The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Behind the Scenes
The Archives is made up of wonderful, helpful, and hard working individuals who strive to acquire, preserve, and make accessible records that document the history of the Smithsonian Institution. Some of our staff have been at the Smithsonian for 30 plus years, while others are just beginning their tenure here. There will be some changes in the office as we welcome new staff members coming on board this summer who bring their expertise and new ideas to the Archives. In a series of posts we'd like to introduce them to you.
To start things off, I am pleased to introduce Heidi Stover. Heidi is an Archives Technician on our Reference Team who will be working primarily with our photo collections, doing photo fulfillment and researching photos to improve their information. We had a few questions for Heidi and she was kind enough to answer them.
What’s your educational background?
I have a BA in history and a MA in American Studies with an emphasis in Heritage and Museum Practice.
What do you do at the Smithsonian Institution Archives?
I work on the reference team dealing mainly with the huge 3 million piece photograph collection. This means I get to answer people’s questions about this immense and fascinating collection.
What is the strangest/most interesting thing you have discovered at the Archives so far?
While re-processing Record Unit 95 - Photograph Collection, 1850's - I found a copy negative of an image taken by Mathew Brady. As a Civil War buff this was extremely exciting for me, even if it was a copy!
What is the most unexpected thing you have learned about working here?
Just how robust the Smithsonian Institution is. Since we have records from all the different museums and units, I can really see how big the entire Institution is. It also makes for complications on doing permissions and who has what, but for the most part, I did not expect to be working so closely with so many different people at so many different museums.
Favorite spot in DC to recommend to visitors?
It has to be the Rotunda at The National Archives and Records Administration! This is where the Charters of Freedom are housed for permanent exhibit. Seeing the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights is something everyone should see!
Over the last several weeks, the Archives has welcomed Heather Weiss, an intern with Project SEARCH. Heather Weiss came to us from successful experiences at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Office of Fellowships and Internships, and the National Portrait Gallery, among others, and has been assisting the archivists and the conservators with a pair of different ongoing initiatives: a finding aid data entry project with the archivists and a rehousing project with the conservators. We wanted to highlight Heather's valuable contribution to our work at the Archives, and have invited her to share her thoughts about working with us.
Hi, my name is Heather Weiss. I am an intern at a program called Project SEARCH at the Smithsonian Institution. Project SEARCH, or PSSI, is a 10-month program designed for people with disabilities who are looking to find full-time jobs. As a part of the PSSI program, I have recently been gaining a positive experience in learning about the art of preservation. So far, I have discovered that preservation comes in many different forms, such as repairing an art sculpture, checking the lighting in an art gallery, dusting picture frames, and polishing the Plexiglas on artworks. But, my most recent positive experience to date is learning about preservation at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Archiving is important, because when you preserve art and documents, then that means that you’re preserving a part of history. And while I am learning about archiving, I have also learned about data entry and rehousing folders into new boxes. When you’re rehousing folders, that means that you’re transferring older historical documents from older boxes and folders, and then putting those documents into new and more stable boxes and folders that will last longer. Data entry is when you take the data from a paper source and then digitize that source by putting it on the computer. Eventually, people will be able to look at the information once it is available. My favorite part of this experience is getting to see the history that’s been stored from different decades within the folders. I find it very amazing.
Heather's data entry for the archivists was a testament to her detail-oriented nature. It was meticulous work, and Heather's efforts will lead to improved finding aids of our collections. She moved quickly through that project, leading the archival team to work speedily to keep her busy! Heather also accomplished the conservators' first rehousing assignment in record time, changing out all the nearly one hundred acidic boxes of one collection (Record Unit 158: United States National Museum, Curators' Annual Reports, 1881-1964). After completing both of these tasks, Heather moved on to the next portion of the finding aid project, as well as a more complex rehousing assignment (Record Unit 137: Office of the Under Secretary, Records, 1958-1973) that involved replacing both boxes and folders, necessitating careful copying of folder information from old to new, as well as removing bulky and harmful clips and staples, safely rehousing photographs in photo-safe enclosures, checking the condition of documents and flagging them for later attention as needed.
We have appreciated Heather's willingness to learn new skills, attention to detail, and inquisitive mind. It has been a pleasure to watch her take on more difficult tasks as her time with us has progressed, and to play a part in her personal growth. We wish her all the best following her graduation from Project SEARCH, and know that she will be successful at whatever she puts her mind to. Good luck, Heather!
What better way to celebrate National Rose Month than by showcasing the Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden, which is located in front of the Arts and Industries Building to the east of the Smithsonian Castle. Dedicated in fall 1998, the Folger Rose Garden welcomes visitors not only with roses, but also with perennials, annuals, bulbs, and woody evergreens, as well as with an original 19th century, three-tiered fountain manufactured by the J. W. Fiske Iron Works Company in New York.
- Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden, Smithsonian Gardens
A little under a year ago, we rolled out a new search for our site which is powered by the Google Search Appliance. The goal of implementing this new search was to make our content and collections more accessible, to make discovery easier, and to generally improve the user experience.
Work towards that goal didn't end a year ago.
Over the summer of 2014, work by our staff began on making PDFs of the Smithsonian staff newsletter, The Torch, text-searchable. Because these PDFs can be read by our Google Search Appliance's bots, their content can be indexed. This means that our site search will return any Torch issue that matches your search string.
Let's say you're doing some research on Smokey the Bear. So you head over to our website, and search for "Smokey." You'll be presented with a familiar search results screen (one of which is actually a link to a Torch PDF). But let's say you didn't want to see finding aids or collection items, just the PDFs. Don't worry, you can do that too.
You may have noticed there's a new link at the top of the content type filters, labeled "PDFs." In the above example, the site would return only PDFs that match the search string "Smokey," such as an article about if Smokey should be retired and the original Smoke's obituary.
- You Asked, We Listened: Introducing the Archives New Site Search, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Smithsonian Institution Archives Moves to Drupal 7, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Volunteers have been an integral part of the Smithsonian since the beginning. As our historian Pamela Henson likes to say, we have always relied on the kindness of strangers. Our first Secretary, Joseph Henry, coordinated a group of about 600 people across North America to send in weather data which he posted on a map in the Smithsonian’s Castle (this program eventually led to the founding of the National Weather Service.) Our second Secretary, Spencer Fullerton Baird, created a network of collecting volunteers who sent biological specimen to the Smithsonian for study and inclusion in its first U.S. National Museum.
Today, on site volunteers number almost the same as staff; 6,373 staff and 5451 volunteers. Since kicking off our first pan-Smithsonian digital volunteer website in June 2013, the Smithsonian Transcription Center, we nearly doubled our volunteer base by 4,919! The number steadily climbs and it is likely to soon outnumber our in-person volunteers, and eventually our staff.
Although digital volunteers work from all over the world, there is a sense of community amongst the volunteers through social media and the Transcription Center itself. I regularly field questions/comments from volunteers in very different time zones. It also seems like serving as a digital volunteer yields the same sense of purpose as our in-person volunteers:
“…I was also keen because anything I do helps to open up access to the Smithsonian collections and this results in improved connections and knowledge for everyone. Scientists, citizen scientists, historians, school children, from anywhere with an internet connection. The fact that anyone can view the transcriptions and that there is open access to the transcribed data was a very important factor in me donating my time,” Transcription Center Volunteer
“ What drives me, in particular, is the preservation of the study of astronomy. There were countless hours spent in freezing observatories with eyes glued to instruments and eyepieces hoping for good tracking and sky conditions. All during this was the painstaking logging of notes - figures and frustrations alike. This must never be lost, for it shows determination, drive, perseverance . . . and a great deal of hope. Thank you for the opportunity,” Transcription Center Volunteer
From working our information desks to transcribing primary source documents, our volunteers are large contributors in making the Smithsonian all that it is. It is delightful to think that people all over the world now have more opportunities to contribute from wherever they are. Below is a list of Smithsonian projects that rely on the kindness of strangers (a.k.a. crowdsourcing projects) that I compiled back in September 2014. If one appeals to you, come aboard and help us to achieve our mission of increasing and diffusing knowledge. And please know that we very much appreciate your work, not just during Volunteer Appreciation Month, but throughout the year. Please listen to a message of thanks from our Director, Anne Van Camp.
- Digital Volunteer Certificate, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Baird’s Network, Bigger Picture Blog
- Volunteer for the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Growing to a Community of Volunpeers: Communication & Discovery, Bigger Picture Blog
Volunteer now for any of these Smithsonian projects!
- Access American Stories – Crowdsourcing audio descriptions of exhibition for accessibility
- Agriculture Innovation and Heritage Archive – Crowdsourcing oral histories related to agriculture
- Biodiversity Heritage Library Machine Tagging – Crowdsourcing machine tags for inclusion in the Encyclopedia of Life
- Community of Gardens – Crowdsourcing oral histories and media related to community gardens
- eMammal – Crowdsourcing camera-trap images to survey of wildlife
- Global Treebanding Project – Crowdsourcing scientific data about tree biomass and the impact of climate change
- Leafsnap – Crowdsourcing tree data set for mobile app
- Our American Journey - Crowdsourcing oral histories of American experience
- People and the Post: A DigitalMemory Book - Crowdsourcing oral histories from postal workers
- Smithsonian Transcription Center– Crowdsourcing transcriptions of historic documents and collection records
- Stories from Main Street – Crowdsourcing oral histories of rural America
- Wikipedia edit-a-thons - Crowdsourcing Wikipedia Articles about Smithsonian collections and resources
- Will to Adorn - Crowdsourcing oral histories about dress
- 1 of 55
- next ›