Why Berks History Matters to Me: A Letter from a Former Intern

 

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Dear Fellow Members and Friends of the Berks History Center,

Admiration. Curiosity. Gratitude. These are the feelings that capture the essence of my experience with the Berks History Center. In the fall of 2016, I had the pleasure of working alongside seasoned museum professionals at the Berks History Center (BHC) museum. As a junior at Albright College, I interned at the BHC and helped with their collections management initiative, which involved inventorying more than 28,000 items in the collection. From textiles to furniture, to posters and machinery, my eyes were exposed to more curiosities than I ever could have imagined. Some days I felt like Abigail Chase from the film National Treasure, holding the Declaration of Independence and eager to uncover the detailed history woven into its fabrication.

Despite being a South Jersey native, I developed a sincere admiration for the Berks County artifacts we inventoried. Each had a place in the museum and I wanted to know how and why all of these items were collected, and how they contributed to preserving the legacy of Berks County.

On one of my first days at the museum, I learned about the mystery of the Chippendale chairs. There was a rumor that the chairs belonged to the former Pennsylvania governor, Joseph Hiester. My supervisor, BHC Curator Brad Smith, said that he wanted to find out if the legend was true. So we began our quest with several visits to the BHC Research Library and the Berks County Courthouse.

It was from those visits that we discovered the legend was true!

Thanks to the curiosity of our team, we located the original acquisition documentation for the chairs, which traced the lineage to the former governor. I felt like a museum detective and only wanted to explore more mysteries!

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Photo: Mackenzie inventorying items in the BHC Museum Collection.

After getting a taste of curatorial research, my admiration for Berks County history grew exponentially. I wanted to know things like: why the collection held so many fire company artifacts; how a Conestoga wagon got into the basement; and how so many valuable things had been acquired.

I discovered the answers to these questions and more through persistent research and constant support from the BHC’s talented and supportive staff.

As more information was uncovered, I realized that I was beginning to help preserve the legacy of Berks County. It wasn’t until my last few weeks at the BHC that I noticed how much gratitude I felt for the collection, its keepers and its scholars.

In the winter of 2017, Brad asked me and fellow intern, Erin Benz, to present our findings at a community event at the BHC. Through this experience I understood that I had the potential to grow as a museum professional.

After presenting some of my favorite paintings from the collection, I was told by an attendee that one of the works was improperly labeled. I was grateful to this community member because I learned that historical organizations like the BHC rely on input from the local community to accurately preserve and interpret local history.

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Photo: (left to right) BHC Intern, Erin Benz; BHC Curator, Brad Smith, BHC Intern, Mackenzie Tansey; Executive Director, Sime Bertolet

When I left my internship at the BHC, I knew it wouldn’t be a final farewell.

The BHC is a place I admire for both its collection of artifacts and its dedicated staff and volunteers. It’s also a place where curiosity is welcomed and shared among scholars and a place I’m grateful for because it’s where I discovered my passion for collections management.

The BHC has the power to ignite a fire of curiosity in community members of all ages and backgrounds. That fire found its way into the heart of this Albright Lion from New Jersey and I believe it can touch the hearts and minds of many more to come!

This year I’m giving back to the place that supported me by making a $100 donation.

Please join me today and share your gratitude to the BHC by donating any amount you can to support this vital community treasure. Click here to donate online or you can mail your support to 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601.

The BHC continues to find innovative ways to preserve history while educating and inspiring the citizens of Berks County and beyond. Your strong financial support is vital to ensuring that it can continue to do just that. Thank you for your help.

With gratitude,

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Mackenzie Tansey
2016 Berks History Center Intern

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Berks History Center to Open 100 Year Old Time Capsule on the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice

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The Berks History Center will commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day on November 10, 2018 with World War I & Berks, a day of programs and events, including a time capsule opening at the Berks History Center, located at 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601.

Please join us for a day of education and entertainment as we commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I. The day will begin with two consecutive programs that explore the challenges and triumphs of the Great War through the eyes of a local WWI soldier with presentations by William Richardson as he reads and interprets his father’s WWI diaries. From the Frontlines: Diary of a WWI Soldier – Part I will begin at 10:00AM and will be followed by Part II at 12:30PM.

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Photo: William Emanuel Richardson, front row, far left, without a hat, with 313 Machine Gun Battalion, shipboard on the Mercury, on his way to France in 1918. The officer sitting next to him, Lt. Parsons was killed in the Meuse Argonne fighting. From William F. Richardson.

Presenter, William F. Richardson is the son of William Emanuel Richardson, who served in the Great War. Richardson will read and interpret his father’s journal entries in a dramatic presentation that demonstrates the realities of the WWI experience. Richardson is a Berks County native and now lives in Golden, CO. Richardson’s father, William Emanuel Richardson, was born in Berks County in 1886. William’s extensive diaries and writings during this period reveal a profound patriotism, a hopeful idealism, and a keen understanding of the context and background of events as they unfolded. They also reveal a young man’s search for both adventure, and romance.

Admission to From the Frontlines: Diary of a WWI Soldier – Parts I & II is $5.00 for members and veterans and $8.00 for non-members. Both programs are included in the admission price.

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1918 Time Capsule that will be opened on November 10, 2018

At 6:00pm the Berks History Center will reveal the contents of a 1918 Time Capsule during an unveiling ceremony. The Time Capsule Opening Ceremony is free to the public.

The day will conclude with a special performance by the Reading Choral Society. The Reading Choral Society’s World War I & Berks Concert begins at 7:30pm in the Berks History Center Connor Auditorium. The concert will pay homage to Reading’s Liberty Chorus, which was founded in 1918, and will feature music popular during the era of the Great War.

Tickets for Reading Choral Society’s World War I & Berks Concert are $5.00 for member and veterans and $8.00 for non-members. Tickets must be purchased in advance and do not include admission to From the Frontlines: Diary of a WWI Soldier – Part I & II. Call 610-375-4375 to purchase tickets.

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Launched in November 2017, the World War I & Berks project, was a year-long commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of World War I that examined Berks County’s contributions to the Great War and the effects the war had on our local community. The World War I & Berks exhibit, located in the Berks History Center’s Palmer Gallery, tells how Reading and Berks County responded to the nation’s call to arms with a remarkable eagerness to serve and unwavering patriotic displays. Additional stories about World War I were shared throughout the year on the Berks History Center’s blog and social media. Program attendees are invited to tour the World War I & Berks exhibit along with all of the other galleries and exhibits in the museum.

The Future of the Berks History Center: A Message from the Director

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Introduction & Mission:

Recognized as the Official Historical Society of Berks County by the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission, the Berks History Center (BHC) has been a bedrock institution in Berks County since its founding in 1869. Throughout its 149 year history, the Berks History Center has been and continues to be committed to collecting and preserving Berks County’s historic legacy. The BHC is the organization the citizens of our community turn to when they want to connect with their home, their community and their history.  Our commitment to protect and care for our invaluable collections, preserves the unique identity and character of our community. The BHC believes this is our role and value to the community we serve and are honored to provide this leadership. We seek to preserve the past, yet we understand that in order to do so for generations to come, our organization has and always will continue to evolve. And, while the future organization may look different from what it is today, the most important thing is that the BHC remains viable to continue its mission to preserve Berks County’s heritage.

Over the past fifty years, many events and trends have changed our society, impacting our community in many ways. These transformations have had a profound effect on all aspects of our lives, including the operating efficiencies of the BHC. Furthermore, the BHC faces a number of challenges within its current operating model that threaten the sustainability of the organization. The purpose of this report is to demonstrate how these changes have affected the BHC, what we have done already to address these challenges and how they will direct the work of the BHC board and management as it develops a sustainable business plan for the future.

Changes & Challenges

Over the past 20 years, a significant factor that has affected the BHC has been the attrition of the World War II Generation, who, unlike more recent age groups, were a generation of “joiners.” Unfortunately and inescapably, a large segment of the “Greatest Generation” has died, resulting in a major decline in the membership ranks of many organizations like the BHC. As a result of this decline, a significant portion of one of the BHC’s largest revenue streams has been lost. Today, the BHC has a membership community of about 1,250 (large by the standards of historical organizations) and we are fortunate to have many Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and even Millennials among those members. We are thankful to all of our members who continue to support the BHC each year. However, this number is more than fifty percent less than what it was a decade ago; in 2006, the BHC had a membership of 2,700. Fortunately through the efforts outlined in the Accomplishments & Achievements section further along in this document, the BHC’s membership has stabilized over the past 18 months. Additionally, the World War II Generation had amassed significant financial assets and was very generous in remembering and supporting the BHC with their estates. Nevertheless, this type of generous giving has also declined in recent years.

Another significant challenge has been the de-emphasis on history as a part of the core curriculum offered in schools today. The lack of concentration on history education does little to instill a sense of importance for the subject that would otherwise carry forward in a student’s later life and nurture their appreciation for local history. Also, due to lack of educational funding for school field trips and extracurricular enrichment, the BHC’s school visitation has declined over the years. Currently, an average of 3,000 school children, mostly from 3rd and 4th grades, visit the BHC every year, a number that is significantly less than in years past.

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While changes in educational standards have weakened the BHC’s community value as an educational institution, increased access to information in the digital age has also impacted the BHC. The change in the way we access information via the internet has been positive and transformational in countless ways, increasing the availability of educational resources exponentially. However, increased access to electronic information has also proven problematic for libraries and archives such as the BHC’s Henry Janssen Research Library. What was once proprietary information at the BHC, and significant revenue, is now free for the taking with a “click” of a mouse and the amount of materials available online grows daily. As a result of this quickly changing environment, the BHC can no longer rely on library access fees as a significant source of earned revenue.

In addition to decreased opportunities for earned revenue, the BHC’s business support base has dramatically declined through the relocation and erosion of businesses in Reading and Berks County. While the BHC is supported by a number of loyal local businesses, the overall availability of local business support through sponsorship, membership, and advertisement dollars has significantly declined. What was once a thriving business community, our region has suffered a striking loss of businesses that were “Berks-based.” Many of the businesses that remain in Berks County today are headquartered elsewhere and do not possess an understanding of, or appreciation for, the heritage that is unique to Berks County and what makes our community special. This loss of local business support coupled with the attrition of the generous givers of the World War II Generation has stunted the philanthropic support once given to the BHC.

Lastly, one cannot ignore the demographic and cultural changes that have taken place within the City of Reading and Berks County over the last 40-50 years. As the population has changed from predominantly European caucasian to a multicultural mix, the BHC has struggled to make the changes necessary to reflect the shifting cultural norms and interests of the current population. Overall, this shortcoming can be observed in every aspect of the organization, including the content of the museum and research library collections. Due to past collecting practices and trends, cultural norms, and the general nature of how artifacts come to be regarded as important to preserve, the BHC collections do not reflect the experiences of many of Reading and Berks County’s current populations. Furthermore, the BHC’s membership and visitation tends to be predominantly white, middle class, as does the staff and board, leaving out a large portion of our community. In the face of changing demographics in Berks County, in order to remain viable and relevant to the current and future populations of Berks County, the BHC needs to creatively adapt by planning for accessibility and inclusiveness.

Accomplishments & Achievements:

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Despite the challenges the BHC has faced over the past 30 years, it has also made significant strides. In more recent years (the last 36 – 48 months), the BHC has been aggressively proactive in planning for the future sustainability of the organization. Starting in 2014, the BHC has renovated, or created entirely new exhibits in all of its galleries in the BHC Museum. This is a major departure for the institution, where in the past, exhibits would routinely go unchanged for 25 years or more. Concurrently, repairs and updates were made to the interior of the BHC’s Museum galleries through funding received from generous friends and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, a funding stream that the BHC began accessing in 2013.

Also, in 2014, the BHC began introducing exhibits and programs that interpreted more recent subjects in history, resulting in increased community interest and engagement. Exhibits such as Magical History Tour: A Cultural and Musical Happening spawned the inception of what has become one of the community’s largest attended musical events: the Magical History Tour concert! Since it began in 2014, all 6 Magical History Tour concerts have been attended by an average of 1,200 people. The event has a dedicated following and Magical History Tour Pt. VI on August 18, 2018 will continue this excitement. Simply put, Magical History Tour is an event the people of Reading and Berks County don’t want to miss.

Using valuable feedback from our members, volunteers, and patrons, the BHC increased the number and improved the content of our programming and bus trips. By providing programs that engage the interests of our patrons as well as creating programs that reach our target markets, the BHC is building its following, increasing attendance, enhancing revenue, and expanding the reach of its brand in the community. The BHC bus trips are incredibly successful and have resulted in many new memberships.

In 2015, after thoughtful consideration, the BHC made the difficult but necessary decision to divest itself of the Hendel House. While the Hendel House remains a significant historic architectural structure in the Center Park Historic District, the property did not further the mission of the BHC and maintenance of the building exhausted significant financial resources our organization needed for its operations.

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As we took stock of the financial sustainability of the organization, we also assessed our preservation efforts in our museum and research library. In 2010 and again in 2016, the BHC installed new high-density shelving in the BHC Research Library, providing safer storage and increased access to a larger portion of the Library collections. At the same time, additional high-density shelving was added to storage areas in the museum. Later in 2016, the BHC embarked on a collections management project that aimed to inventory, organize, and evaluate the BHC’s entire collection of museum artifacts. This process took 16 months, revealed nearly 30,000 artifacts and resulted in the deaccession of artifacts that did not fit the mission of the BHC. The process of deaccessioning is now ongoing. Through the generous support of the Edwin Barbey Charitable Trust and other friends of the BHC, the project was completed at the end of 2017 and has improved the BHC’s knowledge of exactly what artifacts are in the collection, where they came from, how they were used, and where they are currently stored. The project was recognized as an organizational milestone by PA Museums in 2018 with an Institutional Achievement Award that distinguished the BHC for establishing and maintaining standards of excellence in the BHC Museum. By tending to our collections through these initiatives, the BHC is upholding its responsibility to care for and protect the artifacts and documents that embody the historic legacy of Berks County.

With the addition of enthusiastic and professional staff members the BHC has created a positive culture of teamwork, persistence, and a “can do” attitude, which has gone a long way in helping the BHC to achieve its goals. The BHC staff and their volunteers are becoming experts in teamwork. With positive leadership and a culture of esprit de corps, the Berks History Center has become a creative, collaborative work environment. The cultural changes that have taken place at the BHC were fueled by a shift in leadership and policies on the Board of Directors. Term limits were established and new board members have infused the BHC with fresh ideas.

Finally, in the past two years, the BHC has innovated the way that we connect with our community, including our members, patrons, sponsors, and partner organizations. Through a branding assessment and strategy, the BHC has made a significant effort to establish and elevate BHC’s brand identity by becoming more consistent in our branding efforts and building better relationships with the people who support us. For example, we reviewed and revised our membership benefits, along with our membership management systems, to better serve the people who support the BHC. We implemented a communications and social media strategy that prioritizes engagement and utilizes feedback from our members, patrons and followers. Due to these efforts the BHC has built a significant following and is now better recognized throughout the community. The BHC has experienced approximately a 35% increase in attendance at its 2nd Saturday Programs, a regular attendance of 1,200 participants at its annual Magical History Tour Concert and 400-600 participants at its annual 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour.  While more work needs to be done, all of these accomplishments, as well as our rebranding efforts have brought about greater engagement with BHC’s constituents and laid the foundation for a brighter, more sustainable future as a public trust intended to serve the entire community.

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The trustees, staff and volunteers at the BHC have worked hard to make real, effective change within the organization and many of their endeavors have been revolutionary in the overall direction and viability of the institution. All of these combined Accomplishments & Achievements have contributed to reducing the structural deficit of the BHC operating budget by 60% and while this is a good start, the BHC board and staff are continuing their work to formulate a business model that is viable, relevant and ensures future sustainability. However, even with these efforts underway, the BHC currently faces a number of hurdles that need to be addressed in order for the organization to survive. In addition to the changing cultural climate of support and membership that was outlined in the first four pages of this paper, the BHC is challenged by a number of issues on site. With each passing year, the perception of safety (real or imagined) seems to be more of a concern for those who visit the BHC. Combined with the challenge of limited parking, this attitude inhibits the BHC as a user-friendly destination. The BHC facilities are aging and in need of significant repair and retrofitting. The BHC museum building was constructed over 90 years ago out of solid concrete, making the structure a challenge to retrofit or adapt for multiple usages. The BHC buildings are also in need of new mechanical and HVAC systems and do not have the appropriate climate control or fire suppression systems necessary for protecting the BHC’s precious collections.

Conclusion:

In planning for the future, any decision must be grounded in a preliminary strategic/business planning session with staff, trustees, and members of the BHC community to better establish and define the BHC’s core values and identity. In addition, a thorough building assessment of our current location must be conducted concurrently with the strategic/business plan to determine whether or not the BHC’s current location is viable as a venue for the BHC of the future.

Having spent considerable time thinking about multiple options for the BHC, we believe working collaboratively with a consulting firm that specializes in museum and cultural organizations to achieve a sustainable business model is the BHC’s best course of action.  Integrating the corporate knowledge of the BHC Board and Management Team with the expertise of a well-regarded consulting firm, the BHC will determine the best direction for the future sustainability of the organization.

Carrying out a strategic plan and any course of action that follows will require significant capital and community support. As we move forward, one must keep in mind that the BHC is not simply another cultural organization within our community, but rather, a museum and research library that are unique in promoting the cultural and historic legacy of our county. If marketed correctly and structured as a tourist attraction with greater traffic, accessibility and parking capacity, the BHC could make a significant contribution to the economic development and promotion of our region by virtue of its potential as a tourist attraction that tells the story of Berks County. In order to take that approach the BHC will require a strategic planning document structured in a narrative format that can be used as a marketing tool to engage the support of the entire community, including Berks County residents, philanthropist and state and local government. The BHC leadership has determined that the best way to achieve the strategic framework/marketing document we described is with a firm that possesses expertise in this field. Therefore, after interviewing four organizations that hold the skill sets we deem necessary, the BHC Board and Management has decided to move forward and engage the consulting services of Schultz & Williams to work with our organization to produce this document.

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Sincerely,

 

Sime Bertolet, Executive Director

The Berks History Center’s Annual Report was originally published in the Fall 2018 Issue of The Historical Review of Berks County

5 Reasons You Should Go on the 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour

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1. It’s an Adventure

The 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour is a map to your local history. Discover historical treasures right in your own backyard and travel through 4 different time periods along the way! As you drive through the rolling hills of Western Berks you will spend the day escaping into Berks County’s bucolic vistas and exploring the past. The map is already drawn for you. Just jump in the car and drive!

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2. Be a Nosy Neighbor (Without Actually Trespassing)

Ever drive past an old house or a gorgeous estate and wonder what it’s like inside? The 4 Centuries Tour is your chance to see what no one else has seen! Step inside private homes and secluded mansions to explore what life is like on the inside.

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3. Discover Your Berks History

Expand your knowledge of local history firsthand. Learn what it was like to live in Berks County in the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries and uncover the architectural marvels of the 21st Century. All in all, you will drive away with an appreciation for the unique legacy of Berks County.

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4. Make Connections

Fall is the time for fun with friends. The 4 Centuries Tour is a chance to try something different. This day-long adventure is an exciting way to connect with your local history while sharing the fun with your closest friends. With over 400 people in attendance, who knows, you might even meet some new people along the way!

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5. Support the Preservation of Your Berks History

We know that you care about preserving Berks County’s history. So do we! The 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour is the Berks History Center’s annual fundraiser that celebrates the efforts of local property owners, who work to preserve your local history. We invite you to join us as a tour-goer to appreciate our county’s historic legacy and support the Berks History Center’s efforts to preserve your Berks County’s history in the BHC museum and research library.

Explore the architectural treasures of 12 historic properties in Heidelberg Townships tomorrow on the 4 Centuries in Berks Historic Property Tour!
Tickets $35.00. Click here for more information or purchase tickets the day of the tour at:
Wernersville Train Station located at 20 E. Penn Avenue, Wernersville, PA 19565.

Berks History Center Hosts Premiere of Groundbreaking Book: Working Girls

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The Berks History Center and Glitterati Publishing invite you to an exclusive, first-time ever presentation and book signing of Working Girls: An American Brothel, Circa 1892, The Secret Photographs of William Goldman by Robert Flynn Johnson on Monday, September 10, 2018 at the Berks History Center, 940 Centre Ave. Reading, PA 19601. The program will begin with a reception and book signing at 5:00pm followed by a presentation by the author at 6:30pm.

Working Girls is a historical, artistic and sociological interpretation of the personal collection of 19th century professional photographer and Reading native, William Goldman. In his program, author and Curator Emeritus at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Robert Flynn Johnson, will detail his research and how he came to unearth the collection of more than 200 vintage photographs that artistically capture a group of women who lived and worked at a brothel in Reading, PA.

 

The Berks History Center is honored to host this premiere event, which precedes the official book launch and exhibition opening that will be held later that week in New York City, NY. The launch of Working Girls will be held at Rizzoli Bookstore in NYC on September 12, 2018, and the opening of an exhibition of the William Goldman photographs will be held at the Ricco / Maresca Gallery,  W 20th St  in Chelsea, NYC on Sept 13, 2018.

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In the book, Johnson, a noted photography curator, uses these photographs to detail their historical and sociological importance in the history of photography, alongside essays from feminist scholars Ruth Rosen and Dennita Sewell that provide an insightful historical overview of these images in context of the period in which they were taken.

“We are thrilled to have an opportunity to share Johnson’s groundbreaking book and photograph collection with Reading and Berks County,” says Executive Director, Sime Bertolet. “While the focus of the book explores and interprets both the artistic vision of photographer William Goldman and the lives and historical context of the women in the photographs, we feel as though Working Girls has unearthed an unseen aspect of Reading and Berks County’s story that was previously lost to history. As the stewards of Berks County’s heritage we believe it is our duty to provide a space for all facets of Berks County’s history to be explored and discussed.”

Working Girls is the result of over a decade of research, which began when the author first visited an art fair and became captivated by the beauty and originality of a group of 19th century photographs of women. Curious to know more about these women, Johnson began an investigation into their origin, authorship and purpose.  However, it wasn’t until 2015 when Johnson’s research led him to the Berks History Center, after he discovered a photograph of a woman posing with a copy of the Reading Eagle. Berks History Center Research Library staff, along with local historian George M. Meiser IX, assisted Johnson with his research.

The cost of the Working Girls program is $8.00 for members and $10.00 for non-members. Reservations are recommended as seats for this exclusive program are limited. Due to subject matter and content, this program is age restricted to 18 and older. Call 610-375-4375 to reserve your seat or click here for more information.

The cost of Working Girls is $60.00. The Berks History Center is accepting pre-sales for the hardcover book, which will be available for pick-up on September 10th from 5:00-8:00PM during the program and following the event during regular museum hours. Call 610-375-4375 to order a copy of Working Girls.

Your Berks History is Coming to Penn Street in Downtown Reading!

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The Berks History Center and the Reading Downtown Improvement District Authority are pleased to announce the launch of Berks History on Penn, a collaborative, community art installation that explores the history of downtown Reading through photographs from the Berks History Center’s collection. The exhibit will be located in the windows of the Callowhill building on the corner of 5th and Penn Streets.

Berks History on Penn will be installed by the Reading Downtown Improvement District Authority (RDIDA), the Berks History Center (BHC) and students from the Reading Muhlenberg Career and Technology Center on Monday, June 11, 2018. The project is funded by the Penn Street Arts Grant program of Berks County Community Foundation.

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Photograph of Penn Square, looking east, circa 1925 from the collection of The Berks History Center, Reading, PA

Following installation, Berks History on Penn will be on exhibit through the end of 2019 pending sale of the building and can be enjoyed during a number of events on Penn Street including the MidDay Café on July 25th; Downtown Alive concert series June 20th, July 18th, August 15th, September 12th and 19th; First Friday Downtown Beer Gardens July 6th, August 3rd, September 7th; and the Penn Street Market every Thursday through the end of September.

As a partner with RDIDA and the Penn Street Market, the BHC will attend the Penn Street Market as a community vendor every Third Thursday of the month, starting with the kick-off the Berks History on Penn social media project on Thursday, June 21, 2018. During the BHC’s kick-off Third Thursday at the Market, the BHC will launch a community-wide selfie contest on social media. Participants are encouraged to snap creative, history-inspired selfies in front of the Berks History on Penn photographs and share on social media using the hashtag #BerksHistoryonPenn. Participants will then be entered into a special giveaway drawing. Each month, the BHC will award drawing winners special prizes including: history books such as the Passing Scene, free BHC memberships, free passes to BHC’s 2nd Saturday programs, or tickets to the 6th Annual Magical History Tour concert.

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“Partnering with the RDIDA has been an organic and successful collaboration.” says Executive Director, Sime Bertolet. “In their work to create a vital, vibrant, productive, and commercially active environment in downtown Reading, RDIDA has championed the value of our community’s rich history as an essential element of what makes the city of Reading such a great place to live, work and play. The Berks History on Penn project is an opportunity to garner interest and increase visitation to the Downtown Improvement District while showcasing the rich history of downtown Reading.”

Charles Broad, Executive Director of the Downtown Improvement District, pointed out that the collaborative effort is yet another way to boost center city’s vitality.

“This is a creative use of vacant space in the heart of the city,” Broad said. “It’s going to stir up a very positive buzz and help promote the marketing of these valuable properties in the heart of Reading.”

Stay tuned for more information about your Berks History on Penn!

Berks History Center Awarded the PA Museums 2018 Special Achievement Award

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The Berks History Center is pleased to announce that PA Museums, Pennsylvania’s statewide trade association serving museum professionals and institutions, has awarded the Berks History Center (BHC) an Institutional Achievement Award for the BHC’s Collections Management Project.

Each year, PA Museums recognizes the special achievements of museums and historical organizations in Pennsylvania. The PA Museums Institutional Achievement Award distinguishes the BHC for establishing and maintaining standards of excellence in the BHC Museum. The award specifically recognizes our Collections Management Project, an initiative that aimed to inventory, organize, and evaluate the BHC’s entire collection of museum artifacts.

The project began in August 2016 when Bradley K. Smith, former Senior Curator of the Pennsylvania State Museum, was contracted to undertake the project through generous support from the Edwin Barbey Charitable Trust and other friends of the BHC. The project involved several phases beginning with an inventory of the entire collection, a process that took several months and revealed nearly 30,000 artifacts.  The inventory was followed by a justification process, which compared the inventory records against catalog, accession, loan, deaccession, and other institutional records. The project was completed with a reconciliation phase, which sought to review the discrepancies uncovered during the justification process in an effort to solve problems.

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Curator Bradley K. Smith and Intern Erin Benz conducting the inventory in the BHC Museum

The BHC’s Collections Management Project was one of several institutional leaps at the BHC in recent years and the initiative now serves as a springboard for ongoing improvements in the BHC’s collections management practices. Curator Bradley K. Smith, now a full-time staff member at the BHC, is establishing full physical and intellectual control over the BHC’s collections. In other words, we are improving the knowledge of exactly what artifacts are in the collection, where they came from, how they were used, and where they are currently stored.

As explained by Bradley K. Smith, “The Berks History Center has been collecting historic artifacts for more than a century. Preserving these artifacts for present and future generations, and making them available to the public, is a critical component of our mission. Completing the Collections Management Project enhances our ability to realize this facet of our mission, and it will facilitate the creation of richer exhibits, programs and publications. We take our role as community stewards very seriously, and we consider it an honor to be recognized by PA Museums for our efforts.”

By conducting a collections management initiative in the BHC museum, and subsequently in the BHC Research Library archives (2019), the BHC will be fully equipped to share Berks County’s most important history with our community. Getting our collections organized means that we can tell more accurate, relevant stories about the history that matters most.

“We are very excited about this award and we are proud of the work that Curator Bradley K. Smith, his volunteers and the BHC staff have done on this project to be recognized by our peers in the museum profession. We couldn’t have achieved this award without the support of the Edwin Barbey Charitable Trust,” says Executive Director, Sime Bertolet. “We are deeply grateful for the Trust’s commitment to our mission for preserving Berks County’s historic legacy.”

The PA Museums Institutional Achievement Award will be presented to the Berks History Center at the PA Museum’s Annual Conference on April 15, 2018 in State College, PA.

pamuseums

About PA Museums

PA Museums is Pennsylvania’s statewide trade association serving museum professionals and institutions. Based in Harrisburg, PA Museums was founded in 1905 and during its long history was known as the Pennsylvania Federation of Historical Societies and the Pennsylvania Federation of Museums and Historical Organizations. PA Museums creates and supports the museum community in Pennsylvania through advocacy work, professional development programs, information sharing, and an annual awards program to recognize exemplary work in the Commonwealth.