The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Archive
- 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
Today and Thursday in London, Sotheby's is holding an auction of exceptional "property and precious objects" from the estate of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, who died last year at the age of 99. In an effort to channel Downton Abbey, Sotheby's is calling the auction "The Duchess." Cue the lavish promo video with soundtrack and the requisite trawl through a dusty attic filled with vintage monogrammed trunks.
Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe had an incredibly colorful life, brought up in splendor at the ancestral home of Crewe Hall in Cheshire and Crewe House in Mayfair, one of the last great London mansions, today the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. Her father was the first and only Marquess of Crewe, her mother was a Rothschild, and she was named after her godmother, Queen Mary. She was married in Westminster Abbey in 1935 to the 9th Duke of Roxburghe, and was back two years later at the coronation of King George VI to hold the new queen's train (the robes and ermine-trimmed coronet that she wore are part of the auction). She famously endured a six-week siege in 1953 at Floors Castle, her husband's 100-room Scottish seat, after he served her divorce papers on a silver breakfast tray; she barricaded herself in a wing of the house, and he cut off heat, electricity, telephone, and gas in an effort to oust her. He tried also to turn off the water, but a canny and sympathetic neighbor, the future Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who eventually helped broker a resolution, advised her to alert the insurance company to the fire threat. A divorce was granted later that year, and she spent much of the rest of her life in a stately apartment overlooking Hyde Park in London and at West Horsley Place, her mother’s family’s 16th-century brick mansion on 400 acres in Surrey. She never remarried, and she had no children.
After her death last year, her 80-year-old nephew Bamber Gascoigne - the original quizmaster for the BBC TV show University Challenge - unexpectedly discovered that he had inherited West Horsley Place, a place he had fond memories of visiting, but where he had never even seen the upstairs. The mansion, which is in a state of advanced decay, is full of centuries of family history. As Sotheby's says, these belongings represent a "portrait of an England that no longer exists but was preserved, untouched for almost half a century." That is an understatement. In nearly 700 lots, there is just a staggering range of objects from a vanished aristocratic world: 19th-century livery uniforms, Qing Dynasty vases, Art Deco jeweled and enameled gold cigarette cases, tortoise shell lorgnettes, a massive silver-gilt toilet service from 1934-1935 engraved with her initials MR under a Duchess' coronet, and so on. There is also a portrait of Carl Linnaeus smoking a pipe, and a set of 39 stereoview photographs of Native Americans and landscapes of the American West by T. H. O'Sullivan and W. H. Jackson, given to the Hon. Robert Crewe-Milnes (later 1st Marquess of Crewe) in 1875 by General William Tecumseh Sherman. To save the property and deal with the death duties, Gascoigne is putting many of the house's treasures up for sale. And the house keeps yielding surprises; a study for the famous Pre-Raphaelite painting Flaming June was discovered hanging behind a door in the Duchess' bedroom.
So, why write about this on a Smithsonian blog? Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe was one of the last of the Hungerfords, the family that James Smithson was so proud to claim - that which enabled him to boast that he was "related to kings." Her great-grandmother, Henrietta Maria Anne Hungerford, was Smithson's first cousin (Henrietta was the daughter of Smithson’s mother's sister, Henrietta Maria Keate).
I was fortunate to correspond with the Duchess back in 2003, when I was working on my biography of James Smithson. She shared with me a copy of a letter responding to one that Smithson had written to the family from Paris in the summer of 1820, after the death of his cousin Henrietta Maria, apparently trying to claim something of her estate. As I worked to reconstruct Smithson's social and scientific networks - after all his papers were lost in the Smithsonian fire of 1865 - this was one more very welcome clue to the importance that Smithson placed on his ancestry, and the tremendous efforts that he made to ensure that he received what he felt was due to him.
This letter and other Hungerford papers were promised to the Cheshire Record Office. They have not yet been deposited there, but I hope that Mr. Gascoigne, whenever he comes across Hungerford-related material, will follow through on the gift. It will be exciting to learn if there is other Smithson-related correspondence among the papers.
- James Smithson: Founder of the Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Institution Archives
A little under a year ago, we rolled out a new search for our site which is powered by the Google Search Appliance. The goal of implementing this new search was to make our content and collections more accessible, to make discovery easier, and to generally improve the user experience.
Work towards that goal didn't end a year ago.
Over the summer of 2014, work by our staff began on making PDFs of the Smithsonian staff newsletter, The Torch, text-searchable. Because these PDFs can be read by our Google Search Appliance's bots, their content can be indexed. This means that our site search will return any Torch issue that matches your search string.
Let's say you're doing some research on Smokey the Bear. So you head over to our website, and search for "Smokey." You'll be presented with a familiar search results screen (one of which is actually a link to a Torch PDF). But let's say you didn't want to see finding aids or collection items, just the PDFs. Don't worry, you can do that too.
You may have noticed there's a new link at the top of the content type filters, labeled "PDFs." In the above example, the site would return only PDFs that match the search string "Smokey," such as an article about if Smokey should be retired and the original Smoke's obituary.
- You Asked, We Listened: Introducing the Archives New Site Search, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Smithsonian Institution Archives Moves to Drupal 7, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- 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]
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