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New director of programs and services named at the Presbyterian Historical Society

PHS’s new director of programs and services, Natalie Shilstut. Photo courtesy of Natalie Shilstut.

PHILADELPHIA (PHS) Natalie Shilstut has joined the Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS) as director of programs and services, a leadership position that oversees PHS’s archival programs and services. Shilstut’s first day was Aug. 2.

PHS’s new director of programs and services, Natalie Shilstut. Photo courtesy of Natalie Shilstut.

PHS is the national archive of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and a ministry area of the Office of the General Assembly (OGA). Located in Philadelphia since 1852, PHS is the nation’s oldest continually run denominational archive and one of its largest.

The director of programs and services works with the PHS staff and board to acquire new collection materials, preserve (and in some cases digitize) materials, respond to reference questions from Presbyterians and other researchers, and lead outreach efforts.

This is Shilstut’s second period of employment at PHS. From 2008 to 2019, her duties ranged from microfilming church records to designing communications pieces to overseeing the Society’s digital archive, Pearl, which she helped develop and launch in 2015. PHS stopped microfilming in 2014.

Shilstut’s extensive background in digital programs will help PHS serve online researchers, a renewed emphasis during the COVID-19 pandemic when research at the PHS building in Philadelphia has been limited.

“Having Natalie rejoin the staff is a real boon to the Presbyterian Historical Society,” said PHS Executive Director Nancy J. Taylor. “Her archival skills, management abilities and strategic thinking will really help us serve our challenging and changing world.”

Before leaving PHS to become digital collections and metadata librarian at Bryn Mawr College, Shilstut led PHS’s preservation program, acquiring and implementing grants from the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, including a 2018 grant to digitize historic images from the Religious News Service collection at PHS.

Recent additions to Pearl. See featured RNS images at PHS here.

As director of programs and services, Shilstut will move beyond preserving and digitizing the wide array of materials currently at PHS and begin bringing in new ones.

“I think the lesson many archivists have learned in recent years is that we need to be less passive and more proactive in collecting,” Shilstut said. “Given the unique historical moment we are all living through, we need to work towards addressing historical gaps in our collections while also ensuring that we are collecting for the present moment.

“PHS already has a great foundation for doing this work through recent initiatives like the LGBTQIA+ History and African American Leaders & Congregations Collecting initiatives and the longstanding oral history program. I’m excited to continue working in this framework, expanding out to additional underrepresented groups.”

When asked if there was anything she especially missed about working at PHS, Shilstut said, “The staff!”

“I have such deep admiration for everyone at PHS and across OGA … and I am so impressed with the recent programs and initiatives that have been so successful, especially the Building Knowledge & Breaking Barriers project, the recent collecting initiatives and the new PHS Live series of virtual programs.”

by Fred Tangeman, Presbyterian Historical Society