Processing Pittsburgh's Past

Second floor room containing various collections at the University of Pittsburgh Library Archives and Special Collections


Processing Pittsburgh's Past

Jackie Bender, Museum Studies Intern at the University of Pittsburgh Library Archives and Special Collections – Spring 2022 

The University of Pittsburgh Library System Archives and Special Collections works to preserve, catalogue, and in some cases digitize the physical history of Pittsburgh. They want to create a database available to those who need access to those records for scholarly purposes. Over the past semester I worked under David Grinnell, the Coordinator of Archives and Manuscripts at the Archives and Special Collections (ASC). My work as an intern varied greatly from project to project, allowing me to see and experience many aspects of the work required for working in the University of Pittsburgh’s archival system. 

The most all-encompassing of these projects was the creation of a processing plan for the photographs of the IKM renovations of the Allegheny County Jail. This was a project that was required the creation of a finding aid that would help potential researchers find relevant information and materials. I was tasked with cataloging all the photographs that were given to the ASC, and separating them into three major groups: pre-renovation, during renovation, and post-renovation. Initially, I had to record the initial arrangement of the record, describe the conditions they were left in, and recommend any potential special considerations that needed to be considered for the catalogue. Also important was the research required to make a short historical overview of the collection that would help guide anyone that might want to do research into the jail. After this I created an arrangement for the materials that would simplify and adequately catalog the records.

While this was one of the largest projects that I worked on over the semester, there were multiple smaller projects that I worked on that required different approaches. One task I assisted with was updating older collections or finding aids. This included the Pickard Collection, for which I was tasked with describing a small number of prints and lithographs that needed to be added to the existing collection holdings. Another project that needed to be updated was the finding aid for the Sala Udin and Tony Gaskew Cointelpro papers, which I reviewed and updated to current standards.  

These are just three of the vast number of collections being preserved at Archives and Special Collections. There are many more records waiting to be used by future students and researchers. To anyone needing to do research into the city of Pittsburgh, they can plan a visit to the Archives and Special Collections and find more information at   

  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh