E-resource Spotlight on PA Photos & Documents
by Gwen Gatto, Children’s Librarian, Belmont Hills Library, February 2021
If you’re searching for a visual piece of the family puzzle, or are looking for documents to support a work or school project, or just enjoy browsing through historical photos, posters and postcards, then check out Power Library’s PA Photos and Documents, another e-resource available through the Lower Merion Library System. This is a free access e-resource, so no library card number required. And with thousands of digitized photographs, posters, postcards, and other documents, from Pennsylvania libraries and other institutions, covering topics from art & architecture and culinary arts, to sports history and yearbooks, you’ll be sure to find something that fits your needs (or tickles your fancy!). Just go to www.lmls.org, click on the ‘explore our e-library’ tab, scroll down and click on ‘online resources,’ click on the Power Library image, then click on PA Photos and Documents in the blue ribbon at the top of the screen.
You can search through the topics and collections individually, or type your keywords into the Search All Collections tab. I happened to find a small article in the May 20, 1949 edition of the Conshohocken Recorder highlighting a recent book addition to one of our MONTCO libraries, Conshohocken Free Library, followed by the announcement that the librarian would be attending the next Philadelphia District Librarians Association meeting. How cool that a new book added to the collection received notice in the paper?! Of course, we also have more than one book on home building and renovation nowadays, so search the catalog using some of these keywords: home building, home renovation, home improvement, remodeling, contractors, house construction; or once the libraries reopen for in-person browsing, you’ll find most of these titles in the 690s.
I enjoyed reading that tidbit as well as being amazed at the advertisements advertising coffee for 44 cents a pound (I know, right!) and “big values in frosted foods” with Birdseye green peas selling for 49 cents for two 12-oz packages. Then I had one of those moments where history and current life intersect, as I remembered reading about the invention of flash freezing food from the book Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man by Mark Kurlansky (available at one of the LMLS libraries in regular print, large print, and even a juvenile adaptation by the same author).
In the Thursday, May 14, 1908 edition of The Ambler Gazette, there was a notice of Jurors for June Term of Court, and I noticed quite a few names of Lower Merion residents who would be serving on the Grand and Petit Juries, including John E. Conway, J. Warren Jayne, George H. Emerson, Frank W. McCurdy, and Felix McGuire, among others. Perhaps you’ll find a distant relations name amongst these citizens performing their civic duty. Search the LMLS catalog for titles about the democratic process (320s) or genealogy (920s).
Another wonderful piece of Lower Merion history I came across was this gorgeous hand-colored lantern slide titled “Pen-coyd,” circa 1930, of the historic Pencoyd house in Bala Cynwyd, and part of the Garden Club of Philadelphia Members’ Gardens Lantern Slide Collection, gifted in 1978. The Pencoyd house, which was located on what is now City Avenue, was built in the 1690s by Welsh emigrant John Roberts, and the property extended from the Schuylkill River to Conshohocken State Road. The Pencoyd home was owned by the Roberts family for 280 years and sadly demolished in 1964. For more information about Lower Merion history, check out these titles: The First 300: The Amazing and Rich History of Lower Merion; Celebrating Willian Penn’s Vision and the First Welsh Settlement in Lower Merion and Narberth, 1682-2007; and Living History (DVD).
Copyright permission granted by McLean Library, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
Using the keywords ‘Spanish Flu’ in the Search All Collections tab, I came across a hero from a century ago, Red Cross Motor Corp volunteer, Sylvia Bowman Hays, from Williamsport, PA, who was “indispensable transporting nurses, doctors, patients and supplies to and from the influenza wards.” I also found out that the Motor Corp was almost entirely made up of women volunteers, most using their own cars. In these difficult times, it sometimes helps to look back at history to remind ourselves that we’ll get through this. There are materials about women’s history (300s) and infectious diseases (600s) in the LMLS collection, too.
Since it was such a wintry day when I was writing this, I started thinking about the last flower show I attended, so I used the keywords ‘flower show’ and found this fun photograph of a Center City floral window display being judged at the 1954 Philadelphia Flower Show. Every LMLS library has titles on flowers (500s) and gardening (600s) to help you prepare for spring.
Here are two interesting bits of information I found about the Bala Cynwyd and Ardmore libraries: the Library Services and Construction Act Summary in the June 1974 State Librarian’s Report mentions that the Lower Merion Library Association received “$20,000.00 to assist in establishing the Bala Cynwyd Library as a regional library for Eastern Lower Merion Township;” and the Friday, March 5, 1915 edition of The Conshohocken Recorder has a column called The Merions, for “items gathered from towns along the main line and condensed into short paragraphs for ready reading,” which mentions that “an Alphabet Fair was held by the Women’s Club of Ardmore, on Thursday, to raise money for the building fund of the Ardmore Library.”
There is also a link after the list of topics on the first page of PA Photos and Documents to explore 13 other digitized collections across the state, from Villanova University and the Lower Merion Historical Society, to Gettysburg College and Carnegie Mellon University: . Once there, click on the DPLA image to search outside of PA through the Digital Public Library of America.
When I searched the Villanova University collection, I came across materials relating to our DELCO cousin, Radnor Memorial Library, and a 1992 letter from former employee Katharine Johnson Wetzel caught my eye. In this hand-written letter, Ms. Wetzel recounts her years at the library, 1925-1947, starting at 35 cents per hour (!), vividly describing the original building, as well as the immense growth in materials and patrons due to donations from the township, the school board, and fundraisers. She ends with this touching tribute “So many memories keep floating back to me of my years at the library with Mrs. Margaret Hess and Miss Anna Davis who worked so hard to keep things going for those to follow.”
And that’s what libraries do, whether we’re serving you inside the library or virtually, we’re providing the tools to make connections to help make sense of the world around us, for now and “for those to follow”.
The PA Photos & Documents project is made possible in part by Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services and through Library Access Funds administered by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, Department of Education, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor.
This press release was produced by the Lower Merion Library System. The views expressed are the author’s own.