About the Penn Museum Library

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With over 145,000 volumes on-site, the Museum Library’s collections focus on publications on archaeology throughout the world, biological anthropology, cultural and linguistic anthropology, and medical anthropology, as well as archaeological sciences and cultural heritage management. As part of the Penn Libraries, its collections, services, and facilities aim to support education and research in the University of Pennsylvania’s Anthropology Department and closely affiliated departments, research centers, and graduate groups, as well as the mission of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, but the Museum Library is open to members of the public for independent college-level research during Museum Hours.

History of the collection

Following the creation of what is now known as the Penn Museum in 1887, the library began in 1900 with the acquisition of 4,098 volumes and manuscripts from the personal library of Daniel Garrison Brinton, who served as Professor of American Archaeology and Linguistics from 1886 until his death in 1898.

The Brinton collection, which is still maintained as a discrete entity within the library's special collections, is devoted almost entirely to the linguistic and ethnohistorical study of indigenous groups in the Americas. His library included a magnificent manuscript collection assembled by Karl Hermann Berendt, a German physician who spent most of the middle nineteenth century traveling in southern Mexico and Central America. This subcollection, known as the Berendt-Brinton Linguistic Collection, contains 183 items, mostly manuscript volumes, facsimiles, and printed and typescript materials, pertaining to more than 40 indigenous Central American languages covering a period from the middle sixteenth through the late eighteenth centuries; because of its importance for documenting languages and oral histories, the subcollection has been digitized and moved to the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library.

From 1900 through 1971, the Penn Museum Library was housed in the Elkins Library Room, where the Penn Museum Archives are now housed. During its early years, the library collection developed rather unsystematically through curatorial staff donations of their own publications, exchange arrangements made with colleagues or institutions around the world, and donations of other library materials. Until 1942, there was only one part-time librarian, and use of the library was restricted to museum staff and a few scholars.

In 1942, Cynthia Griffin was appointed as the first full time Museum Librarian, by which time the collection contained approximately 16,000 volumes, many of them uncatalogued. Ms. Griffin reorganized the library, opened it to student use, planned for growing collections, and expanded exchange relationships with institutions around the world. . When Griffin retired in 1971, the collection had grown to more than 50,000 volumes, the staff had added two full-time assistants, and circulation had increased to more than 14,000 volumes a year. Growth of the library during this period was greatly enable by the establishment of the Vaillant Book Fund, founded in honor of former Penn Museum Director George C. Vaillant. The collection was now completely cataloged, although stack growth over the years had reduced reading space to only two tables with seating limited to 16 patrons at one time.

In October 1971, the library moved to its present quarters, occupying 12,000 square feet on three levels of the Academic Wing to the Penn Museum, adjacent to the Upper Egyptian Gallery and the Penn Anthropology department. John and Ada H.H. Lewis, provided a major gift toward the building and furnishing of the library when the new wing of the Penn Museum was being constructed. In 1971, Jean Adelman succeeded Ms. Griffin as Museum Librarian, and the Penn Museum Library moved fully under the purview of University of Pennsylvania Libraries. During Jean Adelman's tenure, the library was modernized with technologies for use by staff and patrons, and the international profile of the Penn Museum Library was established because of its strong collections and Jean Adelman's professional service in various library associations.

Jean Adelman was succeeded, from 1997 to 2015, by John M. Weeks, Ph.D., who continued the work of making the Mesoamerican collection at the Penn Museum Library one of the finest in the country. As a part of this effort, with funding from the Foundation for Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI), the Penn Museum Library staff developed Bibliografica Mesoamericana, the largest and most widely accessed scholarly resource on ancient and modern Mesoamerican cultures on the World Wide Web. FAMSI also supported the partial digitization of the monumental Carl Hermann Berendt Collection of Mesoamerican linguistic and historical manuscripts. In 2005 a fund was established in honor of ethnographer and Penn Museum consultant Elisabeth J. Tooker to benefit the library's anthropology collections, especially collections for Native North American studies.

Through the visionary efforts of Cynthia Griffin, Jean Adelman, and John Weeks, the Penn Museum Library developed into one of the outstanding anthropology libraries in the United States. After Dr. Weeks' retirement, Deborah Brown Stewart, Ph.D. was appointed as the Head of the Penn Museum Library in December 2016. While continuing to build and maintain premier collections, she is working towards modernizing services, such as training and data management, for Penn anthropologists and archaeologists who rely heavily on digital and emerging technologies as well as strong print and e-resource collections in the Penn Libraries.

The scope of the library collection emphasized anthropology, including prehistoric, Classical, and Near Eastern archaeology, cultural and social anthropology, biological and physical anthropology, and anthropological linguistics, as well as related fields such as museology.