The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Archive
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
- New to the interwebs: a massive archive of 150 years of photography capturing Russian life from more than 40 institutions and collections. [via Hyperallergic]
- Nominate your favorite .gov website for the U.S. Federal Government End of Term Web Archive! [via The Signal, Library of Congress]
- Why save a computer virus, indeed?! [via The Conversation]
- Giant pandas are no longer endangered
extinct! And the Smithsonian Zoo's biologists had a lot to do with that. [via Seeker]
- Some insight into what the new Smithsonian African American museum means to D.C. locals. [via City Lab]
- The Smithsonian’s 3-D Digitization Program and Teva made shoes for our arthritic elephant! [via Washington Post]
- A cook's delight: 3000 vintage cookbooks now available on the Internet Archive. [via Open Culture]
- A growing online archive of Vernacular Typography. [via Hyperallergic]
- 18th century toilets beget treasures! [via Huffington Post]
- Space travel plans? You can download the code that took America to the moon from GitHub. [via Quartz]
- Museums on my bucket list; Japan's museum for architectural models and New York's pop-up Museum of Ice Cream. [via Hyperallergic and NY Eater]
- Find yourself at the Louvre. [via NY Times]
- The history of scavenger hunts, pre-Pokémon Go. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- Dreamy 1915 films of aging Degas, Rodin, Renoir, and Monet. [via Hyperallergic]
What better way to usher in Preservation Week 2016 than to touch on a topic often overlooked when discussing the preservation of our cultural heritage? Preservation surveys have been taking place for decades now and provide preservation and collections managers with important information regarding the overall state of collections. This information can then be used to aid in prioritization for preservation actions, in terms of conservation treatment and digitization; to advocate for the funding of preservation activities; and to assess the current state of a preservation program by identifying strengths and areas requiring improvement. Participation in surveys can be at both an individual organization level, as well as at a national level.
Currently, the Smithsonian Institution Archives, partnering with seven other Smithsonian units, is conducting a comprehensive survey of our audiovisual collections consisting of analog film, video, and audio held across the Institution. This survey focuses primarily on preservation prioritization – determining the current state of our media collections, their future needs, and how those needs will be met by the Smithsonian.
Based on Harvard University’s Mellon-funded Photograph Survey and adapted for the unique requirements of audiovisual materials, the survey is a risk-based preservation assessment that collects data on several different factors – the character and extent of the collection, the physical and intellectual accessibility, current housing, format obsolescence, and physical media condition. Another facet of the survey is an item-level count of the collections, including factors such as format, film length, run time, run speed, and substrate material. This information will provide guidance in determining future staffing, supply needs, and methodologies for potential large-scale projects. In addition, we are conducting testing of cellulose acetate films using acid-detecting (A-D) strips– acid-base indicator papers that turn from blue to green to yellow in the presence of increasing amounts of acetic acid vapors.
The survey will form the basis of a plan of action for multiple units. It will provide data for future pan-institutional audiovisual preservation and reformatting projects, as well as encourage the development of standard in-house guidelines for the preservation of these unique materials within our vast collections.
Additional Surveys to Explore:
- Heritage Preservation’s Heritage Health Index, 2004 and 2014: Heritage Preservation, partnered with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), conducted these surveys to assess the current state of cultural heritage collections in the U.S. and the change in preservation practices over the ten year span between surveys. On June 30, 2015, Heritage Preservation members voted for the dissolution of the organization and several of its programs were transitioned to the Foundation of the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (FAIC).
- The American Library Association – Association for Library Collections & Technical Services’ Preservation Statistics Survey: Reintroduced in 2012, the goal of this survey is to document the state of preservation activities, both conservation and digitization, using quantitative data to facilitate peer comparison and understand the changes and trends in the field.
- The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and FAIC’s relaunch of the Collections Assessment for Preservation (CAP) Program: This program was transitioned to FAIC upon the dissolution of Heritage Preservation and is currently undergoing development to create the infrastructure to run the program. Key components of the new program will include linking museums with training and other resources as needed, improved training for assessors, and aiding in the creation of sustainable collections care and preservation programs. The first call for applications will be in the fall of 2016.
- One Lens for Multiple Archives: A Pan-Institutional Survey of Born Digital Holdings, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- The End of the Beginning: A Born Digital Survey at the Smithsonian Institution, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Disk Diving: A Born Digital Collections Survey at the Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
A number of years ago, I was asked to pick up research materials created by a deceased scientist that she had maintained in her home office. When I arrived, her family was holding an estate sale. When I asked about the “records,” a man nearby overheard and immediately offered double whatever price I was paying for them. He clearly assumed that I was referring to record albums. I explained that I was there for her institutional records – her files – that belonged to her office, and he didn’t seem to quite understand. I had to assure him that there were no record albums in the boxes.
My team uses the word “records” a lot. We define records, we appraise records, we provide records management guidance, we manage a records center, we accession records into the archival collections, and we describe and preserve those records. We also understand that “records” is a term that many people don’t fully understand.
As many organizations around the country celebrate Records and Information Management Month, this is a good time to answer the question, “What is a record?”
The Smithsonian Institution Archives defines a record as any official, recorded information, regardless of medium or characteristics, which is created, received, and maintained by a Smithsonian museum, office, or employee. This definition encompasses almost any piece of paper, electronic file, email message, photograph, architectural drawing, audiovisual recording, or website that passes through the hands of a Smithsonian employee while conducting business. We often use the term “files” as synonymous with “records” since it tends to be a more familiar term. However, files include some materials (such as documents collected simply for reference purposes) which are not considered to be records, and does not necessarily include materials such as film, videotapes, or audio recordings.
Our definition of a record has been in use for decades and is rather broad. Recently, many definitions of a record have become narrower and refer to the need to preserve information. An example is A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology by Richard Pearce-Moses and published by the Society of American Archivists in 2005 which defines a record as “data or information in a fixed form that is created or received in the course of individual or institutional activity and set aside (preserved) as evidence of that activity for future reference.”
Definitions that include a preservation clause have opened the way for a new category – the nonrecord. Non-records are data or information in a fixed form that is created or received in the course of activity but does not warrant preservation. Institutions define non-records differently, but they often consist of copies, drafts, information entered into a database, or logistical materials.
The Smithsonian Institution Archives does not use the term “nonrecord.” Materials are either personal (not created within the course of business) or institutional records. We do, however, recognize that not all records are valuable for the same length of time. Some records will hold their historical, legal, or evidentiary value forever, and will become part of the archival collections. Other records will be valuable for a certain number of years after which they will be eligible for destruction. Still others will only be of immediate value and no longer necessary to keep after a very short period.
There are many variations in the definition of “records,” but the term typically refers to something different for an information professional than for a collector of vintage audio recordings. That doesn’t mean that a record album couldn’t be a record, though.
Records Management, Smithsonian Institution Archives
How the Archives Gets its Records (or, Golden Lion Tamarins Galore), The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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