The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Behind the Scenes
Back in September, the Archives decided to begin its first rapid capture digitization pilot project. Since the point of rapid capture is to significantly increase throughput in digitization of material, having a group of material that is all relatively the same size is important. Robert Ridgeway’s bird head drawings, contained in Record Unit 7167, Series 3, were identified as a possible candidate for rapid capture based on the uniform size of all the drawings and digitization priorities within the Archives.
After the series was chosen, the next step in determining whether or not it was a good candidate for rapid capture was meeting with our conservation team to assess the condition of the drawings. When the collection was rehoused several years ago, the drawings were all placed in sink mats with flexible Mylar corners that have helped them remain in pretty good condition over time. Our conservators identified a handful of material that needed to be treated prior to being imaged, and once that work was completed, we were ready to begin the imaging process.
Since we were imaging non-bound materials using a copy stand setup, the workflow required two people to make it run smoothly; one to transfer each drawing to and from the copy stand, and one to take care of placing the image and taking the picture. Since the drawings would need to be taken out of their Mylar corners before being imaged, and then placed back within them once imaging was complete, we were initially worried that a third person might be needed in order to keep the process moving along at a rapid pace. However, after consulting with the conservation team, since the materials were housed in sink mats, we were able to place the drawings on top of the Mylar corners within the mats and then cover each mat with a sheet of tissue to avoid disrupting the images below when the mat above it was moved. This allowed us to prepare several boxes prior to each imaging session. The drawings were placed back in the Mylar corners after they were imaged, but since this step of the rehousing process only took a few seconds, it was completed as the next image was taken.
The number of images taken per box varied because, while all of the boxes contained the same number of sink mats, many of the drawings contained overlapping pieces of paper which required multiple photographs in order to capture all of the content. However, on average, it took about thirty minutes to complete each box, regardless of the number of images taken. During the rapid capture process, great care was taken to make sure that all of the drawings for a given box were captured in the same spot so that the raw files could be post-processed in bulk rather than having to crop each file individually.
All in all, rapid capture allowed us to produce over 1100 images from 29 boxes of drawings. The overlapping pieces of paper on many of the drawings would have made it difficult to digitize the drawings on a traditional flatbed scanner without causing harm to the material, but using the copy stand allowed us to significantly reduce the strain placed on the drawings. We hope to link the images produced during this pilot project to the collection’s finding aid sometime in the near future. The next set of material we plan on digitizing via rapid capture is Series 4 of Robert Ridgeway’s papers.
- Meet Robert Ridgway, Ornithologist and Artist, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 7167, Ridgway, Robert 1850-1929, Robert Ridgway Papers, circa 1850s-1919, Smithsonian Institution Archives
One of the questions most frequently asked of anyone with a badge on the National Mall is "Where is the Smithsonian?" Many visitors assume that the Smithsonian is a single building where they can see the 1903 Wright Flyer, the Ruby Slippers, and the Hope Diamond all under one roof.
The often confusing reality is that the Smithsonian is actually made up of 19 museums, the National Zoo, and 9 research centers. Many of the museums are along the National Mall, but others are scattered around Washington, DC and the surrounding region. There are even two Smithsonian museums in New York City and research facilities in locations as diverse as Massachusetts, Florida, Arizona, Panama, and Belize.
To address the question at the beginning of this post, the Visitor Information and Associates' Reception Center (now the Office of Visitor Services) published a flyer in March 1985 encouraging visitors to stop by the Smithsonian Institution Building (better known as "The Castle") for an orientation. The flyer – appropriately titled "Where is the Smithsonian?" – is illustrated with a frazzled woman attempting to find her way while dealing with two impatient children. On the back is a map of the museums along or near the National Mall.
The flyer was updated several times during the 1980s. Today, the Castle is still the place to go for an in-person orientation, but many visitors go to the Smithsonian's website to plan their trips. And for those who want that modern equivalent to carrying around a map, there's an app for that.
- Accession 14-034 - Office of Visitor Services, Publications, 1959, 1973-2013, Smithsonian Institution Archives
An update on the career and family life of chemist Fern P. Rathe, featured in the Women in Science Wednesday post on July 17, 2013.
While communicating with her family and preparing this update, we learned that Fern P. Rathe passed away peacefully on September 27, 2013. We are honored to share more of her story with you below.
For Women in Science Wednesday on July 17, we featured Fern P. Rathe, part of the Merck research team that isolated the antibiotic cathomycin in 1955. Some of our readers found it disconcerting that so little information was available about her accomplishments and research; so we set out to find out more about this inspiring chemist.
The following biography was composed by Fern's husband, John.
Fern Pfafflin was born January 8, 1930 in La Crosse Wisconsin. Her parents were Edward and Bessie (Chalsma) Pfafflin. She grew up on a farm near New Amsterdam, Wisconsin, and went to a one-room rural schoolhouse there. She went to high school in nearby Holmen, Wisconsin, was valedictorian of her class, and graduated in 1948. Fern attended Carleton College in Northfield Minnesota and graduated with a Bachelors degree in 1952. Her college major was chemistry and zoology.
After college graduation she was employed by Merck and Company, Rahway, New Jersey as a biochemist working under Dr. Folkers. She was involved in research on numerous biologic projects, one of which was a search for new antibiotics. Novobiacin was crystallized at her lab bench in Merck's research laboratory. Several other women were working in the Merck Research Lab at that time, one of whom was Helen Gager; a good friend of Fern, she went on to teaching at Sweet Briar College.
Fern was married in 1953, and lived in New York City with her husband John. She continued to work at Merck until she started her family in 1956. She subsequently lived in Moline, IL, where she lived with her husband and four children. She was active in numerous community organizations, and was a private pilot with a twin-engine rating until she became an insulin-dependent Diabetic. She was a member of the local chapter of the "99's" and flew co-pilot in the Powder Puff Derby Air Race in 1971.
Fern passed away in September 2013 after suffering from advanced Parkinson's Disease for the past several years; her family has created a collection of links and further information, available here.
Please let us know if you have other information to share about Rathe and other female chemists, pilots, and awe-inspiring women in science – we welcome your comments below!