Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Jewish Archives Moving North to Temple

Big news in the local archives scene: the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center is now part of Temple University's Urban Archives. You can read the official announcement here.

I'm guessing this may not attract much media attention, but I for one am dying to know more details:

How will the collections and finding aids be integrated? Is this a merger, a strategic alliance, or something else? Is there a PJAC endowment that will help cover the cost of preserving and providing access to all these materials at Temple?

Yes, these are geeky archivist questions. But I also wrote my Masters thesis about PJAC's landlord for 20 years: the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, which itself merged into the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) in 2002. (I'll write a longer post about the Balch and my thesis soon.)

According to PJAC's web site, the archive was founded in 1972 as a project of Federation of Jewish Agencies and the Philly chapter of the American Jewish Committee.

As early as 1979, PJAC board and staff were discussing whether to become affiliated with another institution. Everyone agreed that it would be best to affiliate with a Jewish educational institution, and staff reached out to Gratz College.

However, by 1981, PJAC was still independent. The board concluded that they would need to entice institutions with an endowment to cover the archive's operational costs.

The next official mention of merger was in 2000, when PJAC apparently reached out to the National Museum of American Jewish History. That institution declined.

Meanwhile, in 1985, PJAC moved into space at the Balch Institute, on 7th Street just below Market Street. After the Balch-HSP merger, HSP sold the former Balch building, and PJAC moved to new quarters at 125 N. 8th Street. However, rent for the new space was three times higher than at the awkward Balch building.

Four years later, PJAC moved again, this time to Temple's Urban Archives.

So just when did PJAC's board and staff start talking to Temple University about coming to campus? And did anyone seriously discuss having PJAC follow the Balch collections to HSP?

Regardless, I'm glad to hear that PJAC has found a home at Temple. Perhaps this influx of additional archival materials will prompt the university to give the very-deserving Urban Archives more financial resources, too.

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