Introduction

I am going to attempt to keep a blog of the behind the scenes at the Henry Janssen Library, in addition to other things I find interesting.  The Henry Janssen Library, the research library for the Historical Society of Berks County, is on Facebook, which I do not update as often as I would like.  You can also learn more about our services at www.berkshistory.org/library.  I am still getting my feet wet, so to speak, so please bear with me.

First and foremost…yes, I am an outsider.  I am not from Berks County; was not born or raised here.  I am actually from Lockport, NY, known as having the most locks on the Erie Canal, among other things, located around Buffalo and Niagara Falls.  For the first year and a half I lived here, I thought I was on another planet.  It takes a while to adjust to moving, which I did to take the Archivists position at the HSBC.  Each new place has a different rhythm and pace.  Reading reminds me of a city, plopped down in the middle of a field, which gives it a unique character that is actually peaceful.  No major city traffic, no city noise and if you travel 10 minutes down the road, you are in the country.  Berks County is the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country (Lancaster, PA just has better publicists) and that heritage is old, strong and interesting.  One does not have to grow up in a location to appreciate the history of where they are living.  In fact, one of my favorite pre-wedding gifts from my soon-to-be hubby is his grandmother’s handwritten PA Dutch Cookbook; of, course, I have to preserve it first.

As stated in the About Me section, I am the HSBC’s first officially trained archivist.  What exactly does that mean?  Answer: A LOT OF WORK.  Since October of 2008, we have started inventorying the entire collection, mostly because we really do not know what we have.  Hidden, literally, in this facility is a wealth of information, which has been buried in boxes and hidden from the light of day.  The library was run for years by retired librarians, who did what they could based on what they knew and to make it easier on them to find things.  There is no consistency in how they cataloged a book, let alone a document, or why some donations received more care than others did.  The bigger the collection, the better the chances there is no finding guide, nor did that collection receive the proper care.  Archives are all about arrangement and access; and unfortunately, sometimes the best way to start organizing is to start from scratch.  In the two and a half years since starting the inventory, we have located and identified manuscripts, deeds, maps and other documents that no one knew we had; and it is only the beginning.

I will try my best to inform and educate not just on preservation, arrangement and access, but on the history as well.  I am not an expert on Berks County History, nor will I ever be, but my main job is to educate and inform.  Archives and history are not boring and static and if you have ever visited us, you know we like to have fun and learn.  I hope you will come to appreciate this history as I have and find this interesting and informative.  Please feel free to comment or add your own information.  History does not exist in a vacuum everyone has knowledge to contribute.

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3 thoughts on “Introduction

  1. Our situation at the Dayton Metro Library certainly isn’t as bad as all that, but we do have a significant backlog of manuscript collections that are either only “partially” processed or un-processed or not-processed-good-enough. But doesn’t it make you feel so good when you know you are getting things organized and “finding” things and making it so that other people can find them too? That’s how I balance the aggravation of “why isn’t this cataloged yet?” — with the satisfaction of *getting* it cataloged. 🙂

    • Our biggest problem is…where is it? We are constantly getting told…”My grand [fill in blank] donated such and such and we would like to see it. Our first official reaction is…Good Luck. We then have to explain that based on past practices we have no way to identify the donation. Then, we get accused to loosing it. It is slightly frustrating. The one positive that comes out of all this time is that by understanding what we have, we are able to use the collection in a way no one ever thought. Genealogists, who have been searching for mysteries for 20+ years, are finding answers in material they never had access to. Or they had access to the material, but no one took the time to explain it. We have a massive backlog as well. We are slowly catching up…but there are 6 major collections over 10 linear feet that aren’t even on our radar because of the constant supply of new stuff. And those collections were only donated over the past 2 years. We have a huge challenge and in a very weird way, enjoying every minute of it!

  2. Hooray for exciting people who are striving to document such a hugh job of history.

    I am from Salt Lake City, Utah. Just getting into trying to locate the family name who may still be in the various counties near the major riverway of PA. since 1770.

    The books that are published on the blog, may be of interest to purchase in my research. Thank you for your efforts. They are well appreciated. L L P.

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