The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: What Gets Saved
Every year, the American Library Association (ALA) organizes events and initiatives designed to promote preservation-minded activities amongst the general public, known as Preservation Week. According to ALA's website as of 2005, nearly 5 billion items are stored in U.S. museums, archives, and libraries, and while many of them have staff to care for them and are provided for in disaster planning, all are susceptible to damage. In addition to simply advocating for preservation, ALA further "encourages libraries and other institutions to use Preservation Week to connect our communities through events, activities, and resources that highlight what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our personal and shared collections."
As a small contribution to Preservation Week, the conservation staff at the Smithsonian Institution Archives wants to share some of our recent forays into practical applications of preservation-mindedness.
Innovations for Safe Display of Collections
At the beginning of April 2015, Archive conservation staff attended a symposium presented by the Folger Shakespeare Library entitled "Don't Rock the Cradle: Books in Exhibitions - Mounts, Materials, and Economy." The importance of safely displaying any museum or archive collection cannot be overstated. When exhibitions are planned, much thought is put into the environmental controls, the duration of the display to account for possible light damage, and security. With books, it is exceptionally important that its structures be properly supported.
Born from a German master's student research, "Don't Rock the Cradle" was a sequel to a similar conference held in Berlin in 2013 that presented and evaluated strengths and weaknesses of various types of exhibition-appropriate book supports, focusing mainly on the cradle format. Leading conservators and exhibition experts from institutions in the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany, among others, were invited to present their methods of supporting and displaying books with the goal of sharing expertise and inspiring innovation, with an added emphasis on improvements that could be beneficial to the wider preservation community. A "marketplace" was also set up to demonstrate solutions presented during the conference, and proved a fruitful opportunity to exchange ideas. Postprints describing the contributions are forthcoming, including that of Archive's own Nora Lockshin, whose development of collapsible magnetic book cradles and magnetic strapping was of great interest to the attendees. Nora's work will also be uploaded to the American Institute for Conservation (AIC)’s Book and Paper Group Wiki during AIC's annual conference in May 2015 - look for it in the exhibition section and gallery.
Initiatives to Promote Safe Handling
With the innovations of others fresh in our minds from "Don't Rock the Cradle," we wanted to carry forward this momentum and take a look at collections care in action in our own space - specifically that of our reading room, where patrons come and use our materials. We plan to refresh demonstrations for staff and patrons in order to successfully promulgate the best conditions for our documents and build awareness among our researchers of the importance of safe handling. With the steady stream of researchers making use of our collections, it can be difficult to ensure that all who consult our materials do so with the highest standards of handling. In addition to providing basic reading room guidelines that patrons must agree to follow, we encourage staff to speak to patrons who can use a gentle reminder of best practices, and speak up when appropriate based on observation. Alongside refreshed in-person training and demonstrations, we plan to prepare visual reminders and tip sheets to reinforce best practice and act as a resource for visiting researchers. We are also considering creating video demonstrations of our handling practices, like this one from Harvard on handling special collections, or Duke University Libraries' video demo of a book futon.
With the right training and tools - like adequate book supports - researchers and staff contribute to our mission to preserve the records of the Smithsonian for the future. We hope this inspires you to take part in Preservation Week! Have a look at the links below for ideas, tips, and events near you.
- Preservation Week, Facebook
- Harvard Libraries' online resources on care and handling
- Preservation Resources, American Institute for Conservation
- We have a date - The Renwick Gallery will be reopening on November 13, 2015! [via EyeLevel blog, SAAM]
- Years in the making - Sir Arthur C. Clarke's personal papers are acquired by the National Air and Space Museum Archives. [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- Revolutionary war veterans - These are the few that lived long enough to have their portraits taken. [via PetaPixel]
- Your questions are answered about nests and their avian architects. [via Smithsonian Science News]
- Now online from Louisiana State University's Libraries, Special Collections is the collaborative digital collection: Free People of Color in Louisiana: Revealing an Unknown Past, a project "to digitize, index, and provide free access to family papers, business records, and public documents pertaining to free people of color in Louisiana and the lower Mississippi Valley." [via Jennifer Wright, SIA]
- Digital preservation - A sneek peak inside the Digital Art Vault at the Museum of Modern Art. [via Inside/Out blog, MOMA]
- Vindication at last - John Harrison, one of the world's greatest clockmakers, invented what he claimed to be the perfect pendulum clock in the mid-18th century. His peers at the time chastised and ridiculed Harrison's plan. At the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, Clock B as it's known - was recently constructed to Harrison's specifications - and has vindicated him by losing only five-eighths of a second over a period of 100 days setting a Guinness World Record. [via The Verge]
- Mark your calendars, Fall 2015 - The Smithsonian hopes to open the Arts and Industries Building to host special events. [via Washington Post]
- The American Library Association released their State of America's Libraries Report for 2014. [via InfoDocket]
- New technology embraced in the past leads to unitended consequences as paintings conservator, Dawn Rogala, discovers that the cause of cracks in some mid-century paintings was the result of artists' use of newly available at the time commercial paints in their works. [via The Torch, SI]
- Getting dirty - April is National Garden Month and the Smithsonian Gardens has a website, Community of Gardens, that hopes to serve as place for people to share their stories about their gardens. [via Smtihsonian Gardens blog]
- The Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature debuted on Library of Congress website this week. [via InfoDocket]
- An important question: "Where is my flying car?" gets answered for the time being as the dream is still very much alive. [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project to identify, image, transcribe, annotate, and publish all documents written by or to Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime; [via InfoDocket]
- The journey of digital collections from donor to repository as told by the Library of Congress. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LC]
- In case you haven't visited your local public library lately, hopefully the video below will inspire you to check it out! [via InfoDocket]
- Still recovering - The University of Missouri Library still has 160,000 out of 600,000 books that remain to be treated after a mold outbreak in 2013. [via InfoDocket]
- Imagining Spacewalks - An exploration of Tumblr for the National Air and Space Museum exhibition, Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extravehicular Activity . [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- From the Ford's Theater comes the website, Remembering Lincoln, which marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln and which includes some of Mary Henry's diarys from the Archives. [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA]
- Helpful information about how to find photos at the New York Public Library and beyond. [via NYPL blog]
- In time for Preservation Week the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services has a handy guide on how to preserve your stuff. [via ACLTS]
- Digital and free - Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum has put online 210,000 images of works of art and Google Art Project now has 3D objects from a variety of museums and galleries, including animal skulls! [via Open Culture and The Verge]
- The National Air and Space Museum will be beginning the STEM in 30 program on April 22, which consists of live, fast-paced, 30-minute webcasts, and is designed to increase interest and engagement in STEM for students. [via NASM]
- The National Archives and Records Administration has digitized its Little Rock Nine film to mark the anniversary of its 1965 Oscar win. [via InfoDocket]
- Acquisitions of note - The Library of Congress acquired 500 images from the collection of Robin Stanford of Houston which depict a Civil War era United States and slavery and Yale's Beinecke Library and the Library of Congress acquired the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection of more than 73,000 items that document American history from the Civil War through the end of the nineteenth century and record the rise of photography as an common practice. [via Washington Post and InfoDocket]
- Check out the beta version of the redesigned records section of The National Archives (United Kingdom), Help With Your Research, which is streamlined into eleven new categories to help researchers find what they are looking for. [via The National Archives blog]
- The art and science of conservation at the Freer|Sackler Galleries. [via The Guardian]
- New York City is on display in an online gallery of over 900,000 historical images of the city. [via Open Culture]
- Going to great lengths - The Frontier Nursing Service helped provide medical services for pregnant mothers and their babies who otherwise were at risk of death or serious medical complications. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]