A few weeks ago, I toured the Abraham Lincoln Foundation’s archives within the Heritage Center of the Union League of Philadelphia. Overall, I found the experience to be pleasant and enlightening in regards how archives actually operate. I left with the following points in mind.
The archive is incredibly easy to get to by subway and is located a few blocks from City Hall on Broad Street. While the Union League itself requires a strict business formal dress code, the archive itself does not. The Archivist on staff quickly responded to my request to tour the archive and the Union League. Upon my arrival, I was given a thorough tour of the complete faculty and was provided with the most recent copy of the collections management policy and several finding aids. I was surprised to learn that only 5% of the Abraham Lincoln Foundation’s holding are owned by the foundation itself; the majority of the collection is stewarded, on agreement with numerous institutions/individuals, by the foundation. Perhaps what struck me most was how relatively the whole operation was. The Heritage Center, which houses the Abraham Lincoln Foundation and two of its sister foundations, was completed and stocked with archival holdings between roughly 2011 to 2013. The majority of the archival collection includes member records (used mostly by genealogists and prospective members looking for hereditary membership rates) and administrative records of the Union League, partial record holdings of the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia, records of The Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS) and records of The Dames of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Much of the material is still being processed due to negotiations over holdings between other institutions, incoming records from properties newly purchased by the Union League, and the limit of funding (the Archive operates largely on the donations of individuals). The Abraham Lincoln Foundation is financially separate from the Union League. It will be interesting to see how the foundation evolves as its current form is relatively new. In many ways, the archive at the foundation seems to be in metamorphosis; not yet certain on how it will serve a greater audience due to a need to understand what it has in its entirety and due to financial limitations. However, it bears repeating that the archive is operated and staffed by a small group of dedicated individuals; its limitations are not the product of neglect but rather the reality of finances, work force size and operational imperatives. I look forward to writing in more detail about my site visit for my class report.