The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Archives
Last week the Smithsonian announced a new plan for the South Mall side of the National Mall, which includes the Smithsonian Castle, the Arthur M. Sacker Gallery, the National Museum of African Art, the S. Dillon Ripley International Center, the Enid A. Haupt Garden, the Arts & Industries Building, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Historically the area has played host to a variety of functions and buildings, specifically the South Yard, located behind the Smithsonian Castle, lies in between the Arts and Industries Building and the Freer Gallery of Art and has been the location for a variety of things over the years. In the late 19th century, one could find several small buildings for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Taxidermy Studio, National Zoological Park, and Aerodrome Studio. After World War I, a Quonset hut housed the National Air Museum (today, the National Air and Space Museum), next to the Radiation Biology Laboratory (today, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center) greenhouses. In 1976, the South Yard was converted to a Victorian Garden to welcome visitors. In the 1980s, the area was excavated to create the Quadrangle Complex, with underground buildings for the National Museum of African Art, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and the S. Dillon Ripley International Center. Pavilion entrances to these buildings are nestled within the Enid A. Haupt Garden.
Adapted from The South Yard online exhibition, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Cost - $73.2 million (including $36.6 million in federal appropriations)
- From Start to Opening - From formal groundbreaking on June 21, 1983 to formal opening, September 28, 1987: 1560 days
- Dimensions - Garden: 4.2 acres; Total complex: 360,000 square feet, including the above-ground pavillions; 96% of the complex is below ground.
- The South Yard, online exhibition, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Historic Images of the South Yard of the Smithsonian Institution Building from the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 89-136 - Smithsonian Institution, Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs, Quadrangle Records, 1984-1987, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 95-025 - Smithsonian Institution, Office of Development, Quadrangle Campaign Records, 1979-1986, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 93-097 - Visitor Information and Associates' Reception Center, Public Inquiry Mail Service, Quadrangle Funding Project Patrons' Register, 1987-1991, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 88-145 - Office of Facilities Services, Project Files, 1984-1987, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 09-161 - Office of Facilities Services, Project Files, 1965-1984, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Accession 03-026 - Office of Telecommunications, Productions, 1982-1983, 1987, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 410 - Office of Public Affairs, Publicity Records, circa 1965-1974, 1987, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Thanks IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services)! With a grant from the IMLS, the Norman Rockwell Museum has made available online 50,000 photographs, some of which Rockwell used as studies for his paintings. [via OpenCulture]
- Also available this week are free downloadable files to print 3-D models of items found in the British Museum's collection. [via InfoDocket]
- An excellent question - Why does Netflix send Orange is the New Black to the Library of Congress on videotape? [via The Verge]
- Interested in audiovisual preservation? Here are a two posts on what's going on internationally when it comes to audiovisual preservation and also a look a two pioneers in digitial audio, Dietrich Schüller and Albrecht Häfner. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Check out this new website: Unboxing the Chomsky Archive, which offers a preview of some of the unique materials found in the collection of Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus at MIT, as well as a way to support the archival project. [via MIT Libraries News]
- Need some photographic inspiration? - Check out this video of photographer, Brian Gaberman, and his work with wet plate collodion photography. [via PetaPixel]
Collaboration. It's the one word that during almost every conference and pan-institutional discussion, everyone says, and hears, a lot. In fact, it's the theme of this year's Archives Month! But why is it so important to collaborate? Because collaboration allows for people with different knowledge and skill sets to come together to solve a common problem. At the Archives, we often work with other Smithsonian divisions and outside groups to solve complex problems in the field of audiovisual (AV) digitization and preservation.
A perfect example of collaborative work at its best is the AV Hack Day from this year's Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) annual conference in Savannah, Georgia. During Hack Day, programmers and archivists came together to create open source tools that tackle common preservation problems that have been identified in the field of AV archiving. Some of the tools created include Hack Day Capture, a tool that works with a Blackmagic capture card and ffmpeg to digitize analog video, Video-Sprites, which eases the process of making web video more accessible, and Characterization Compare, which allows the user to see the outputs from EXIFtool, MediaInfo, and ffmpeg side by side. These tools and all of the others created during Hack Day are available on the AMIA Open Source Github page.
For the past several years, members of the Archives have worked with other government agencies to form a group called the FADGI (Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative). The primary goal of this group is to create guidance for the digitization of still image and audiovisual materials that other archives, public or private, can use when making decisions on how to best preserve their materials. Last month, FADGI released file format comparison charts for still images and analog videos, as well as a set of case histories contributed from eight different units that detail how they are dealing with born digital audio and video content within their collections. The comparison chart for analog audiovisual materials provides information on sustainability, cost, and system implementation for the various codecs and wrappers that are currently being used to create preservation files.
Smithsonian divisions often collaborate with each other as well. Since the majority of the equipment in analog AV archiving can be hard to find, the AV archivists group (AVAIL) here at the Smithsonian created an internal registry of the different equipment owned by each of the divisions, so that we can work together to share resources. The list includes information on the number of decks of a particular type owned by a given division, as well as whether or not they are currently in working condition. This makes it so that when I come across a Hi8 tape in our collections, a format that we do not have a deck for, I can simply consult the registry and contact the appropriate division to see if their deck might be available for me to use. Through the AVAIL listserv, we have also shared our knowledge of different migration errors to help each other solve unusual problems.
Ultimately, it's important to collaborate with others in and outside your field because the knowledge of the many is often more comprehensive than the knowledge of few. Additionally, we are all working towards the same goal of preserving our collections in the best possible way, so working together allows us to optimize our resources and our time. How has collaboration helped you in your field of work?
- Smithsonian AV Archivists Tumblr
- The End of the Beginning: A Born Digital Survey at the Smithsonian Institution, The Bigger PIcture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Audiovisual conservation resources, Library of Congress
- Archives Month across the Smithsonian
The Smithsonian Transcription Center has been around for over a year and the community of #volunpeers who expertly transcribe and review texts has grown and grown. This summer, my project was to get to know the community of #volunpeers who contributed to Smithsonian Institution Archive’s projects by looking through pages and pages of data reflecting the quantity and frequency of completing transcription and review activities. Here is a graph of the activity of Archives #volunpeers during the first 6 months of the year.
To understand why activity was high during certain moments and low during others, and to explore how the Transcription Center operates as a system with multiple moving parts, I took a systems approach and a landscape ecology perspective.
The three parts of the system that I explored are:
- #Volunpeer behavior - The frequency and quantity of transcription and review activities completed by users
- Project landscape - The amount and type of Archivesprojects available for activity
- Social media communication - Transcription Center special events and social media posts by Smithsonian units and the #volunpeer community
Each of these components is related to one another. For instance, #Volunpeer behavior is affected by the types of projects available for activity and the type and quantity of social media communication at a given moment. #Volunpeers generally gravitate towards projects with a narrative component, like diaries or field notes written poetically. Furthermore, events like #7DayReviewChallenge and #CandC (Contribute&Connect) foster the re-engagement of formerly dormant #volunpeers and boost the activity of existing active contributors.
The most prominent characteristic of the Archives community of #volunpeers is that the majority of all activity is completed by a handful of top contributors. Does this matter? Is this trait good, bad, or both? The answer is both.
The Archives is incredibly lucky and thankful to have such amazing power #volunpeers, which corresponds to a high-volume of transcription and review activity and opportunities for knowledge discovery, but this trait has the potential to threaten the overall health of the Transcription Center system. Why? Let’s turn to landscape ecology and Smithsonian Secretary Spencer Fullerton Baird’s Index of Correspondence to understand.
A healthy and sustainable system, meaning that it is productive and exists long term, requires resiliency, meaning that if threatened or damaged, the system can recover quickly and fully. If a system is not resilient, it is vulnerable and fragile, meaning that its vitality is at risk if the system suffers a loss.
In his Index, Baird corresponded with hundreds and hundreds of natural history collectors and citizen scientists, some of whom collected the same things from similar geographical locations. For example, there was a redundancy of shell collectors from Grand Rapids, Michigan listed in Baird’s Index.
One of the many benefits of having a large, diverse, and redundant network of collectors was that if one collector stopped collecting, or his/her items were damaged during transport to the Smithsonian, Baird could draw upon the collections of another correspondent who had a similar collection. Seemingly redundant collectors become the saviors of the system! This allows it to continue uninterrupted, which increases its sustainability and stability.
The same is true for the Transcription Center.
Having a large and diverse group of #volunpeers who complete activity instead of a tiny group of power #volunpeers contributes to a healthy, resilient, stable, and sustainable system. Since the Archives still has numerous projects that need transcribing and reviewing, striving for the sustainability of the Transcription Center is a top priority for us and we hope that you feel the same way!
Check out the Transcription Center for yourself!
And if you want to know more about Baird’s Index, check out this interview with Smithsonian historian, Pam Henson.
- Accession 91-069 - Spencer Fullerton Baird Index of Correspondence, 1850s-1870s, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Increasing Access: The Smithsonian Transcription Center, by Kristin Conlin, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Paper Painting: Using Acrylics to Repair Leather Bindings, by Breann Young, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Transcription Beyond Description: Engaging Opportunities and Weaving Webs of Knowledge, by Meghan Ferriter, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Time to dust off your velocipedes and bone-shakers! The League of American Bicyclists have declared May to be “National Bike Month” and have several events lined up to celebrate biking everywhere; Bike to Work Day (May 16), Bike to School Day (May 7), and Cyclofemme (May 11) .
I love picking a theme or keyword and browsing through the Smithsonian’s collections. It turns out ‘bicycle’ yields some exciting results:
- A letter carrier delivering mail by bicycle
- A spiffy bicycle logo
- A colorful drawing of a boy with his bicycle
- A bicycle toy from South Africa
- A cyclist greeting card
- A portrait of Audrey Hepburn on a bicycle
- A bicyclist matchsafe
- Sarah Hammer’s cycling shoes
- A Roper steam velocipede
- The Wright brothers bicycle shop stationary
- and a bicycling stamp
Here is a selection of our very own cycles from the history of the Smithsonian:
- The Development of the Bicycle, America on the Move, National Museum of American History
- The Wright Cycle Co. History
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