The Story of Library Hall

Bayard Miller has a Master of Art in Public History from Temple University. He is active in Archives Month Philly...

I must admit, having worked in the shadow of Independence Hall for close to seven years, I have somehow become immune to the luster of my historic surroundings. Afterall, passing through Independence Park is just another part of my daily commute. And while I certainly understand the historical significance of the beautiful old building, and, of course, I appreciate its presence amid our modern landscape, as a lifelong Philadelphian, Independence Hall remains symbolic to me as the place where, as a kid, I goofed off on field trips.

It’s funny, then, that each day as I cross the cobblestone of Fifth Street, and walk up Library Street to the steps of Library Hall, I am filled with excitement when I open the doors to a 1959 replica of Benjamin Franklin’s Library Company. Imagine that. I walk unphased past the iconic Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, only to be excited by a mid-twentieth-century copy of a building. This is for good reason, though, as I am one of the lucky individuals who actually knows about the unique treasures housed beyond those doors—an impressive thirteen million manuscripts, 350,000 volumes and bound periodicals, 250,000 images, and thousands of hours of audio tape. As the Head of Digital Scholarship and Technology, I get to spend my days promoting access to the Library’s collection through digital projects, digitization, and innovative library tools. Needless to say, it’s easy to get excited when I go to work everyday.  

library hall
Juxtaposing old and new using the Knightlab’s JuxatoposeJS tool.

But what of the building itself? How did the collection get here?

Since we spend most of our time at the Center for Digital Scholarship (CDS) focusing on the collections, it's easy to forget about the building in which they are housed. The opening of Library Hall was a significant milestone in the history of the American Philosophical Society. To mark the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Library's dedication we wanted to do something special. To this end, the CDS worked closely with Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital History, Dr. Madalina Veres, to build a digital gallery that dives into the history of the building that now houses the Library’s treasures. The recently launched “In the Heart Of Philadelphia: The Story of Library Hall” is a digital exhibition that invites users to explore the story of the Library, showcasing the different phases of its construction and the historical context in which this building came to life.   

library hall exhibit
The Traveling Library. An interactive StoryMap that highlights the Library’s different homes.

The exhibition has two different functions. The interactive StoryMap (as illustrated above) takes the user though historic Philadelphia as the Library’s collection searched for a permanent residence. The galleries (illustrated below) offer users the opportunity for further exploration of the building's rich history as they are taken from the planning phase.

galleries
The exhibition invites users to explore the Library’s history though images.

 

More from the blog

American Philosophical Society
Renée Wolcott
Joseph DiLullo