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Penn Libraries News

Three CLIR Grants Allow the Penn Libraries to Digitize Major Collections at Penn and Beyond

Cover of Marian Anderson performance program.

The Penn Libraries is proud to announce its involvement in three grants awarded through the innovative program Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives: Building a New Research Environment, supported by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The items made available through these grants will be hosted on OPENN, the Penn Libraries’ platform for openly published and digitized cultural heritage materials.

“By collaborating with our peers in Philadelphia and across the country, we will be providing the world with access to unique and inspiring collections,” said William Noel, Director of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts and Director of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies.

One grant supports digitization of manuscripts from the Muslim world from Philadelphia-based collections and Columbia University, and allows the Penn Libraries to create a 3-year position for a full-time Arabic/Persian/Turkish manuscript cataloger. It also represents a fruitful partnership between the two universities and the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation. To Mitch Fraas, Curator of Special Collections at the Kislak Center and Principal Investigator on the grant, the Penn Libraries was a natural partner in this endeavor given its well-known, institutional commitment to global manuscript studies and open access digitization.

“Serving as a digitization and cataloging hub for this exciting project will allow Penn’s collection of manuscripts from the pre-modern Muslim world to join the rich holdings our partner institutions online,” Fraas explains. “In creating this digital collection of manuscripts, we are also offering those around the world who might never visit Philadelphia the opportunity to view, study, and appreciate these cultural artifacts.”

A second grant will enable the digitization of a significant part of one of the University of Pennsylvania’s most significant archives – the papers and recordings of Marian Anderson, one of the most celebrated singers of the 20th century and among the most iconic Philadelphians. The rich body of primary sources in this collection spans her entire career as an opera singer and social justice advocate and includes notebooks, diaries, scrapbooks, recital programs, and recorded interviews.

“Marian Anderson was truly an artist on the world stage,” said Liza Vick, Head of Otto E. Albrecht Music Library & Eugene Ormandy Music & Media Center at the Penn Libraries. “Materials digitized under this grant will make documentation of her groundbreaking career available to a wider audience and will enhance scholarship in African-American music at a critical juncture.”

The third granted project, led by the Christ Church Preservation Trust, involves the digitization of records of Philadelphia’s early religious congregations. With the digitization of these interconnected collections, scholars will have the ability to understand how people of various faiths worked together in early America to found, debate, and support the significant religious institutions that stand today. All the data created by the project will be hosted on OPENN.

“The Penn Libraries is delighted to be making an impact both locally and globally”, said Noel. “We are not only making the extraordinary literary and historical riches of Philadelphia institutions openly available to everybody, we are also setting the standard for open data in the cultural heritage sphere. “

More information about these extraordinary cultural preservation projects can be found here:


About the Penn Libraries

The Penn Libraries serves the world-class faculty and students of Penn’s 12 schools. The Libraries’ collections comprise more than 7 million volumes, over 100,000 journals, some 2 million digitized images, and extraordinary rare and unique materials that document the intellectual and cultural experience of ancient and modern civilizations. Through our collaborative relationships, we supplement Penn’s great local collections with physical access to the Center for Research Libraries (approximately 5 million items), the combined holdings of the Ivies (more than 70 million volumes), and exclusive electronic access to some 2 million public domain titles in the HathiTrust. Today, the Penn Libraries plays an instrumental role in developing new technologies for information discovery and dissemination, and is noted for groundbreaking work in digital library design. To learn more about the Penn Libraries, visit

About CLIR

The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning.

About the Mellon Foundation

Founded in 1969, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies by supporting exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work. Additional information is available at