The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Collections in Focus
Amongst the Archives collections we have appoximately 50,000 pieces of audiovisual materials and counting. These analog audiovisual materials come in a variety of formats including 16mm and 35mm motion picture film; U-matic, betacam, and VHS videotapes; DATs; audiocassettes; 1/4" audiotape; and vinyl records. While we have some of the equipment necessary to view and listen to these formats, making them available more broadly to people requires us to digitize them. As a result, starting in earnest in the fall of 2008 the Archives began to digitize select audiovisual items from our collections. To date we have digitized over 1000 hours of audio and video. Below you will find a compilation of clips from some of the video represented in our collections; covering such topics as science, research, exhibitions, expeditions, and more at the Smithsonian.
In putting together these clips I came across one particular video that I wanted to share in its entirety. It is a video that was used in the exhibition, Information Age: People, Information and Technology, which was at the National Museum of American History from 1990-2006. This permanent exhibition chronicled the birth and growth of the electronic information age with a special focus on how information technology has changed the way people live and work. The video was unique at the time being displayed across 12 individual screens.
Accession 06-104: Office of Telecommunications, Productions, 1987-1996, Smithsonian Institution Archives
What a Groovy Idea! A Pan-Institutional Survey of Audiovisual Collections, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Managing a special public trust
In 1846, when the United States Congress had finally settled on what to do with James Smithson’s generous bequest, the Smithsonian Institution was established and a board of regents vested to administrate that public trust in keeping with Smithson’s desire for “an establishment for the increase and diffusion on knowledge.” Composed of government leaders and private citizens, the Board of Regents has guided the Smithsonian from a single building and a nascent national collection to today’s nineteen national museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities working around the globe. Can you imagine the issues this body had to consider along the way?
Making this public record accessible
Since the Smithsonian is an organization in the public trust, the meeting minutes of its Board of Regents are a matter of public record. For a long time, accessing these records meant a trip to Washington, D.C. to the Smithsonian Institution Archives to review a physical copy of the minutes.
However, today we live in a digital world. The Meeting Minutes from this past decade are posted on the Smithsonian website for anyone to review. Not only can someone read the Board’s Meeting Minutes, but finding the references to the Giant Magellan Telescope over the years can be as easy as a Google search.
What about the previous century’s Smithsonian Board of Regents Meeting Minutes? The Archives has tackled that challenge. Those Minutes have been digitized and are being prepared to go up on the web.
With the help of digital volunteers, we will make over a century’s worth of these important historical records just as searchable as the Meeting Minutes from 2006 on. These recently digitized Board of Regents Meeting Minutes are being launched in the Smithsonian Transcription Center so digital volunteers can read and transcribe these records. Once completely transcribed, that meeting’s minutes becomes immediately fully searchable. Over time, anyone will be able to search online for telescopes and the Smithsonian Board of Regents and find all of the references across the whole range of Meeting Minutes from 1846 on. Did you know the first Smithsonian astrophysical observatory was located right behind the original building in Washington, D.C.? With volunteers’ help, people will be able to discover what considerations the Board of Regents gave to these developments across the decades.
Board of Regents Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Board of Regents Bibliography, Smithsonian Institution Research Information System
Images of the Board of Regents, Smithsonian Institution Research Information System
About The Board of Regents, Smithsonian