Summer Centered: Lily Rokita '24 Archives Philadelphia’s History
The psychology and fine arts double major is helping archive new material at the Library Company of Philadelphia, shedding light on the city’s history.
Lily Rokita ‘24 is hitting the books this summer, though not in a classroom setting. A psychology and fine arts major with a specific focus on photography, the rising junior is cataloging new additions to the archives of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Her work is being funded by the John B. Hurford '60 Center for the Arts and Humanities’ Philly Partners program.
The Library Company of Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731, is an independent research library located in Center City. Its mission is to document American history and culture through the end of the 19th century, with a focus on Philadelphia history. Recently, the organization received a significant donation of scrapbooks, photo albums, sketches, and ephemera from two historically prominent Philadelphia families, the Wood family and the Furness family, which were connected by marriage. Rokita’s job is to explore these new additions to the archive materials, and then to write a detailed description of each object. The descriptions will become part of the Library Company's catalog and help guide future researchers in their use of the collection.
“The Wood and Furness families were important to the development of Philadelphia through their successful businesses as well as their internationally recognized pursuits in literature, architecture, and the theater world,” she said. “The families also were very philanthropic, especially to the arts and education, and helped establish organizations such as the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Penn Museum. My project is to go through and catalog all the [new] materials for the Library Company’s inventory as well as research who these Wood and Furness family members were, and build profiles of them,” she said.
Rokita primarily spends her time at work typing descriptions of each page of each item, and entering anything she finds interesting in the library records. These details can include observations as small as noting that the handwriting on one page resembles the handwriting from a previous page, or writing down any prominent or familiar names that appear on a page and including short bios on them.
Though Rokita has always been fascinated by the arts and curation, her Haverford classes have grown and cultivated those interests. She particularly acknowledged the fine arts course “Theory and Practice of Exhibition,” with John Muse, assistant professor of visual studies, as key to deepening her understanding of how presentation can help tell a story and influence an audience’s understanding of a topic. Those interests in storytelling and presentation ultimately drew her to the Library Company.
“I wanted to explore how my interests in curation and exhibition translate to the archives world versus the museum world,” she said. “I also love being able to deep-dive into a particular topic or historical person, and this project is solely that: learning all these little details about each family member and putting them together with your research to form a larger picture of that person’s life.”
Roita's workday also includes plenty of interaction with colleagues, including her supervisor, Erika Piola '87. They play an invaluable role, she finds, in helping her gain experience in the curative and exhibitive arts.
“They have been incredibly helpful answering questions about cataloging and handling archival materials; about their day-to-day tasks as curators of the graphic arts department; and about the differences between working in archives versus museums, in non-profit versus for-profit versus federal organizations, and in small versus large institutions,” she said.
The internship is providing Rokita with valuable experience in handling archival material, as well as in how museums and libraries process those materials into their records. She hopes the experience will benefit her as she considers a career in archive and museum industries.
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ campus-supported summer work.