiar with Albert J. Edmunds, HSP’s former cataloger and (alleged) resident ghost. From 1891 to 1936, Albert was responsible for describing and subject cataloging HSP’s diverse set of collection material, creating many of the handwritten and, later, typed catalog cards that are still used to access our collections today—and perhaps still typed today by Albert’s spirit, as goes the local folklore.
While some may find HSP’s continued use of a card catalog quaint (or perhaps as a de facto tribute to Albert himself), others cannot deny its limited nature as an information access tool. Certainly this was recognized in the late 1990s when HSP worked with a vendor to digitally convert over 250,000 catalog cards (only those related to our print and genealogical materials) to MARC records. These records were ultimately migrated to our current OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) system, where remote and on-site users, as well as staff could much more easily and time-efficiently conduct their research via the Web.
Today, HSP’s 565,700 remaining catalog cards (i.e., those relating to our manuscript, broadside, music, African American, and graphics collections) exist in physical format only. However, as part of the Digital Center for Americana project, the 17,400 graphics cards will ultimately enter the digital realm via our soon-to-be-adopted Digital Asset Management System (DAMS). By adding the graphics catalog cards’ content to our DAMS, patrons and staff will have the ability to search and retrieve, for example, a photograph’s descriptive information alongside a digital reproduction of the photograph itself, bringing access to HSP’s visual material to an entirely new level. HSP will achieve the catalog conversion by again working with a vendor to digitally reformat the cards, the content of which then will be exported to CollectiveAccess, an open-source, web browser-based software that will manage all of HSP’s extant and future digital assets, including digital surrogates of physical collection material and born-digital collection objects. The catalog conversion work is expected to begin in the next few months. Adoption of CollectiveAccess is expected to take place in early 2010 and will initially showcase HSP’s ~3000-image digital collection, most of which were created to fulfill external reproduction orders throughout the years. The Digital Center for Americana project will yield approximately 5,000 new digital images. And digitization of our graphics collection material is expected to be ongoing and added to the DAMS regularly.