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May 12, 2009, Volume 55, No. 33

On April 15, the new state-of-the-art home of the University of Pennsylvania Archives celebrated its official grand opening at 3401 Market Street in the University City Science Center. Below are excerpts from the remarks made at the celebration of Penn’s repository of the papers, art and artifacts—primary sources of history—from prior periods in the University’s history.

Properly Preserving Penn’s Living Past

As a lover and student of history, I agree with William Faulkner that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

If we lacked access to documents, photographs, and artifacts of historical value, the past could easily be buried alive.

Fortunately for historians and scholars of all ages, Penn’s Trustees had the foresight to establish a University Archives and Records Center 65 years ago. They envisioned “a place to stimulate and nourish creative teaching and learning.”

The Trustees had given Penn’s living past everything it needed to prosper – except for proper digs. From 1954 until 2008, the Archives Center was housed in the purgatorial catacombs of Franklin Field. It was not easily accessible. Nor were conditions ideal for preserving and studying all of the materials.

But the Archives Center managed to become a University treasure to all of us, thanks in large part to the loving and expert care of its intrepid staff, led by its irrepressible director Mark Frazier Lloyd.

After 55 years, University Archives has a home that does Penn’s living past proud. For the first time in history, Penn has a facility that meets national archival standards. This space features climate controlled vaults for the collections; a reading room and seminar room for researchers and Penn history buffs; and sufficient work space that is a welcome departure from the warren under Franklin Field.

Many, many people made this move possible. Kudos to our team at Facilities and Real Estate Services for coming up with the design and construction plans. We have a great partner in the University City Sciences Center, and we are glad that CEO Stephen Tang has joined us today.
I treasure our Archives. I recognize the priceless value of preserving Penn’s living past. When I wanted to have a Making History display in College Hall of all past fundraising campaigns, where else could I have turned?

—President Amy Gutmann 

A New Home for Penn’s Venerable Archives

I am feeling very proud at this inauguration of our new facility for the University Archives, proud of my University, proud of my colleagues, and, putting modesty aside, feeling personally proud as well. Twenty-one years ago, I chaired a special task force established by the then president of the University, Sheldon Hackney, charged with developing a plan for the managing of records of all schools, departments and centers at Penn. At the time, we had loose protocols at best as to the disposition of paper records, their retention, disposal or permanent archiving. Thorny legal and government regulation issues with regard to privacy and confidentiality had also arisen that had not been addressed. The recent creation of a business-services-model Records Center at Penn also complicated matters. My examination of practices at our peer institutions revealed that we were not alone, that there were no leaders to follow. We had to lead.

Fortunately, the task force included a wonderful set of administrative staff members of the President’s and Provost’s office and a dedicated and stellar group of faculty. We had the good services of Mark Lloyd, director of the Archives, who persuaded us to think big. And we did. We developed a system that has well stood the test of time and remains a model for other universities—and one that supports the academic mission. The trick was to consider records as having various lifetimes and to think systematically. We then determined to merge the archival and records management functions and establish protocols to regulate retention of records at their places of origin, their then warehousing with accessibility and ultimate disposal or permanent archiving for institutional and scholarly purposes—in line with government and legal standards. At a university where the building and maintaining of separate fortresses is a norm, the merging of two departments alone represented a significant achievement.

The somewhat Achilles-heel in the plan was the state of the University Archives, ensconced in the north stands of Franklin Field with far less than state-of-art conservation conditions. We argued urgently for a new location, alas, lost the battle in the fierce space wars of the University, but subsequent lobbying by the standing advisory committee established by the task force did succeed in the securing funds for renovation of the stacks with proper humidity, temperature and fire controls. I knew then that this was only a temporary fix and waited. And now the day has come through the wisdom of the current administration to have the University Archives finally lodged in proper quarters.

My great hope for this day is that an incredible secret of the University remains no longer a secret. We may be second to some in terms of our rare book and manuscript collections, but we are first in terms of our archives of institutional records. We have a premier collection in the boxes now stored here in proper conditions. They are essential not just for scholars studying Penn specifically and the history of institutions of higher learning in general, but because from day one the University’s history has been so entwined in the history of the city of Philadelphia, that scholars seeking to understand the political, cultural, social, and economic histories of American cities have telling documents to examine here. Real estate development, immigration, race relations, political corruption, urban reform movements, student radicalism, and the role of government in scientific research are some of the subjects well illuminated in our collections. And scholars arriving here have the additional benefit of an extraordinary, professional staff that has catalogued collections and created finding tools in exemplary fashion and been leaders in the digitizing of records and web access and exhibition. This gem of our University should no longer be a secret.

Another dream of mine has come to fruition. Twenty-one years ago, I was joined by my colleagues in insisting that the Archives be a learning center for our students, a vital part of our educational mission. Unfortunately, there was hardly space in the old archive facility for a group of students to sit and learn about the collections and research methods and discuss what is revealed in our conserved documents. Our undergraduates and graduate students came in great numbers, but as individual researchers.

The icing-on-the-cake of our new facility is a state-of-the-art classroom, and I, for one, am greatly looking forward to conducting classes here and providing students bona fide research experiences with remarkable documents close at hand for collective examination. For an early example of this, I would have you view the West Philadelphia Community History Center, www.archives.upenn.edu/histy/features/wphila/index.html, an ever-revised and expanding heritage museum and resource by and for members of our West Philadelphia communities—another dream of mine—that students in two ABCS courses conducted by Mark Lloyd, Bob Engs and myself have helped to initiate and build.

—Walter Licht, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History

An Historic Journey

The University Archives and Records Center is very fortunate to have not just the good will of the President and senior faculty of the University, but their active participation and support of our work. For that—and for many other things—this office and all the people who work in it – are profoundly grateful.

Looking at the historical journey of the University Archives, my predecessors as University Archivist stand out. The first was Leonidas Dodson, who served as University Archivist from 1945 until his retirement in 1971. Dr. Dodson was a member of the department of history, a scholar, and a teacher. We are proud to dedicate the new classroom as the Leonidas Dodson Seminar Room. The second was Francis James Dallett, who served as University Archivist from 1971 until his retirement in 1984. “Jim” Dallett loved research and prized above all the discovery of new historical evidence. He was a curator of all things Americana: historical architecture, fine and decorative arts, rare books and manuscripts, all of them primary sources of history. Jim Dallett was also my mentor and friend and I will always be grateful to him for his generosity and kindness. We dedicate the Francis James Dallett Reading Room to him.

Susan Todres, over the past seven years, has donated hundreds of objects of decorative art to the Archives, some of which has already been installed in the Reading Room and the Seminar Room.

Today’s celebration also represents the culmination of my dream and ambition for 12 years. Beginning in 1996 the University Archives has worked to raise the money necessary for funding a project like this.

The FRES project team transformed 10,000 square feet of shell space into this gem of an historical repository.

I want to thank the staff of the University Archives—J.J. Ahern, Curtiss Ayers, Kaiyi Chen, Jim Duffin, Nancy Miller, Mary McConaghy, and Andy Ross—as well as Patricia Vickers, the manager of the Records Center and her staff, and Karen Jones, the manager of the medical records unit and her staff. There are 26 of us all together.

—Mark Frazier Lloyd, Director, University Archives & Records Center


Almanac - May 12, 2009, Volume 55, No. 33