PACSCL Consortial Survey Initiative

About the Project

Project Background

The PACSCL Consortial Survey Initiative is a 30-month project to assess backlogged archival collections in 22 Philadelphia area institutions. Using a survey instrument based on one developed at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the project team is assessing unprocessed, underprocessed and underdescribed archival collections in a range of physical formats.

While the assessment model was developed at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and has been successfully adapted by Columbia University, the University of Virginia and other institutions for their use, the PACSCL Consortial Survey Initiative marks the first time that the model is being applied cross-institutionally and to a range of types of academic and cultural institutions.

The project is part of PACSCL's Greater Philadelphia Research Collections Network, a set of initiatives that will allow researchers, students, and lifelong learners to explore and engage with the rich documentary resources of the Philadelphia region, fostering scholarship and education, community awareness, heritage tourism development, and regional economic growth.

Project Purpose

The PACSCL Consortial Survey Initiative has a dual purpose:

  • To assist with planning and prioritization for collections work both within individual institutions and across the consortium.
  • To improve intellectual access to unprocessed and underprocessed collections by making collection-level records available to the public.

The Survey Instrument and Survey Method

The survey instrument provides for the qualitative and quantitative assessment of a number of physical and intellectual characteristics of collections, including physical condition, quality of housing, physical access, intellectual access, quality of documentation, and interest. The survey team assigns numerical ratings for each of these characteristics to assist with statistical analysis and cross-collection comparisons. In addition to the ratings, the survey team provides descriptive assessments of all collections and develops or enhances bibliographic and heading information as needed.

Survey data is recorded in a shared FileMaker Pro database developed specifically for the project. Each surveyed collection receives a collection-level record that includes bibliographic information, assessment data, information on special formats and the availabilty of intellectual access tools, name and subject headings, and administrative information on collections. The bibliographic fields of the database map to MARC to enable sharing of collection data between the survey database and union catalogues and local OPACs. Because the database includes fields that allow institutions to maintain internally significant data related to their collections such as location and provenance information, the database can also be used as a basic accessions or collection management system for individual institutions.

Surveying is done in teams of no fewer than two people. Survey teams may include project staff and participating institution staff, or project staff only. When surveying, teams visually inspect each collection, consult the intellectual tools available for it, then discuss and achieve consensus to assign ratings and develop assessment narrative.

Project Staff and Steering Committee

The project team is comprised of three full-time staff members. Christine Di Bella serves as Archivist and Project Director. John Armstrong and Jennifer Barr are the Collections Surveyors. Staff at participating institutions are also actively involved in the assessment process.

The project is supported by the project steering committee, who provide considerable expertise and represent a number of different constituencies. Steering committee members are V. Chapman-Smith, Regional Administrator, National Archives, Mid Atlantic Region; Lynn Dorwaldt, Librarian, The Wagner Free Institute of Science; Robert Kieft, Librarian of the College and Director of College Information Resources, Haverford College; Matthew Lyons, Director of Archives and Collections Management, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania; David Moltke-Hansen, President Emeritus, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Rachel Onuf, Consultant and formerly Director of Archives, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania; and Eric Pumroy, Head of Special Collections and Seymour Adelman Rare Book Librarian, Bryn Mawr College Library. Leslie Hunt, formerly Senior Archivist at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania and member of the project steering committee, provided significant guidance during the startup phase of the project. Laura Blanchard, PACSCL's Executive Director, provides additional support.


The thirty-two member libraries and archives of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) collect, care for, and share with a world-wide audience collections that, in their depth and variety, comprise an internationally important body of unique materials for students, scholars and lifelong learners at any level.

The collections of PACSCL member libraries include a total of more than 3,000,000 rare books, 200,000 linear feet of manuscripts and archival materials, and 9,000,000 photographs, maps, architectural drawings, and works of art on paper. PACSCL member libraries hold rich collections of materials on national, regional, and local history; the natural and social sciences; world history, literature and religion; art and architecture; and business and industry.

PACSCL is unique among library consortia in this country. It was born out of the conviction that the extraordinary collections of Philadelphia area libraries deserved greater visibility and broader support. In 1985, sixteen institutions came together to create PACSCL as an informal cooperative group with a shared agenda ranging from access to public programs and development. Now, over twenty years later, PACSCL has grown in size to its present thirty libraries and evolved into a mature organization. During that period, PACSCL has compiled an impressive track record in developing projects and programs that have greatly benefited member institutions and their diverse constituencies. Past and present projects include the development of a shared online public access catalogue for selected PACSCL institutions and a federated search interface that will eventually provide access to all PACSCL members' catalogues; the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network, a project to include information from PACSCL collections in a web-based Geographic Information System (GIS); training and support for encoding finding aids into Encoded Archival Description (EAD); and the curation of the 2001-2002 exhibition Leaves of Gold: Treasures of Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections.

Project Contact Information

We welcome questions, comments and suggestions about the project. Please feel free to contact us using any of the methods listed below.

mail: PACSCL Consortial Survey Initiative
         c/o The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
         1300 Locust Street
         Philadelphia, PA 19107

phone: (215) 732-6200, ext. 201


Homelast updated August 23, 2007, © 2006-2008, PACSCL Consortial Survey InitiativeContact the Project Director