About Phillips Library Digital Collections

About Phillips Library Digital Collections

The Phillips Library is one of the oldest libraries in the country and a significant proportion of its holdings is unique or rare. Rich primary and secondary sources, including manuscripts, books, pamphlets, newspapers, photographs, maps, broadsides, and ephemera, make the Phillips Library a productive location for research and discovery.

The scope of the Phillips Library is global and encyclopedic, reflecting more than 220 years of collecting activity. The library is based at PEM’s Collection Center, a state-of-the-art facility with secure and climate-controlled storage, in Rowley, Massachusetts. We look forward to welcoming you to our reading room there.

By sharing materials online, at the museum, in public programs, and through research, the Phillips Library legacy continues as a vital and engaged part of PEM and its communities.


The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) preserves and provides access to rare and unique research materials through developing, supporting and promoting distinctive digital collections. 


Materials digitized under this policy include PEM publications, early printed books, trade catalogs, exhibition catalogs, decorated publishers’ bindings, illustrated books, photographs, broadsides, manuscripts, logbooks, account books, maps, and architectural drawings. Items primarily reside in the library’s collection but may be drawn from other collections at PEM. We do not digitize materials on loan or deposit to the library unless dictated by highly exceptional circumstances.

Selection Criteria

The following factors determine how the library selects and prioritizes candidates for digitization: 


    • Items with intrinsic research value; 
    • Items not already freely accessible in digitized form; 
    • Items with an anticipated high use; and/or 
    • Items relating to PEM and its history, including press releases, exhibition catalogs and other archival material. 


    • Digitization should be minimally intrusive and not compromise the condition of the original work. 
    • Brittle and fragile items are digitized to provide greater access and to minimize handling. 


The library digitizes and makes accessible materials when at least one of the following conditions is met: 

    • They are in the public domain; 
    • The rights are owned by PEM; 
    • We have permission to make them accessible; 
    • We make them accessible under Section 107 of the US Copyright Act (“fair use”); or 
    • There are no known restrictions on use. 

Precedence may be accorded to items identified by library and museum staff, as well as publications from PEM and its ancestor institutions. Visiting researchers and the public are welcome to make suggestions by contacting us.

Scanning, Metadata, and Storage Specifications

The Phillips Library Digitization Program adheres to the digitization standards set in A Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections (NISO, 2007). All items are scanned at a minimum resolution of 300 dpi at a bit depth of 24. A master uncompressed TIFF and a production JPEG are generated from all items scanned. 

Master uncompressed TIFFs are stored in PEM’s digital asset management system along with descriptive and technical metadata. Production JPEGs are hosted here, along with descriptive metadata created in Qualified Dublin Core, and are stored temporarily on an internal network share drive. Items must be described and/or cataloged prior to digitization; some items may be minimally cataloged in the interest of more rapidly providing online access. 

Selected print publications are digitized for or by the Internet Archive, and selected visual materials are digitized by Digital Commonwealth. These are accomplished according to their respective specifications and workflows, with data provided from library catalog records or by library staff. The resulting files are permanently hosted on their platforms and may be downloaded in several formats. 

Transcription Guidelines

This document outlines our approach to transcribing handwritten documents. The overall goals are to (1) render the text searchable and (2) streamline the process for library staff and those doing the work.


Thank you for visiting. Please contact us at research@pem.org if you have questions or suggestions.