Despite attending Temple on and off for 6 years, I had never been to the University’s Urban Archives. As I quickly found out, I didn’t know where it was either as I waited for the class on the ground floor of the library. As a psychology major, I had immediately regretted this upon my first visit. Hell, as a fan of Philadelphia history I immediately regretted it.
The lack of space and staff dilemma noted by Fredric Miller is still a very real problem for not only Temple, but also, as I found out by my interview with the head archivist, the Philadelphia College of Physicians Medical Library as well. The new $170,000,000 Temple library is bound to be 210,000 square feet, yet will likely not dedicate as much space as it should to preserving Philadelphia history.
Chrissie Perella is the first archivist at the College library in over ten years and the entire staff is composed of 4 full time employees- the largest staff it’s had in over 20 years. This correlates to a different issue posed by Miller: the size of collections. While this seems like a good problem to have for an archive, Perella explained why it is not: “It has been a struggle to work with collections that were largely ignored for so many years, and to untangle and correct what had been done, since past Library staff did not often leave documentation” (C. Perella, personal communication, April 7th, 2008). Such expansive, poorly maintained collections certainly present a challenge.
The Urban archives are smaller though, and seemingly much less daunting to me. I was very surprised when assistant archivist John Pettit told us they have been digitizing material since 1999. They are certainly ahead of the curve, but still face the issue of time. Well prepared, Pettit also presented us with a picture taken by a social worker to document their effort. It displayed exactly what Miller was talking about in the archival problem of the poor appearing usually as criminals or clients.
Walking out of the archives, I was compelled to create a research account for future research projects. Keeping in mind my institutional profile, I did a quick search of the archives for the Philadelphia College of Physicians/Mutter Museum afterwards. Most interesting and relevant to my paper and presentation, is an old color transparency of the Medical Herb Garden, which is a part of the museum still today. I will definitely be consulting the archives in my last two semesters at Temple.