Museum Library collection

Main content

Navigation for "Museum Library collection"

History of the collection

The University Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology began in 1887 as a small collection of curios packed into cabinets in the then University of Pennsylvania Library and has since grown to one of the premiere anthropology and archaeology museums in the world. The seeds of the Museum Library were sown in 1900 with the acquisition of the personal library of Daniel Garrison Brinton who served as Professor of American Archaeology and Linguistics from 1886 until his death in 1898. Some 4,098 volumes were turned over to the Museum, of which 162 are bound volumes of pamphlets containing some 2,000 items. The collection, still maintained as a discrete entity within the Museum Library, is devoted almost entirely to the linguistic and ethnohistorical study of indigenous groups in the Americas. Included also in the Brinton Library is a magnificent manuscript collection assembled by Karl Hermann Berendt, a German physician who spent most of the middle nineteenth century traveling in southern Mexico and Central America. This collection contains 183 items, mostly manuscript volumes, facsimiles, and printed and typescript materials, pertaining to more than 40 indigenous Central American languages covering a period from the middle sixteenth through the late eighteenth centuries. Many of these languages are now moribund or extinct thus making the collection, now housed in the Special Collections Department at Val Pelt Library one of the most important of its kind.

The Brinton Library along with the archaeological collections were housed for a while in the Furness Building until the opening of the present Lombardy Renaissance style University Museum building in 1898. The Brinton and Berendt materials were then moved to the Elkins Library Room, where they remained until 1971 when the collection was again moved to the newly completed academic wing of the Museum. For more than 40 years the book collections shared the Elkins Library Room with the Museum's numismatics collections and pieces of sculpture, and a few portraits. During that time the collection developed unsystematically through curatorial staff donations of their own publications, exchange arrangements made with colleagues or institutions around the world, and donations of other library materials. Until 1942 there was one part time librarian, and use of the library was restricted to Museum staff and a few scholars.

In 1942 Cynthia Griffin was appointed as the first full time Museum Librarian. At the time of her appointment the collection contained approximately 16,000 volumes, many of them uncatalogued, and circulation, for use only within the museum, was approximately 1,000 volumes annually. Miss Griffin reorganized the library, opened it to student use, planned for growing collections, and expanded exchange relationships with institutions around the world. The Museum Library now began a period of rapid growth, aided in no small part by the establishment of the Vaillant Book Fund, founded in honor of former Museum Director George C. Vaillant, which provides monies for the acquisition of volumes for the Museum Library to the present day. During this period the collection increased in size from 18,922 volumes in 1945, to 46,415 in 1965. When Griffin retired in 1971 the collection had grown to more than 50,000 volumes, the staff to two full time assistants, and circulation to more than 14,000 volumes a year. The collection was now completely cataloged although stack growth over the years had reduced reading space to only two tables with seating limited to 16 patrons at one time.

In October, 1971 the library moved to its present quarters, occupying 12,000 square feet on three levels of the new Academic Wing to the University Museum, where the library has a dramatic view into the Egyptian Gallery. The same year Jean Adelman succeeded Ms. Griffin as Museum Librarian and the library received its first photocopy machine, electric typewriter, and for the first time was open for use after 5:00 p.m. More importantly, the Museum Library was now fully part of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

As the Museum Library became integrated into the larger university library system, it did not lose its uniqueness, and continues to serve specialists especially in the areas of its greatest strengths: Mesoamerican indigenous cultures, building on the collection of materials represented in the Brinton Library, and Egyptology, an early and ongoing focus of research for the museum. The library has benefited since its inception from generous gifts, not only of books but also by having publications of the University Museum to exchange for foreign publications, and most significantly, of funds. John and Ada H.H. Lewis, provided a major gift toward the building and furnishing of the library when the new wing of the Museum was being constructed. The George Clapp Vaillant Fund, named for the former director of the University Museum between 1941 and 1945 and augmented by other major bequests, has made it possible for the library to continue to acquire special materials beyond what would be possible for an ordinary working anthropology library. But then the Museum Library is not an ordinary working anthropology library. Through the careful visionary efforts of Cynthia Griffin and Jean Adelman the Museum Library has developed into one of the outstanding anthropology libraries in the United States.

Adelman was succeeded, from 1997 to 2015, by John M. Weeks, Ph.D., who continued the work of making the Mesoamerican collection at the Museum Library one of the finest in the country. As a part of this effort, with funding from the Foundation for Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI), the Museum Library staff developed Bibliografica Mesoamericana, the largest and most widely accessed scholarly resource on ancient and modern Mesoamerican cultures on the World Wide Web. FAMSI also supported the partial digitizationof the monumental Carl Hermann Berendt Collection of Mesoamerican linguistic and historical manuscripts. In 2005 a fund was established in honor of ethnographer and Penn Museum consultant Elisabeth J. Tooker to benefit the library's anthropology collections. Major improvements in the Egyptology and Classical collections of the library are currently underway. Ongoing projects seek to bring the rare and hard-to-access resources of the Museum Library to a wider audience through digitization and publication projects.

The scope of the library collection has always emphasized anthropology, including prehistoric, Classical, and Near Eastern archaeology, cultural and social anthropology, biological and physical anthropology, and anthropological linguistics, as well as related fields such as museology. Special attention has always been given to the curricular and research requirements of the faculty in the Department of Anthropology and curatorial staff of the University Museum. The Museum Library presently possesses over 115,000 volumes with an annual circulation of about 14,000 items, and maintains 549 active journal subscriptions as well as 290 exchange partners around the globe. There are public desktop and laptop computers with wireless access for patron use as well as scanning, printing and photocopying facilities. The library has the capacity to seat 154 patrons, in addition to two study rooms, a photographic area, microform reading room, a growing audio/visual collection with facilities for viewing DVD and VHS recordings.

As we look to the future, a major goal of the Museum Library is to make our collections more responsive to the evolving needs of faculty and researchers alike by creating room for growth and working closely with faculty and Museum staff to plan collection development.