The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: What Gets Saved
- The Stanford David Rumsey Map Collection now has over 69,000 historic maps available online. [via KQED]
- Incredible color photos of Martin Luther King, some of which are part of our National Museum of African American History and Culture. [via NPR]
- Great news for geneologists! The Digital Public Library of America & FamilySearch International have signed an agreement that will expand access to FamilySearch.org’s free digital historical book collection. [via Info Docket]
- New to the U.S. National Archives; 20th century Alaskan expedition aerial photos and meeting minutes from the committees on "Un-American Activities."[via National Archives]
- How archiving the internet could change our understanding of history. [via NY Times Magazine]
- Transcribe Civil War Telegrams for the Huntington Library. [via Info Docket]
- An unprecendented exhibiton on the Qur'an at the Freer Sackler this fall. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- The Internet Archive and Archive-It are looking for contributions to their Orlando Archive.
- Painting Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' on water from artist Garip Ay. [via Open Culture]
- The ever curious story of mailing children by U.S.P.S. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- The 2016 American Alliance of Museums MUSE tech award winners were announced, and the Smithsonian Transcription Center won! [via Center for the Future of Museums]
- A behind-the-scenes look at Google Cultural Institute. [via Wired UK]
- A super interesting project, Display at Your Own Risk, examining the transparency of image rights statements surrounding museum images. [via Hyperallergic]
- 'Badass Librarians" saving ancient manuscripts from al Qaeda. [via National Geographic]
- The "History of American Slavery", a new multimedia course from Slate Academy. [via Open Culture]
- A homecoming of sort - the Smithsonian will have a permanent exhibit space in London in partnership with the V&A. [via Smithsonian Newsdesk]
- A new online portal to art history publications and rare books with over 100,000 volumes from the Getty!
- Weigh in on the future of a 1964 World's Fair relic, the New York State Pavillion. [via Hyperallergic]
- The Smithsonian's National Zoo's orangutan is pregnant and you can view the ultrasound that confirmed it! [via National Zoo]
Celebrating our 300thLink Love since 2010!
- Macro x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (MA-XRF) reveals ancient manuscripts reused as bookbindings! [via The Guardian]
- A historic moment - refugees form their own squad for this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. [via NPR]
- Get your color on with National Parks! [via National Park Foundation]
- Artist Bill Domonkos' archival remixes.[via This Colossal]
- Summer of Hamilton at the New York Historical Society. #EnoughSaid [via The New York Times]
- The Getty has released over 800 photos by photographer and architect Wim Swaan to their open portal. [via Info Docket]
- 1000 year-old Beowulf manuscript now online at the British Library. [via Open Culture]
- Get to the Smithsonian's Zoo to check out gorgeous, marine sculptures by artist Angela Pozzi created from plastic trash found in oceans. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- Yikes, who knew bunnies could be so vicious? [via Colossal]
- A previously unpublished story by Langston Hughes was found in the Yale Archives. [via New Yorker]
- Now that's dedication: A WWI soldier finished his PhD dissertation in the trenches. [via Open Culture]
- Bad news for the cultural heritage sector; a UN report showing climate change is putting World Heritage Icons at risk. [via Info Docket]
- A new interactive allows you to explore Miles Davis' legacy. [via Forbes]
- Looking for summer reading? The British Library just released more than 300 works of 20th century fiction for free! [via The Week]
- A 15-part mini series shows the big reveal when King Tut's tomb was opened in the early 1920's. [via Open Culture]
To keep or not to keep? And how to keep it?
I remember being skeptical when Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, announced his vision of “a computer on every desk and in every home” in 1980. I thought it more indicative of a grandiose ambition than where society was headed. Today, I have four computers in my house, not counting the cell phones every member of my family carries with them 24 hours a day.
In a similar way, the email we used to think of as akin to a phone call has become ubiquitous correspondence today. The ease with which we can send email has created a rich deluge with which archivists, records managers, curators and historians must grapple — and it shows no signs of subsiding.
“Email is one of the richest, one of the most revealing, if not the most revealing, of sources currently being generated.”
Christopher Prom, Assistant University Archivist and Associate Professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
The professional consensus for many years now is yes, we should keep it. Not indiscriminately, but yes, keep it as long as it is officially or historically valuable. The question of how — well, well, there’s a variety of approaches. And equally important is how we will provide meaningful access to these archival collections of email.
Wading into the fray
Is email stable enough to be documentary evidence? Is there a practicable method of categorizing email messages that are important to preserve in digital form as a special collection or archival accession? What kind of system can ensure that historically valuable email remains intact and authentic? These are some of the questions that plagued the archives and records management communities for nearly three decades. Many of the answers may seem patently obvious today, however behind that is an evolution in our understanding of the place this technology has in our society.
With the ‘should we keep it?’ question resolved, two primary questions still remain. First, how do we effectively go about preserving this and managing what we have preserved? Second, how do we provide meaningful access to the bodies of historic email in our special collections? Not ones to back away from a challenge, a surprising number of institutions have devoted resources to this issue and continue to do so.
Taking stock and looking forward
This past March, representatives from several groups gathered in Boston to share their progress, the tools they had developed, and where they saw gaps between the current tools and methodology and a fully supported lifecycle stewardship of historic email. The Email Archiving Stewardship Tools (EAST) Workshop included host Harvard University Library, and attendees Stanford University Library, MIT Archives and Special Collections, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the Library of Congress, the BitCurator Consortium, Artefactual Systems, and the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
The Signal, a blog devoted to digital preservation and hosted by the Library of Congress, does an excellent job of touching on the main points of the Workshop. I strongly encourage my fellow archivists, curators and conservators to check it out. Rather than summarize what has already been done so well by my fellow workshop participant Kate Murray, I prefer to focus on the significance of the gathering as it appears to me.
So, why am I so encouraged by the Harvard-hosted EAST workshop and the Archiving Email Symposium hosted by Library of Congress earlier in 2015? Two things.
First, the openness of the participants in discussing both the limitations and strengths of our tools and systems (such as Stanford University Library’s ePADD, BitCurator, Archivematica, Harvard’s Electronic Archiving System, and the Archives' CERP Email Preservation Parser, soon to be replaced by its DArcMail preservation software). This allowed us to explore and define the gap between the capabilities and functions we’ve built, and what remains to be built in order to carry out a solid, robust archival stewardship of historic email. Diversity is our friend, not our enemy. The one who builds alone is destined to fall further and further behind.
Second, the passion to pursue this in a frank and candid way demonstrates an unequivocal ambition to leverage what has been accomplished so far. As a result, we are able to build the bridges that will allow us to thoughtfully and methodically assemble, workflows and mechanisms to carry our email collections safely from acquisition to access.
Evidence supporting this is there for the examination. I am confident that all of the EAST workshop participants welcome it. Tools our organizations developed have been released as open source or are in the process of being so released. Some of the tools stand alone, accomplishing a specific function, while others are designed to suit a particular context. Still others are designed to support microservices, thereby potentially yielding great flexibility to better adapt the differences of our organizations.
But first things first, success and progress is only possible if we work together, refuse to sacrifice our standards, and remain steadfast in our conviction that we are up to the challenge. It looks like we are well on our way.
O Email! My Email! Our Fearful Trip is Just Beginning: Further Collaborations with Archiving Email, The Signal, Library of Congress
The Email Archiving Stewardship Workshop, Harvard University Library
We Welcome Our Email Overlords: Highlights from the Archiving Email Symposium, The Signal, Library of Congress
Preserving Email, Digital Preservation Coalition Technology Watch Report
Curating E-Mails: A Life-cycle Approach to the Management and Preservation of E-mail Messages, The Digital Curation Centre