Recently, the American Antiquarian Society digitized a new finding aid to help scholars access the Society’s Group Photograph collection (http://www.americanantiquarian.org/groupphotos.htm). Usually, we like these finding aides to be as complete as possible, with detailed entries and scans — you know, the whole works, like we have done for our collections of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes. But this finding aid is a work in progress. In order to expedite access to the collection, we have posted a sort of abbreviated version of a finding aid – perhaps not as useful in the long run, but at least it is a start. This document allows basic access to about a dozen boxes of photographs that had long languished at the end of the photographic portrait collection, completely unprocessed. Images of groups just didn’t fit into our main collections, where the photographs are sorted by last name of a sitter or by geographic location.
Last year, our intrepid volunteer, Bill Mettey (see earlier post) sorted the images into three sizes: cabinet, standard, and folio, and then arranged the collection within each size by very rough groupings. Categories were developed and assigned based on the holdings, so we now have the military groups, the clubs, the schools, and the public officials all together. Group photographs that were known to depict Worcester residents are noted separately for each category. Unknown groups also exist within the collection and there are hopes that further research may help to identify the people depicted in these images.
The collection awaits further processing and we would ideally love to list each image at the item-level, including as much information as possible about each photograph. But, these are complex objects with many associations. You can list a regimental group photograph under the title of the regiment, the state, the location of the photograph, the event depicted, and so on. Local theatrical production photographs could be listed under the playhouse, the name of the troupe, the title of the play, the performers depicted. You get the idea. Bill did start to make an item level database for the Group Photograph collection, but the time involved was enormous and we wanted him to continue to bulk process other portions of the photographic collections. To further complicate the situation, there are still additions being made to this collection as other photography holdings are sorted.
After much thinking and hashing through our options, we decided to post this broader finding aid – it isn’t perfect, but it is a good beginning. Based on the way the collection is used, we will adjust the finding aid to help researchers locate key material. We might add more categories, add an index of the photographers represented, or scan the whole collection if funds become available. So, this means that the box listing for the Group Photographs Collection will continue to morph and grow. While this might aggravate us as librarians, as scholars it is exciting to think there is more to come.