About POP

WELCOME to the Provenance Online Project (POP) from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania.  To view the project’s collection of over 12,000 provenance images visit the POP Flickr feed. To see the code for the beta version of the project’s new database and uploader, visit our github page.

Project Overview

The Provenance Online Project, or POP,  is a resource for tracing the provenance of historical books, meaning the history of who owned these books across decades or even centuries of time.  POP focuses on the physical provenance contained in books, including bookplates, inscriptions, labels, bindings, and other physical attributes indicating ownership. The project makes digital images of this evidence openly available alongside bibliographic and descriptive metadata.   POP creates a collaborative space in which librarians, scholars, students and bibliophiles from around the world contribute comments, transcriptions, descriptive tags and other information about the provenance images contained in the project with the goal of building identifications of owners associated with specific provenance marks and connecting individual copies of books with past owners.   The project’s approach of making visual data easily accessible and allowing an open community of users to contribute and exchange information make POP a unique resource, not only for finding and creating records of ownership for individual books but for many facets of research in the fields of book history and material culture such as the shape of past libraries, the use of material texts, and the social and geographic groups and networks that books were passed along.

Project History

POP began in the cataloging department at the University of Pennsylvania’s  Kislak Center for Special Collections when catalogers trying to identify inscriptions, bookplates, and other ownership marks in books, started posting images online to see if people could help tell them who had made that mark in the book. They started seeing successful feedback, not just from fellow librarians and scholars, but from interested members of the public including people tracing their family history or simply curious about old books.  The initial group of 12,000 images  included in POP are the result of the work of the Kislak Center’s cataloging team, led by Regan Kladstrup capturing thousands of provenance images in coordination with the CLIR Hidden Collections Project, Promoting Research through Rare Book Cataloging Partnerships (2011-2014).  Many of the books currently represented are from the early modern period, but the project is increasingly opening up to include books from potentially any period.

From 2014 to 2017, under the direction of CLIR postdoc Laura Aydelotte, the POP project expanded beyond Penn’s collections and developed a beta version of a database application to provide a more permanent home for the project data and better ways for people to both search and contribute to the dataset.  During this period the project grew to include images from multiple institutions, beginning with the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Folger Shakespeare Library,  Princeton University Library with images coming soon from the Newberry Library,  the Clark Library at UCLA, the Beinecke Library at Yale, the Getty Research Institute, the Huntington Library, and the Library of Congress.

During this time the POP team also developed a schema for the project’s provenance metadata in coordination with both national and international metadata standards such as the Library of Congress and CERL. This schema laid the groundwork for the development of the project’s database and a beta level application for viewing and contributing images and descriptive metadata of provenance marks in books. Though not currently launched to the public, the code for this work is available at our github.

The Blog

The POP blog provides spotlight entries bringing attention to provenance images of interest and more in-depth articles telling the stories of books, owners, and libraries, that have been uncovered using POP images.  Check out “Mystery Monday” posts for examples of as yet unidentified provenance images to exercise your detective skills.    The POP blog is also a resource for posts about provenance research in the digital age and updates about POP as the project continues to develop as a leading resource for provenance study.


For more information about this blog or about the Provenance Online Project, please write to  Laura Aydelotte at laura.ay1564@gmail.com Click here to read more about me. 

Follow Laura’s POP posts on twitter: @LauraEAydelotte

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