Welcome to this special Women’s History Month edition of the “Meet Our Contributors” feature! “Meet Our Contributors” spotlights the individuals who work with us to contribute digital collections from their institutions to PA Digital and the Digital Public Library of America. We want all of our readers to know about the amazing work that they do in their institutions, and what they believe partnership with PA Digital brings to their work. This month, we are pleased to hear from Mary Sieminski and Janet Hurlbert of the Lycoming County Women’s History Collection. Check out some of the Lycoming County Women’s History Collection, contributed through Lycoming College, in PA Digital and the DPLA!
Anastasia Chiu (AC): Can you tell our readers a little about yourself and your role/association with Lycoming College and the Lycoming County Women’s History Collection?
Janet Hurlbert (Janet): I was the administrator for the project as Associate Dean and director of library services for Snowden Library/Lycoming College until my retirement. I am now an advisor for the collection.
Mary Sieminski (Mary): I am the project manager — a position I’ve had for ten years now, from the beginning of the project. I do much of the actual work on the database, prepare items for digitization, create metadata, etc. We have had wonderful technical assistants and student assistants who have helped through the years.
AC: Can you tell me about the Lycoming County Women’s History Collection? Overall, what do you feel makes the collection significant or unique? What role or mission does the collection address?
Janet: The overall mission of the project is to provide source material relating to the history of women in Lycoming County with documents that highlight women in volunteer and reform organizations, education, the arts, the workplace and in their private lives. The time period covered is mainly 1870-1970.
What makes the collection special is its collaborative nature; it brings together four cultural heritage institutions in Williamsport: Snowden Library/Lycoming College, the Lycoming County Historical Society, the James V. Brown Library, and the Madigan Library/Pennsylvania College of Technology. Materials from several significant organizations such as the Williamsport YWCA are included as well, so it truly does represent women’s history for our rather small and rural community.
AC: How did the collection get started? How was it built?
Janet: The collection began because of good fortune — you could say that the stars were aligned just right! Mary, a “semi-retired” retired librarian, accepted a temporary appointment at Snowden Library during a maternity leave — in fact we had several maternity leaves all within a year. One of her special assignments was to investigate the possibility of outside funding so that we could digitize our college archives. We quickly saw that this was considered an institutional responsibility. I had been interested in more grant projects in general for the library as a contributing member of our college community. Mary and I shared an interest in women’s history and there was a need right in our own hometown to tell women’s stories.
Williamsport excelled at men’s history because of its lumbering and manufacturing heritage, but huge local history books seldom mentioned women. Lycoming College had been coeducational since the 19th century, and the Historical Society and public library had many books, papers, and images tucked away waiting to be discovered by a broader audience.
Utilizing Access Pennsylvania meant that we did not have to own our own server, and we received a PEW grant, which meant that we could digitize more book-type documents for significantly less. At that time, LSTA Grants were given for planning. Mary and I knew little about digitization and outsourcing and didn’t know where to start with material selection and prioritization. The opportunity to receive funds to hire consultants to help plan and organize the project was perfect. A subject specialist identified priorities and we determined outsourcing capabilities.
The second LSTA grant paid to actually do the work. We were set! A third LSTA Grant (after one unsuccessful attempt) allowed us to include documents from three essential community organizations — the Williamsport YWCA, the Williamsport Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association, and the Home for the Friendless. Private donations enabled us to add other smaller collections such as the scrapbooks from the Williamsport Music Club.
Mary: As Janet said, she and I shared a passion for this history. It did not take long to realize what a rich resource we had uncovered. Some of the archives were in danger of being lost — the YWCA archives were in shambles, stored in closets and shelves all over the building, the Nursing School archives were in a building that was in danger of being razed, and the Home for the Friendless archives were stored in their basement. Each organization ultimately donated its archives to the Lycoming County Historical Society. Our most recent addition, being digitized right now, is a scrapbook form the 1920s and 1930s from a women’s prison in Lycoming County — the Industrial Home for Women at Muncy. One of our greatest achievements is preserving these archives and making them accessible.
AC: What role, if any, did your local community play in the development and growth of the Collection?
Janet: As we mentioned earlier, the steering committee is community based. We also have an advisory council composed of key individuals including representation from local school systems that meets about once a year to discuss directions for managing the collection and what should be included.
Mary: Our community has a great interest in its history and in preservation of historic homes, so it has been easy to find allies in our search for materials. Tour guides for Williamsport’s Millionaires’ Row tell us that they use our material to enrich their tours with stories of real people who lived in the large Victorian homes.
AC: Do you offer any programs or workshops for researchers and community members?
Janet: The collection has a curriculum guide designed for middle and high school levels. A faculty member from the education department at Lycoming College who designed it has conducted workshops for teachers. We have given numerous presentations and “how to” sessions about the collection for local historians and genealogists.
Mary: I have taken on the role as being a “voice” for the collection and have presented to many local women’s groups and historical societies. I love to talk about what one reporter called “my nineteenth century friends.” One spin off from the collection has been a monthly newspaper column titled “Williamsport Women.” Through the online collection, Janet and I discovered so many individual women and groups of women that have had an impact on our community, we wanted to spread their stories even further than the digital collection. The series has received very enthusiastic support from its followers. Even after three years, Janet and I can seldom go anyplace, including the grocery store, without someone telling us how much he or she enjoys the column.
AC: What goals or purpose do you hope contributing to PA Digital and the DPLA can achieve for the Lycoming County Women’s History Collection?
Janet: We have always wanted to present the story of Williamsport Women to as many researchers, students, amateur historians, and genealogists as possible. A digital audience is perfect for that purpose.
Mary: What PA Digital and DPLA can do is help us spread the word and make access easier to potential users all over the globe. Having our local collection a part of a state and national database with such a wide audience is “a dream come true” for us.