In 2010, the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book and Manuscript Library received a Council on Library and Information Resources Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant to provide online catalog records for 35,000 titles in the Penn Libraries’ Culture Class Collection.
The Culture Class Collection is the University of Pennsylvania’s original rare book collection and was the largest hidden collection in Penn’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML). It represents fifteen percent of its rare book holdings and includes over 14,000 pieces of printed ephemera as well as 19,500 monographs and serials. 470 incunabula, some unrecorded in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC), number among the collection’s highlights. The collection’s greatest asset, however, is its diversity of content, particularly characteristic of the ephemera. Largely single or multi-sheet pamphlets and broadsides, bound and unbound, they include decrees, placards, chapbooks, song sheets, memorials, newsletters, sermons, and medical tracts. Marginalia and erasures in many items testify to their use and often provocative content. Censored, plagiarized, and pirated editions reveal that such present-day issues as intellectual property and freedom of expression have long been concerns of print culture. The Culture Class Collection, named for its idiosyncratic classification system, which groups works by “cultural” association, illustrates the breadth of Western intellectual and popular history from the first decades of printing.
This project relied heavily on contributions from students from relevant disciplines, who, together with project catalogers, developed new techniques to create dynamic, constantly evolving bibliographic records that serve as initial points of discovery for scholars and also present results of new research.
Online access to the collection not only demonstrates how titles have been used and received since their publication, but also promotes and assures their continued use by the modern scholarly community. As part of their effort to solicit feedback from scholars, project catalogers posted select images from the Culture Class Collection on Flickr.