What You Can Find in the Library Part I: Manuscript Collections

Hannah D. Cox, Archivist/Librarian

Scrolling through the website of the Library of the Albany Institute of History & Art, you will see that we hold over one million items related to the art, history, and culture of the Upper Hudson Valley from the seventeenth century to the present. The Library’s finding aids are broken down into categories such as Manuscripts, Ephemera, and Posters and Broadsides. But what does that really mean? In a series of posts, we will dig into this a little deeper, highlighting several of our collections in each category in the process.  

In Part I of this series, we will look at some of the Manuscript Collections held by the Library. Although the term “manuscript” literally means handwritten, manuscript collections include a variety of unpublished materials such as handwritten manuscripts, company records, diaries, scrapbooks, photographs, and more. These mixed materials come from individuals, families, businesses, clubs, and other organizations. The Library holds several thousand manuscript collections, ranging in size from a single sheet of paper (referred to as a Manuscript Single) to several that are well over 100 linear feet! 

Manuscript Singles include collections that have been given to the Library that reside in a single folder. These materials may be related to full-scale collections that we own, but often have been donated by a different person. While it may seem to make sense to combine similar collections, archives and museums respect what is known as “provenance,” or the understanding that records created by different people remain separate collections in order to preserve their context. We frequently acquire manuscript singles collections, so check out our catalog to see what collections have come in recently!  

Two of our manuscript singles collections include materials from the Albany Amateur Radio Association and Railroad Ephemera.

On the other hand, Manuscript Collections tend to be at least ½ Hollinger box in size or larger. These materials are often referred to, for example, as the John Smith Papers (for collections primarily consisting of sheet-based material and created by an individual or family), the John Smith Company Records (for collections consisting of materials created by and for a company), or the Smith Family Collection (for a collection assembled by a person, family, or organization that has unifying characteristics). As mentioned above with manuscript singles, while it may seem odd that we have several collections that represent the same family or organization, if it does not have the same creator, we respect its provenance, and maintain these as separate collections. While we acquire these kinds of collections less often, we currently hold several hundred, and a list of many of these are available on the Library's our website andcatalog.  

Seen here are two images from the recently processed Daughters of the American Revolution, Mohawk Chapter Records, MG 256. A separate blog post will be forthcoming regarding this newly available collection.

Please contact us with any questions, and stay tuned for our next post in this series, Part II: Photographs.

2 April 2020

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