Finding aid conversions at the Free Library of Philadelphia

By Caitlin G. RSS Tue, March 6, 2012

Hi! I’m Garrett Boos, the most recent archivist to join the “Milestones in 20th Century American Children’s Literature” project at the Free Library of Philadelphia. My particular part of the project involves reformatting finding aids for already processed collections. Since the beginning of November I have been reformatting the information in an old Rare Book Department Access database into easy-to-use finding aids produced with Archivists’ Toolkit. The three collections I have been working on are all Free Library collections of British children’s illustrators, chosen as a natural expansion of our project. They are the Free Library collections of Arthur Rackham, Beatrix Potter, and Kate Greenaway.

The first collection I worked on was the Free Library collection of Kate Greenaway, simply because it was the smallest. Since it is a small collection, even if we had to start over from scratch, I still wouldn’t need to redo too much work. Luckily everything went according to plan and the finding aid was completed relatively easily. With this collection, we worked to establish standards for how the information in the database would be repurposed as a finding aid. While the Access database containing information about these collections was available only to librarians working in the department, our online finding aids can be readily accessed by the public. (You can see the Kate Greenaway finding aid on our website here.)  We want to make these collections easier to find, search, and use; the converted finding aids are joining the findings aids for newly processed collections on our website.  After Greenaway, I was able to finish the The Free Library collection of Arthur Rackham relatively quickly, and now I am finishing up the humungous Beatrix Potter finding aid.

While I was earning my MLIS I did similar work for another Philadelphia area project sponsored by CLIR, the PACSCL/CLIR “Hidden Collections” Project, but I rarely had the chance to see the material I was writing about.  I am very happy to say that at the Free Library I can actually see the items I am writing about in the finding aid.  So far some of my favorite on the job experiences include flipping through a large set of original drawings by Kate Greenaway for Brett Harte’s Queen of the Pirate Isle, and seeing original watercolors by Beatrix Potter, particularly those you wouldn't normally associate with her, such as spiders.  By far my favorite collection has been the Free Library collection of Arthur Rackham.  I found everything from doodles on a menu to an elaborate painting that was used as an illustration in the book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens to be equally fascinating.  The materials hit home with me when I discovered that the original drawings Rackham did for Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which I saw when working on the finding aid, were the same illustrations in my edition of the book at home.  You can check out our Facebook page to view some of his other sketches, including the hilarious “Sketch of a soldier and a dog going around a corner,” as well as other works by Potter and Greenaway. 

 -Garrett Boos

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