This week in Reference, we were required to develop a quick reference collection development document, fit for the sort of place we’d like to work in the future. Since I dearly miss Philadelphia, the following is what emerged. The unexpected result: my fake archive really needs a copy of Jefferson Moak’s Philadelphia Street Name Changes (2001). No kidding. Crazy for onomastics.
South Philadelphia Memory is a hypothetical archive with three dominant functional areas. The first is a physical collection of transcribed oral histories, personal papers, photographs and realia. The second, adjunct to the first, is a digital repository (southphillymemory.org), presenting materials from the physical collection and digital objects contributed by members of the community (in a manner similar to OhioPix). The third area is a reference reading room, providing access to physical collections, and facilitating research in local history, biography and genealogy.
Believing that the uses to which a collection is put are not subject to intention – recalling the example of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, which began as a private humanities library, and became the premier architectural and interior design archive of the city – South Philadelphia Memory imagines an urban community of dedicated amateurs, contributing as well as seeking colloquial knowledge, local-historical anecdotes, and information on topics of personal interest. Scholars in urban history will find broader collections at the Atwater Kent Museum, Temple University’s Urban Archives, and the Archives of the University of Pennsylvania; those more interested in entertainment will enjoy the Mummers Museum. Our collections will prove pertinent to narrow-bore scholarship in domesticity, the immigrant and migrant experience, and related topics.
The reference collection is a structural support to the physical and digital archives. Using it, we enable patrons and staff to create descriptions which positively identify buildings, streets and people, which distinguish among different, fluid names and which collocate like items. SPM collects reference works describing the people and places of the early city, including 19th and 20th century maps and plats, builders’ directories, biographical dictionaries, and secondary historical works on the city, among them:
Skaler, R. M. (2003). Philadelphia’s Broad Street: South and North. Images of America. Charleston, SC: Arcadia. http://www.worldcat.org/title/philadelphias-broad-street-south-and-north/oclc/52982954
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission., & Environmental Research Group (Philadelphia, Pa.). (1980). South Philadelphia historic sites survey: Final report, phase I. Philadelphia: ERG. http://www.worldcat.org/title/south-philadelphia-historic-sites-survey-final-report-phase-i/oclc/7876029
O’Connell, C. A., Silcox, H. C., & Institute for Global Education and Service Learning. (2000). Struttin’ through time South Philly style: Stories and memories of South Philadelphia. Philadelphia, PA: Sponsored by Harry C. Silcox, Institute for Global Education and Service Learning. http://www.worldcat.org/title/struttin-through-time-south-philly-style-stories-and-memories-of-south-philadelphia/oclc/47219866
Alotta, R. I.(1990). Mermaids, monasteries, Cherokees, and Custer: The stories behind Philadelphia street names. Chicago, Ill: Bonus Books. http://www.worldcat.org/title/mermaids-monasteries-cherokees-and-custer-the-stories-behind-philadelphia-street-names/oclc/22863215
Jackson, J. (1931). Encyclopedia of Philadelphia. 4 vols. Harrisburg: National Historical Association.
New acquisitions reviewed
Main GenHisTrav 1 copy R 929.309748 P544, M687p, 2001
Moak, Jefferson M. Philadelphia street name changesChestnut Hill Almanac Genealogical Series, pubn. 2. Rev. ed. Philadelphia, PA. The Almanac, 2001. http://www.worldcat.org/title/philadelphia-street-name-changes/oclc/34833897 170 p.
Whereas Alotta’s Mermaids covers casual interest in street names, and whereas Jackson’s Encyclopedia will contain short blurbs on individual streets, the uniform resource for disambiguating location is NARA Archivist Jefferson Moak’s Street Name Changes. The University of Pennsylvania holds the 1996 edition; Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds the 2001 edition. The latter is revised, with a reverse index.
a) Scope: Moak’s work compiles the changes over time of 4300 Philadelphia street names. Its information has been at least partially incorporated into maps in the Greater Philadelphia Geohistory Network and Philadelphia Architects and Buildings databases (http://www.philageohistory.org/geohistory/ ; http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org ). As a ready-reference source, a means of faciliatating browsing, and as a means of outreach to computer-averse sectors of our patron base, Moak is unequalled.
b) Authority, currency: Jefferson Moak, as Archivist at the NARA Mid-Atlantic section in Center City, Philadelphia, authored a number of indexes and guides to historical resources, including Philadelphia Guardians of the Poor, a guide to the legal guardians of orphans and indigent children in the nineteenth-century city. Moak worked at the City of Philadelphia Archives from 1987, moving to NARA in 2000. He famously resolved a case of document theft, as reported in Smithsonian magazine( http://www.smithsonianmag.com/specialsections/making-a-difference/to-catch-a-thief.html).
The subject matter of the work and the information needs of our patron base (here to include staff using the reference collection to create descriptions of digital objects) are historical, so currency is not at a premium. The recent revision adds functionality, and is to be preferred.
c) Ease of use, arrangement: Moak’s index and reverse index are deep, locating streets by district, ward and division.
d) Suitability for audience: If descriptive metadata for objects in our digital collections are to be created distributively, some uniform guide is required to enable disambiguation and collocation. Casual onomasticians will be satisfied by Alotta. Staff, dedicated amateurs and professional scholars require Moak.
e) Format, limitations: Binding is paper, and will require some preventative preservation activity (likely a Kapco cover) before use.
f) Cost: Both editions are out-of-print. Regional specialty bookstores – such as Masthof, in Morgantown PA, which specializes in Mennonite family history – appear to sell the book at or near its original cost (viz., http://www.masthof.com/pages/jan00.html). Being in the neighborhood of $20, the only real obstacle to the book’s purchase is its scarcity.
g) Third-party reviews: Moak is introduced by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History here: http://www.wvculture.org/history/ahnews/1008news.pdf . The University of Pennsylvania notes that Moak’s index is “not fun to read”: (http://gethelp.library.upenn.edu/guides/philadelphia/philahist.html#Geog) . The Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau regards Moak as a “fairly competent genealogist,” though we are unable to tell if this is litotes or the prejudice of the truly obsessed (http://visitbuckscounty.com/press_room.asp?press_id=28970&date_start=7/1/2009&date_end=6/30/2010 ).
h) Recommendation: Buy, at earliest opportunity. Other local repositories receive dense traffic; we can’t count on using their copy. The online applications which use Moak’s information may alienate segments of our patron base. The print index provides a window on all name changes all at once, which serves to promote the haptic encounter.
EBSCO Publishing (Firm). (1990). Newspaper source. Ipswich, MA: Ebsco Pub. http://www.worldcat.org/title/newspaper-source/oclc/42809251
Ebsco indexes the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News from 1997 to the present. Patrons and staff hoping to provide digital objects with authoritative descriptions of recent events may profit by subscription.
a) Scope: Ebsco’s Newspaper Source provides selective full-text for 70 national and international newspapers and 389 regional newspapers, indexes broadcast transcripts, and updates daily. As noted above, it covers a bit more than a decade of Philadelphia’s two dailies; within that scant timeframe, NS does not provide cover-to-cover indexing.
b) Authority, currency: NS is updated daily, and, as noted below, is continuously expanding its roster of titles. Ebsco is the “world’s largest subscription agent,” holding over 300,000 titles; its parent had revenue of 2.5 billion dollars as of 2008. The organization is, put mildly, likely to persist.
c) Ease of use, depth of index, search capabilities: Ebsco’s interface supports Boolean operators, proximity, truncation and nested searches using parentheses in sixteen fields through dropdown menus. Searches can be faceted using additional searchable tags. (http://support.ebsco.com/help/?int=ehost&lang=en&feature_id=Databases&TOC_ID=Always&SI=0&BU=0&GU=1&PS=0&ver=live&dbs=nfhjnh,nfh ) Navigation is intuitive; execution of complex search strategies requires practice. Permanent URLs for article records are readily available; widgets enabling rapid formatting of citations are present. The roster of titles indexed apparently outpaces Ebsco’s ability to describe NS; different descriptions state the database has 38, 45 and 70 national newspapers in full-text.
d) Suitability for audience: For patrons not interested in the recent past, the database is useless. Better to search the historical newspapers available in the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America project, among them, the Philadelphia Evening Ledger (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/ ). Our parochial concerns are also not represented well by major publishers. For example, the following six South Philadelphia newspapers are contained in microform at the Free Library of Philadelphia:
Sons of Italy Times / Ordine Nuovo
South Philadelphia / South Philadelphian
South Philadelphia American / South Philadelphia American Weekly
South Philly Review
South Philadelphia Review Chronicle / South Philadelphia Chronicle
e) Format, limitations: Images are excluded, as are advertisements. Articles are removed from their situation on the page. Our patrons thrive on contextualizing materials; lack of context severely limits the utility of the database.
f) Cost: Retail prices vary according to the nature and size of the institutional client; they may also be subject to consortial arrangements. Ebsco itself is not forthcoming. (Indeed, Infohio password-protects its price list of core collections for school libraries: http://www.infohio.org/PriceList2009.pdf [password is infohio]) Retail subscriptions to Newspaper Source alone quoted to a New York school district as of 2007 were $2300 (http://www.ogs.state.ny.us/purchase/prices/79126S950168prices.pdf ). On the other hand, total Ebsco costs in Oregon’s academic libraries averaged about three dollars per student per year (http://www.oregon.gov/OSL/LD/technology/sdlp/2007CostTables/FinalAcademic07-08CostTable.pdf?ga=t ). Cost of subscription – in the ballpark of $2000/yr – does not include hardware and software necessary to access the database, nor does this figure provide for persistent holdings: it is a perpetual rental. Rental of the database would fail to provide access to the archives of the Philadelphia Tribune, of serious interest to neighborhood scholars, it being the city’s leading African-American newspaper; its archive is a ProQuest product.
The likelihood of any newspaper database justifying the large upfront expenditure is slim. Despite the extortionate structure of per-article use in Philadelphia Newspapers LLC’s archive, their deeper index (Inquirer back to 1981 and Daily News to 1978; http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives ) practically moots the question of using Ebsco’s product.
g) Third-party reviews: Allegheny County Libraries and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh have cancelled subscriptions to Newspaper Source (http://articles.einetwork.net/#N ); database subscriptions generally, including Ebsco’s products, were first on the chopping block for New Jersey governor Chris Christie (http://lisnews.org/nj_librarians_are_mad_hell_and_they039re_not_going_take_it_anymore ). When large, comparatively well-funded systems find the resource dispensible, the resource’s applicability to small, comparatively ill-funded institutions is put into question. Concerns have been raised about Ebsco’s exclusivity arrangements with popular and academic publishers; Ebsco has been referred to as the “evil empire” in the library blogosphere (http://lisnews.org/information_access_balance ; .http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2010/04/02/has-ebsco-become-the-new-evil-empire/ ).
h) Recommendation: Do not subscribe. Macroeconomic concerns about consolidation among database providers and exclusivity arrangements between providers and publishers are less pressing than the lack of immediate necessity SPM has for this product. Thousands of dollars could be more profitably spent in funding a collaboration with FLP to digitize the comparatively small runs of the six neighborhood papers mentioned above; preservation costs of the resultant digital archive would not exceed the cost of subscribing to – it bears repeating – a less relevant resource. The South Philadelphia digital microfilm could cohabit with other objects in the digital archive; it would be less a reference source – though also that – than a contributing element of the archive’s critical mass.
The main – albeit minor – drawback of this approach is that it passes costs to the patron base, in the form of fee-per-article access through Philadelphia Newspapers LLC.
Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project. (2000). Philadelphia architects and buildings. Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project. http://www.worldcat.org/title/philadelphia-architects-and-buildings/oclc/51225582
PAB is the predominant online resource for images and documents pertaining to the architectural history, urban planning and – insofar as places make people – social history of Philadelphia. As a subscriber and as a contributing institution to PAB, SPM could project its resources far beyond its own walls, and gain access to high-resolution images, invaluable to researchers.
a) Scope: PAB comprises digital objects describing over 35,000 Philadelphia-area structures (defined as Philadelphia County and the four adjacent counties: Delaware, Chester, Montgomery and Bucks.) Historical and architectural information is culled from photographs, lithographs, blueprints, architects’ and builders’ directories; these materials are housed in repositories around the region, but primarily come from the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, the Penn Archives, the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
b) Authority, currency: Since all material submitted to PAB is already located in a regional repository, and since all records are edited by professional staff and spot-checked by staff at the major participants, PAB’s reliability rests on the entire community of local archivists. New images are added daily; material from the present day is included.
c) Ease of use, depth of index, search capabilities: PAB is freely to view, requiring a free user account; paying subscribers may view high-resolution images through the ER Mapper plug-in. Materials may be identified by location, building, architect, collection or published source (the latter being the bibliographic source providing data for the record.) Each category may be searched across a number of fields. Locations may be browsed by a street list and by a GIS interface. Searching partial addresses takes a long time; navigating the map is not as fluid as using the Google Maps API. Buildings are graphically described: blue for NRHP listings, red for ordinary PAB. Users can save images, and build personalized slide shows.
d) Suitability for audience: The resource is particularly well-suited for use by staff in describing objects in the digital collection; it is a fine ready-reference source for geographical and architectural queries, and for the positive identification of objects in the collection.
e) Format, limitations: Upon identifying a single property, a user may specify a search within X feet of that property. This is as close to a neighborhood browsing function as PAB gets. Names of neighborhoods are not indexed. The building subject index is a controlled vocabulary presented via a scrolling menu. Familiar keyword indexing does not apply. Unlike, say, textual descriptions in CONTENTdm, PAB’s descriptions are not automatically hyperlinked.
f) Cost: Individual subscriptions are $40/yr. Institutional access or a site-license would be subject to negotiation. Contributing institutions, of necessity, access PAB for free; extending such access to our patron base may, once again, be the subject of negotiations.
g) Third-party reviews: PAB is a recommended resource of institutions both self-interested (such as Princeton University’s School of Architecture; http://web.princeton.edu/sites/vrc/resources.htm ) and disinterested (such as the Glasgow School of Art; http://gsaarchitecture.blogspot.com/2009/02/philadelphia-architects-and-buildings.html ).
h) Recommendation: Purchase one subscription on behalf of reference librarian – in all likelihood, SPM’s only librarian – until site-license can be arranged.
The object of local history – intimate acquaintance with the defamiliarized past – is not suited to mass dissemination. Large databases and vast indexes are crucial tools for verification. NS fits neither our collection’s purpose, nor its budget. The vast majority of PAB’s utility is contained in the freely accessible aspects, including some of the name-change cross-referencing embodied in Moak’s text (viz., the historical street name of Market in Philadelphia; http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/16742 ). With one option, the reference collection adds Moak’s Philadelphia Street Name Changes. As a ready-reference source with one function, and being in essence a list of 4300 search terms, Moak has the power to narrow searches and to deflect them from their intended course. The clarifying power of the print source makes up for its inevitable physical deterioration; for 20 dollars of book and 10 dollars of preservation, we receive 4300 indexed terms. This is an enviable rate of return.