The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Archive
- 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]
In 1941, as the United States began to gear up for wartime production, government planners realized that expanding the industrial and farm workforce to include more women would create new challenges. Factory jobs, for example, would be hazardous if female workers wore full skirts or loose sleeves. In response, the Clothing and Textile Division of the Bureau of Home Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), designed a line of clothing to accommodate these situations. Coveralls, slacks, and one-piece suits aimed to preserve modesty, adapt to a range of climate conditions, and include plenty of pockets.
In June 1941, USDA designers Clarice Louisba Scott (b. 1899) and Margaret Smith presented their designs for "defense fashions" at a meeting of the American Home Economics Association in Chicago. Trouser cuffs were redesigned so they would be less likely to catch in machinery, and pockets were pleated so they could hold items normally stowed in a purse. Contemporary fashion was not ignored altogether, however. One of the sample one-piece "coverettes" had been sewn in pink and white striped cotton.
Pattern manufacturers were enlisted and young seamstresses were encouraged to make their own garments.
Emily C. Davis's article for Science News Letter (July 19, 1941) even included a pattern for a conical hat constructed from pie-shaped fabric casings stiffened with cardboard:
Cut two circles of fabric about 21 inches in diameter. Pin together and mark into 14 pie-shaped segments, placing one segment line on the straight of the goods. Cut out two segments. Stitch through the dividing lines of the remaining segments seam the pie together, forming a broad cone with 12 triangular casings into which cardboard casings may be placed for stiffening. To hold the cardboard in place, attach enameled snap fasteners near the rim of each segment. Inside, fasten tie strings, half an inch wide, at the peak of the crown and about three inches on each side.
- Science Service collections at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Accession 02-027 - Freer Gallery of Art Superintendent of Construction, Correspondence, 1913-1936, Box 1, Folders Letters Regarding Miscellaneous Jobs, 1920-1934. Several of the early folders concern the construction of the museum, which was completed in 1921, and opened to the public in 1923. I chose to focus on the correspondence found in the folder for January to June 1924 to see what was going on in the Freer in its first year after it opened.
The topic that seemed to occupy the most correspondence during this period revolved around artifact display cases. The museum contacted the Chemical Products Division of E. I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co, Inc. to inquire about a finish for the walnut exhibition cases. The goal was to find a finish that would not alter the natural color of the wood when applied to the material. The company agreed to apply some of their Viscolac finish to wood samples supplied by the Freer in order to ascertain whether or not this product would meet the needs of the gallery. Once the gallery received the walnut samples that had been finished with Viscolac, they discovered that it did not have the desired effect on the wood that they were looking for. The gallery ultimately decided to go with a white shellac applied thinly instead.
Another main topic of the correspondence concerned a request for gummed paper from the R. P. Andrews Paper Company. The Freer Gallery of Art had placed an order for one quire of gummed paper based on a sample provided to Mr. Procise in November 1923. After repeated calls and inquires, the gallery still had not received the paper they requested. On March 20, 1924, the gallery received a bill for the order, even though the paper still had not been received. The paper was finally delivered on April 2, 1924, but it turned out to not be at all like the sample the gallery had originally provided. The company responded with an apology and offered to send along a sample of their gummed glassine paper, which they believed matched the description of what the Freer was looking for. After some back and forth discussion, the gallery agreed to purchase the paper offered by the company, and the issue was resolved.
A few of the letters in the folder caught my interest simply because they covered topics I would not have expected to find. For instance, one letter from a nearby resident complained of chauffers parking in front of his building when there was an abundance of parking available closer to the Freer Gallery of Art building. Another letter from Mr. J. Bundy, Superintendant of the Freer Gallery of Art, to Mr. Goldsmith inquired as to why a nightwatchman’s report of a light being out in the building had to go through so many other people before reaching his desk too late in the day to take action. Mr. Bundy requested that all maintainance reports from the nightwatchmen be given directly to him first thing in the morning so that immediate action can be taken.
- Vote Folder A for Record Unit 64, Smithsonian Institution, Chief Clerk, Records, 1869-1905, Box 12, Folder: Miscellaneous Letters and Memoranda between Smithsonian Officials, 1863-1893
- Vote Folder B for Record Unit 7399 – Hahn William Capps Paper, 1939-1964, Box 1, Folder: Miscellaneous Larval Notes, Sketches, etc. (Unpublished)
- Past Miscellaneous Adventures posts, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- 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