The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: What Gets Saved
- Talk about time capsule - While undergoing renovations last week, workers at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City uncovered a set of unerased chalkboards hidden in the walls dating back to 1917. [via Colossal]
- Celebrating 100 years - The Coca-Cola bottle. [via Prologue: Pieces of History, NARA]
- In other discovery news - An original Star Wars script was discovered in University of New Brunswick Library. [via InfoDocket]
- Excellent resource - The National Library of Medicine's Directory of History of Medicine Collections. [via Circulating Now, NLM]
- Acquisition of note: The archive of Ben Bradlee (1921-2014), former editor of The Washington Post, has been donated to the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. [via InfoDocket]
- Not expected - Soft tissue was found in 75-million year old dinosaur fossil that was not well preserved. [via The Verge]
- This week Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington announced that he would be retiring as of January 1, 2016. [via InfoDocket]
- Seemingly lost, but now found is KQED's groundbreaking 1961 documentary, The Rejected, which was the first ever nationally-televised documentary about homosexuality. [via KQED News]
- This week marked the 50th anniversary of the first spacewalk. [via The Verge]
- On display at the National Postal Museum through November 2017 is the British Guiana One-Cent Magenta, the world's rarest stamp. [via Pushing the Envelope blog, NPM]
- The Museum of Modern Art's website turns 20. [via Insdie/Out blog, MOMA]
- A monumental task - The first attempt to archive the .EU domain. [via Net Preserve Blog, IIPC]
- Announced this week - the National Museum of African American History and Culture will display objects from a slave shipwreck found near Cape Town, South Africa. [via Newsdesk, SI]
- 6 unexpected objects in the history of the internet at the National American History Museum. [O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- Under development is the Library of Congress Demographic Group Terms (LCDGT) which will be used to describe the creators of, and contributors to, resources, and also the intended audience of resources. [via InfoDocket]
- Now available - the official 11-year timelapse of One World Trade Center being built. [via PetaPixel]
- Digital images and prints aside - The art of the collotype is a fading process that remains the best way to duplicate artwork and historic documents. [via Open Culture]
- For the love of the ledger book - Delving into the 900 pages within the ledgers of merchant William Ramsay which detail the mercantile activity in the town of Alexandria, Virginia, from 1753 to 1756. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- Comming soon most papers authored by Smithsonian staff and affiliates will be made available to the public at no charge, while some will be available after an embargo period. [via Unbound blog, SL]
- Some video guides to understanding how JPEGs deal with color and compression. [via PetaPixel]
- Now available: ARSC Guide to Audio Preservation, Copublished by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, the Council on Library and Information Resources, and The Library of Congress. [via CLIR]
- The search for the perfect marigold. [via Smithsonian Gardens blog]
- Making a splash! - A behind-the-scenes look at the National Museum of Natural History ocean-related collections and their importance to research and discovery. [via Ocean Portal, NMNH]
- At the Archives we like boxes, boxes to hold manuscripts, boxes to hold prints and drawings, boxes we've got. That's why the video below of custom boxes being made is special to us. [via Core77]
In just a handful of decades, our society has gone from hearing about the impending miracles of the digital age to daily lives permeated with digital culture. As a result, digital objects have become part of the Smithsonian’s historical record with its digital archives managed and preserved by the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA). Rarely do born digital holdings arrive carefully set to the side with documentation about what is on the storage media and with a backup or copy. At the Archives today, one out of three accessions will contain born digital material, most commonly found mixed in with the paper files.
Similarly other archives at the Institution have been steadily acquiring born digital holdings over the past several decades. Four years ago, the Smithsonian Institution Archives and archives within the National Museum of Natural History (National Anthropological Archives, Human Studies Film Archive), the National Air and Space Museum, the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History, the Archives of American Art, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, gathered to frame out a collaborative survey of their born digital holdings. Key goals of this effort were to uncover hidden holdings, establish physical and intellectual control of born digital material, and to perform a baseline preservation assessment, thereby strengthening the collections care provided. An integral part of the survey’s design is its shared methodology and metrics which can then serve as a foundation for future joint preservation initiatives and stewardship planning.
Receiving its first grant in 2012, the survey work focused initially on building an inventory of removable storage media present in each archive while completing questionnaires that evaluated the preparedness of the archives to manage these types of collections. A second grant was received in 2014 to complete the survey work, perform risk analysis at the individual file level and provide essential interventions to stabilize these fragile materials. Completed in April 2015, the resulting qualitative and quantitative insights are being incorporated into the collections stewardship planning of the participating archives and museums.
Leveraging familiar waters
Established eleven years ago, the Archives’ Electronic Records Program (ERP) conducted its first born digital holdings survey in 2004-2005. As a result, changes were made to the acquisition, processing and preservation workflows to achieve best practices for holdings that can vary dramatically in formats, age, and quantity. What started initially as documents, spreadsheets, and simple databases from the late 1990’s, has now grown to include images, audio, video, mobile apps, websites and social media, construction drawings, GIS data, email accounts, scientific data sets, and even custom built software programs with an estimated half a terabyte of new born digital holdings acquired each year.
The Electronic Records Archivist Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig and ERP volunteer Peter Finkel assisted regularly throughout the survey and continue, along with the shared workflows and software tools, to serve as mentors and a common resource to the survey’s participating archives.
In many ways, the survey implemented the principles laid out in Ricky Erway’s white paper, "You've Got to Walk Before You Can Run".
Determining levels of risk
Preservation risk for content on media that could be read was determined on the basis of format and age, creating a simple mechanism to rank individual files:
- Severe (1) indicated files older than 10 years and whose format the participating archive was unable to access.
- High (2) indicated files younger than 10 years and whose format the participating archive was unable to access.
- Medium (3) indicated files older than ten years yet were in formats that the participating archive was able to access.
- Low (4) indicated files younger than ten years in formats that the participating archive was able to access.
Taken as a whole, risk was distributed 14% Severe, 5% High, 43% Medium and 38% Low according to the image below:
Over 470 accessions were inspected, 6,613 pieces of removable media inventoried, and 651,629 born digital files assessed for preservation risks. Concurrently, the assessed files were stabilized. That is to say, they were scanned for viruses, their fixity values determined, backups made into secure storage environments, and metadata generated such that a minimum of bit-level preservation of well-defined holdings is now in effect. Combined with the portion of SIA holdings that had already been assessed and preserved prior to the survey, close to 1.5 million born digital holdings across six archives are now under proper archival control. Placed in the context of the recently published [POWRR framework], the progress made by this survey is striking.
State of born digital holdings preservation among survey participants of 2012:
State of born digital holdings preservation among survey participants at the survey conclusion:
We are excited at the enduring effect this survey will have on the born digital holdings within Smithsonian collections and their stakeholders, as well as the stewardship community and the born digital advocacy it empowers.
- Erway, Ricky. "You’ve Got to Walk Before You Can Run: First Steps For Managing Born Digital Content Received on Physical Media." OCLC, 2012
- Schumacher, Jaime et al. "From Theory to Action: Good Enough Digital Preservation for Under-Resourced Cultural Heritage Institutions." Northern Illinois University. Captured March 31, 2015
- That thing must weigh a ton! A vault door will great visitors to the new Numismatics Gallery at the National Museum of American History. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- Putting the pieces together - A curator's journey to find pieces of the history of the Art and Technology Program of 1967-1971 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The program was an initiative that paired artists with corporations in the areas of aerospace, entertainment, scientific research, and other industries. [via Unframed blog, LACMA]
- Ever evolving - Lessons in research instruction from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. [via Unbound blog, SL]
- Bibliophiles rejoice - More than 100 lectures from the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia are now available online. [via InfoDocket]
- Between a microfibre cloth, lambs' wool duster and HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, the dust removal winner is . . . [via The National Archives UK blog]
- 5 things you probably didn't know about the 'ukulele. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- The British Library announced this week their plan to digitize and make available online 500,000 "at risk" rare and unique sound recordings. [via InfoDocket]
- Start your Memorial Day Weekend with the following video from the National Archives and Records Administration which tells viewers of the importance of the holiday. [via Prologue: Pieces of History, NARA]