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Folklore & folklife collection development policy

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Program information

Though historically one of the strongest departments in the world, it was eliminated in 2004. It is still possible to get a graduate certificate.  There are two faculty from the department who are active on in the School of Arts and Sciences. One is in the History Department and the other is in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures. 

Research is conducted in the entire array of the folklore discipline. Current faculty have published in all its aspects including oral literature, festival behavior and material culture. Likewise, the places in which field work has taken place are diverse. It must be remembered that folklore is conceptually regarded as aesthetic expression and therefore has broad interdisciplinary concerns.

Since folklore has appeared as a separate academic department in the United States only since World War II, library collections almost always need evaluation.

Collection description

The core of the collection occupies two ranges of books in the general stacks. Because of the difficulties in applying the Library of Congress classification to folklore, material is scattered throughout the collection. Large numbers can be found throughout the entire `P' class since virtually every literature has some roots in folklore. The collection consists of the major journals in the discipline worldwide in all languages.

Folklore and Folklife may have a recent foundation at Penn, first as a department founded in the mid-1960's lasting into the early 2000s many aspects of the subject have been taught or researched here for over 100 years. Consequently, the collection has great historical depth. For instance, Daniel Brinton did extensive work in Native American oral literature and in fact his publications from the period 1860-1880 were for some time the only ones on the subject. There has also been a long line of ballad scholars who have taught at Penn which is reflected in the collection.

Guidelines for Collection Development

1. Chronological

No Chronological limits.

2. Formats

Primarily printed materials and microform. Some audio materials are appropriate, particularly in ballad and folksong research. Consultation with the music librarian is necessary. Ephemeral publications are not collected. Children's materials are collected selectively if they provide high quality texts with strong attention paid to authenticity to folk performances. Relevant websites.

4. Language

English predominates; any language possible.

5. Publication dates

We would try to fill any lacunae. Any work is of interest if we do not already own it. In extreme cases, older published texts may be the only available examples of now non-existent oral literatures.

Principal sources of supply and major selection tools

The vendors and approval plans which are widely used at Van Pelt are also used with folklore materials. Most folklore books are listed in the usual national bibliographies. Specialized sources are the recently received lists published in Fabula: Zeitschrift fur Erzdlforschung and Zeitschrift fur Volkskunde (both quarterly).

  • Subjects collected and levels of collecting

    The collection emphasizes the intellectual history of the discipline and texts relating to its major genres. Ethnographic works are collected heavily. Subjects that are especially attended to include prose narratives including folktales and legends, material culture, folk art, folk music. Insofar as the collection supports other disciplines, superstition and folk belief are collected as well. 

Subjects excluded


Cooperative arrangements

The two relevant libraries at Pennsylvania are Music and Museum. The music collection includes relevant materials in folksong and balladry. Museum collects widely in oral literature, material culture and field linguistics especially in Native American studies. Moreover, it has extensive collections in European ethnology, which has similar intellectual roots to folklore and still has many connections to it. The East Asia library also has extensive collections in folk literature. The Fine Arts library contains materials in vernacular architecture and folk art so there is overlap with Van Pelt in these fields.

Locally, two important collections are those of the Balch Institute and the Contemporary Culture collections at Temple University. These collections consist of materials often thought to be ephemeral by most, yet, for folklorists they provide what is often the only printed source material available. In the first case the Balch's concentration on ethnic studies provides materials on one of folklore's historical subjects. Likewise, many of many works collected at Temple are those often thought to be peripheral to academic libraries but for folklorists essential documentation.

Many specialized libraries are also of use to folklorists depending on their research interest. For example there are smaller libraries with specific collections; among them, the German Society of Pennsylvania and Swedish Historical Society. Another example of a library that would be of potential interest, although not necessarily on first glance, is that of The Philadelphia University which has extensive collections in textile arts which are often the concern of folklorists.

Related subject collections