Executive Director’s Message

From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.


It’s a word mentioned more often than not in conversations about the goals and purposes of public history. It’s a word that poses significant and challenging questions. How can we expand our programs and services to reach wider audiences? How can we make history more meaningful and engaging for scholars, visitors, and readers? How can we satisfy, efficiently and effec­tively, the needs of those we serve?

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) has recently taken several steps to offer a full range of public history experiences to as many citizens as possible.

At the Pennsylvania State Archives we have opened the search room for microfilm research on Saturdays for the first time ever to accommodate genealogists and researchers unable to use the facility during the week. After only one year of these expanded hours, the response has been so positive that our staff is exploring ways to further improve our services.

One issue of access we are presently addressing concerns the vast collection of artifacts and objects safeguarded by the PHMC. Only a very small percentage of this extensive collection is ever exhibited at any given time. Through advances in automated technology and interactive systems, however, there are new, state-of-the-art ways to bring information and visual images of our holdings to researchers and the general public. We are now examining a number of exciting options to make wider access to our collection a reality.

A major challenge to our agency has been the need to comply with the provisions of the Americans with Disabili­ties Act of 1990 (ADA). This comprehensive legislation mandates accessibility in businesses and public facili­ties. The law requires reevaluation of guidelines for hiring and promoting employ­ees, and mandates that programs in public facilities offer alternatives for participa­tion by individuals with disabilities. While the law does not demand a complete overhaul of all facilities and programming, it does call for “reasonable accommodation” for citizens who have, for too long, been closed off from basic services.

The challenge of complying with ADA gives the PHMC many opportunities. A number of Pennsylvanians-estimated as many as 1.4 million-are considered disabled. If we add to that number the thousands of visitors from other states and countries to the State Archives, historic sites, and museums, we begin to realize the potential to reach and accommodate new audiences with improvements to our facilities and programs.

Over the years we have made some modifications to our visitor centers and we now design new facilities in strict adherence to ADA guidelines. We are currently conducting a survey of our properties – four hundred and sixty buildings and structures and thirty-five hundred acres – in consulta­tion with representatives of the disabled community to determine what changes and improvements must be made. As part of this survey, we are equally concerned with the intellectual as well as the physical access. How acces­sible are our exhibitions and public programs to the disabled? What changes can we make in exhibition labels, conference locations, and books and brochures to assure that each and every resident and visitor has the opportunity to appreciate and enjoy the Keystone State’s rich heritage and culture? Already, readings from Pennsylvania Heritage and many of our books are being broadcast to the visually impaired; tape recordings are also available.

We have made compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act a matter of priority for the PHMC not merely because it is public law, but also because this legisla­tion captures and promulgates the spirit of a good public history-one that is as inclu­sive as it is accessible.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director