The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Archives Month
When Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives archivist, Rachael Woody, was interviewed earlier this week about today's Archives Fair, she mentioned that dental floss can come in handy when it comes to removing photos from magnetic, or more aptly named, "sticky" albums. I for one know that all of my family photos are in "sticky" albums, and from the number of tweets that were sent around following Rachael's interview, a lot of you find yourself in a similar predicament. Thanks to the Smithsonian Archives' Conservation Fellow, Anna, we were able to shoot a quick "how-to" video on removing photos from "sticky" albums. It's a little rough, but we wanted to get the information out to you sooner than later. In the next two weeks, we will post a follow-up video with tips on storing photos once they're they're free of those sticky pages. We hope you enjoy the first of what we hope to be many videos with tips on preserving your home collections.
We’ve said it a few times, but we’ll say it again: please join us tomorrow, Friday, October 22nd at the S. Dillon Ripley Center’s concourse for the first-ever Smithsonian Archives Fair! Tomorrow, from 10 am to 5 pm Smithsonian archivists, librarians, museum specialists, and conservators will highlight the vast collections of archival and historical records at the Smithsonian. In addition to informational displays from over a dozen Smithsonian archives, there will be a lecture series (see the schedule and speakers here) and an “Ask the Smithsonian” event featuring hands-on consultations and preservation tips from Smithsonian experts who will teach fair attendees how to care for items they have tucked away in attics, closets, and basements of their homes. Our director, Anne Van Camp, spoke with Fox 5 Local News earlier this week about the Fair:
For those of you unable to attend the Fair in person, there will be a live webcast on the Archives Month website. Here are details and directions—we hope to see you tomorrow!
Friday, Oct 22, 2010, 10:00am-5pm
S. Dillon Ripley Center, on the National Mall 1100 Jefferson Drive, SW
Enter the copper domed kiosk on Jefferson Drive between theSmithsonian Castle and the Freer Gallery of Art, proceed downstairs to concourse level
Metro station: Smithsonian (Mall exit)
Admission: Free and open to the public
You may have noticed a few changes on the blog lately (and then again, maybe you haven't). Either way, we wanted to update you on some new additions to THE BIGGER PICTURE.
The big change that we've made is to our blog categories—some of our old categories remain, but we’ve also added new ones. We revamped them in hopes that they now better reflect the types of material that we write about here at the Smithsonian Institution Archives:
- Behind the Scenes: A series giving a behind-the-scenes look at the work involved in managing the visual and textual materials of the Smithsonian’s archives.
- Collections in Focus: An in-depth look at the Smithsonian’s archives from researchers, archivists, curators and other Smithsonian staff.
- Smithsonian History: Smithsonian History showcases the people, places, treasures, and events that make up the Smithsonian, as it is reflected in its own archives.
- What Gets Saved: An examination of the various practices, challenges, and issues that shape archives, history, and memory.
Over the next few weeks we’ll also be giving a face-lift to our blog topics in the tag cloud in the right side bar so that blog posts will be more easily browseable.
So, that’s the update. If you have any comments you’d like to share with us about the new categories or if you have any general suggestions for the blog, feel free to email us.
As you may know, the Smithsonian is celebrating Archives Month this October. This year, the Society of American Archivists is observing the month with the theme "I Found It in the Archives," which is meant to promote the treasures and gems that researchers find in archival collections, such as genealogical information about their families or materials related to their special topic of interest. I myself had such a moment one day when I came across pictures of my in-laws in the Smithsonian’s collections that predate my knowing them.
There have been many other such moments at the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA); however, we have decided to give this theme a little twist. We wanted to show some of the items that come to us in collections that are not supposed to be there. SIA holds the materials that document the history and functioning of the Smithsonian Institution’s nineteen museums, various research centers, and the National Zoo as well as the people who work here. We collect paper documents, photographs, films, audio and video recordings, architectural drawings, electronic records, and other related items. We receive records from offices and museums around the Smithsonian, including museum curators, human resources and financial specialists, zookeepers and veterinarians, and scientists. Boxes are often packed in a hurry especially when staff is under pressure to clear out their space during renovations or the arrival of new staff. As a result, we find items that just don't belong. Below is a list of some of the things we have found over the past few years.
- office supplies: pens, pencils, scissors, tape dispenser, whiteout
- blank notepads, notebooks, and ledgers
- blank cds, videotapes, and audiotapes
- printer paper tray
- disposable lighter
- gum wrappers, tic tacs
- building materials: nails, screws, bolts, insulation, flooring samples
- wood, mineral, and rock samples
- foreign currency
- medicine bottles
- specimens: animal fur, tissue samples, other unknown biological substances (from the zoo and natural history collections)
- container of #12 shot
- bugs, bird droppings, shedded snake skin (as a result of where the materials were stored)
Some of these items are returned to the transfer office, some end up in the museum collections, some are deaccessioned (i.e. removed from the Smithsonian’s collections), and some we can simply toss (e.g. gum wrappers).
As archivists, we are constantly making the hard decisions about what is worth keeping and what is not based on SIA’s mission and collecting parameters. But some decisions, as with the items above, are relatively easy.
Sometimes a single picture or new piece of information can open a window to a whole new perspective. In my case, it was a couple of sentences—spoken at a recent presentation at the Best Practices Exchange 2010 conference in Phoenix, Arizona—that turned out to be revelatory.
The conference was a gathering of archivists, librarians, record managers, and digital curators whose passion is preserving digital history and dealing with the issues that goal raises, from preservation techniques to organizational policies. The community has been hard at work tackling the myriad challenges that digital records present and is coming up with a host of effective and innovative approaches. With thousands of different file formats to deal with and the skyrocketing growth rates for digital collections, the need for innovation is not news among my fellow colleagues. But what stood out to me, what really stood out, was one speaker’s comment to the effect that: “The only way archives are going to keep up with the expanding technical demands of digital preservation and sheer volume of historical digital records will be to pool their resources with other archives by sharing techniques, tools, expertise, even systems and infrastructures. No single organization is going to be able to do it all by themselves.”
The way to make real and significant headway against the deluge of data will, fundamentally, depend upon collaborations between like-minded organizations. While that’s easy to say, it is extremely hard to put into practice.
And yet, despite all the difficulties involved, the archival community has already begun to do just that. At the forefront are those who are generously sharing their lessons learned, techniques, and the tools and systems they create, often as open source software. Still, it’s hard not to wonder: will we find the wherewithal in ourselves to forge the kind of cooperation and collaboration that’s needed to keep our digital historical record intact? Can we shake off our apprehension about trusting our institutional collections to IT environments that we have to share with others? The concept itself is not new. The emergence of community-based “time banks” to barter labor and services enabled some people, for example, to bridge financial gaps triggered by the financial crisis in 2008. Years earlier, Hillary Clinton referred to an old African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” when she sought to motivate people to work together to improve the plight of children in the U.S. through federal programming. There was little debate about the wisdom of the old adage even though there was hot debate about how Clinton wanted to use the federal government to make those improvements.
What encouraged me, at the conference, was to hear leading archivists, records managers, and digital preservation specialists speaking so candidly about truly promising strategy that could address the shortcomings of many current approaches. We’ve all got to acknowledge that we’re going to have work together, forge new alliances, and work together to build the array of tools needed if we’re going to hang on to and save our digital history. It can be done. But, we’re going to have to collaborate in ways we’re just beginning to understand if we plan to get the job done.