The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Archive: 04/2013 - Page 1
Earlier this Spring, Phase I of the Collections Care Preservation Fund's Born Digital Survey came to a conclusion with the completion of the physical inventory, and programmatic examination of the participating units. The roughly eight month project yielded a number of results that will help the Institution better understand the scope of born digital collections materials in its repositories. However, the completion of this initial phase also serves as a strong reminder that there is still much more work to be done.
In total, the physical inventory documented over 12,000 pieces of media. This total is certainly not absolute, and the ongoing acquisitions of born digital resources has already made the number outdated. However, it was important to begin the process of dealing with these vital pieces of the historical record with a better idea of what the units have. The following graph will give a better indication of what types of materials were identified, and which represent the majority of the survey's findings:
A major component of the physical inventory was a basic condition assessment of each piece of identified media. A simple scale was used whereby items were given a score of 1-5, with "1-No visible damage" constituting the best possible outcome. 99% of items scored a 1, with less than 200 items being identified as containing some minor or major visible or physical damage. The majority of issues were scratches on optical discs, or problems with how the media was stored. Another issue encountered was the "bubbling" of adhesive labels on CDs and DVDs. This is a common problem and can prevent the media from being read.
Along with the work that remains to stabilize and properly manage the items identified during this survey, the Smithsonian as a whole should be expecting their born digital collections to continue to grow at a significant rate each year. Over the past five years, a sharp increase in these types of collections material has been observed, and with the digital age continuing to thrive, the possibility of exponential growth is genuine.
Upon a basic review of the material being accessioned in the last couple years, discussions with both collecting specialists and archivists from SI units, and with an eye on current ongoing projects across the Smithsonian, future acquisitions of born digital material will likely include a large percentage of digital images, digital video, and computer aided design (CAD) files. While images have been coming to the archival units for some time, the advances in digital video have already begun to present a new set of challenges for repositories due to their complex nature and large file sizes. In the same respect, construction projects around the Institution generate a sizeable amount of CAD files that present equally unique challenges.
In the end, the execution of this survey also helped lay the foundation for future work to be performed, as well as creating a greater awareness of born digital materials, and the proper ways to manage them. Through in-depth discussions between the contractor and staff members at the participating units, the general understanding of basic best practices for born digital collections material has improved, as well as the level of overall care and consideration for current holdings and the future additions.
Eventually, we are hopeful that these materials will no longer be limited to a simple physical item description as floppy disks, DVDs, CD‐ROMs, flash drives, hard drives, and other physical media, but instead as digital photographs, letters, drawings, blueprints and plans, diary entries, speeches, lectures, interviews, videos, research data, emails, and other collection material, that happen to be in digital form. Not only will this be keeping with basic archival descriptive principles, but it will also provide these historical records the attention they deserve, allow for greater accessibility, and for long term preservation.
- Disk Diving: A Born Digital Collections Survey at the Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Digital Video Preservation: Further Challenges for Preserving Digital Video and Beyond, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Digital Dilemma: Preserving Computer Aided Design (CAD) Files, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Seems like keeping digital images on you memory card and never transferring them to your computer has a historical anticedent: Undeveloped used film in old cameras. [via PetaPixel]
- Born digital records abound in archival collections the world over, Donald Mennerich, a Digital Archivist at the New York Public Library, talks about the work and tools he uses to preserve these records. [via The Signal, Digital Preservation, LOC]
- The State Library of North Carolina and State Archives of North Carolina has released a redesigned, streamlined and mobile friendly digital preservation education site. [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA]
- Each person works at the Smithsonian has their own story to share about how they wound up there, Michelle Selvans, a planetary scientist in the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, shares hers. [via AirSpace, NASM]
- A reunion of all the living United States Presidents occured yesterday at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas. [via Prologue: Pieces of History, NARA]
- Tools of the trade, a look into the Book Conservation Lab at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. [via Unbound, SIL]
- Words of inspiration for photographers from Joel Sartore, National Geographic photographer. [via PetaPixel]
The Smithsonian Institution Archives is not just a repository for maintaining and preserving historical documents. The Archives also provides records management services to staff across the Smithsonian. One of those services is to provide staff with tips for organizing their records.
In a previous RIMM post ("You've Still Got Mail"), Electronic Records Archivist Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig discussed some ideas for keeping email organized. This year, I'd like to elaborate on her post and share our tips to staff for minimizing the size of email accounts. Although geared towards business email, this advice can be applied to personal accounts as well. Before applying it to your work email, don't forget to check with your place of employment to determine if it has its own policies and procedures.
The Archives generally recommends that the following types of email can be deleted by when no longer needed for personal reference:
- Messages received via a distribution list, listserv, or automatic notification system (this includes most emails related to your social media accounts)
- Messages received from another staff person to which no reply is required (for information purposes only)
- Messages received on which you were simply copied (not the primary recipient)
- Calendar items received or sent (before deleting a future calendar item, do a "test" delete to determine if deleting it from the inbox/outbox also deletes it from your calendar)
- Messages received forwarding a link or attachment with no additional substantive content (save the link or attachment outside of the email system first, if appropriate)
- Messages received or sent which are captured in threads of later messages
- Jokes, advertisements, and spam sent or received
- For work email, any personal email sent or received
Once you've deleted much of the email types above, you'll likely be surprised at how little is left. Don't stop there though. Periodically scan through your older email. Chances are that you will find quite a few messages that were important for a short period of time, but no longer have any value. These might include logistical emails for an activity that has already happened or new contact information that is no longer accurate.
The less extraneous email you have, the easier it will be to find the email you need. And if you have a size limitation on your email account, these tips should help you keep well within that limit.
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