The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Behind the Scenes
Sometimes you find something really intriguing when reviewing the electronic media in a collection of boxes at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. We frequently see CDs and DVDs. Sometimes we get 3.5” diskettes and occasionally a 5.25” floppy diskette. Recently, however, when reviewing a new accession (the David H. DeVorkin Papers, 1889-2011) the Archives’ Digital Services team came across an 8” floppy disk in a folder entitled, “Computer Use Committee: NASM Word Processing Project, 1980-1981”. For me, remembering that IBM introduced their first personal computer in 1981 triggered an interest in looking into this folder’s contents a little more.
At the Archives, unfortunately, we do not have the equipment to read an 8” floppy disk, so we do not know what it contains. But, the paper documents within the folder tell an interesting story. In 1981, an Ad Hoc Computer Use Committee within the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) wanted to evaluate future computing processing needs at the museum. As part of this evaluation, a questionnaire was created and distributed throughout the various departments within the museum to survey their present and projected computer needs.
The questionnaire asked the museum departments to prioritize their needs in the following areas:
- Mailing lists
- Interactive systems for scheduling tours
- Stats on audience surveys and questionnaires
- General word processing
- Formatting and production of camera-ready copy
- Exhibit scripts and labels
- Personalized letters
- Loan program reports
- Inventory and accession files
- Graphics, charts and statistical reports
- Budget reports
- Associates charts
- Quarterly publications
The survey results highlighted the importance of word processing capabilities. Areas requiring computer functions, i.e. programmability, were seen as lower priority. A few of the museum’s departments did identify the need for computers to provide “electronic mail”, collections cataloging, information retrieval by researchers and visitors, and inventories, but the bulk of the response was for word processing functions. Obviously, only a few back in 1981 thought that email and computers in general would become such an integral part of everyday life.
According to the documents in the folder, at the time of the survey, NASM had a centralized word processing system with a small number of trained operators. (In 1981, I remember word processing was done in secretarial pools with IBM Selectric typewriters and magnetic card readers.) The Status Report of the Ad Hoc Compute Use Committee concluded that the basic word processing needs of the museum were currently being met by the existing system and that there was no need to expand the word processing capacity within the museum. A memo by Mr. DeVorkin concluded that more training was needed regarding the capabilities of word processing and that more staff should be trained to use the existing system. As more departments created more need for word processing, additional equipment might be needed.
Advance 35 years to 2016: Everyone has a computer on his/her desk. Individuals now generate huge amounts of data, spreadsheets, photos, drawings, videos, audio files, presentations, and email. And this does not begin to include the effect of the internet, social networks and smart phones on the amount, type and volume of work being conducted. My, how times have changed!
As a little background information, I did a quick search online on the history of personal computers. The personal computer was introduced as early as 1975.
- 1975 – Altair 8800 and IMSAI 8080
- 1976 – Apple I and the 5.25” floppy drive
- 1977 – Apple II and TRS 801980 – VIC-20 and Apple III
- 1981 – Osborne 1, Epson HX-20 and IBM PC
- From 1981 on, the history has been fast and furious.
Along with the developments of the computer, external storage media technologies also developed quickly. 8” paper sided floppy disks were available in the late 1960s and the 5.25” paper sided floppy disks became available in the mid 1970’s.Throughout the 80s the 5.25” floppy slowly replaced the 8” disk, although the smaller disk was still seen as physically too large. During the 80s other disk formats were developed and by the mid to late 80s the 3.5” plastic-sided disk replaced the 5.25” floppy.
When the Compact Disc (CD) was introduced in the early 1980s, it was first intended for music as a substitute for vinyl long playing (LP) albums. In the 90s, the CD was adapted for use as data storage and slowly replaced the 3.5” floppy disk. Though some computer designs still included a 3.5” drive, by the early 2000’s computer manufacturers started eliminating the 3.5” drive. Today’s computers have CD/DVD drives and USB connections for external disk drives. There are external disk drives for 5.25” and 3.5” floppies.
At the Archives we use these external drives to copy data from floppy disks we receive in our collections. It boggles the mind to think of the rapid technology advancements over the last 35 years and what might be coming in the next 35.
The History of Email at the Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
5.25” floppies: All Is Not Lost, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Timeline of Computer History, Computer History Museum
At the end of the summer, my responsibilities expanded to include treatment of items designated for digitization as part of the Field Book Project. This brings a whole new slate of interesting and challenging treatments, including opportunities to treat damaged bindings of the journals scientists frequently brought with them into the field. As the Field Book Project has moved forward, the subject areas of the field notes have expanded accordingly. Recently we have begun drawing from the collections of the Department of Invertebrate Zoology, previously unexplored by our digitization team.
This field book from the collections of Paul Bartsch documents a voyage into the Philippines, investigating a specific group of marine invertebrates called nudibranchs. These beautiful creatures are brightly colored and come in a large variety of shapes, and these characteristics are thought to be camouflage mechanisms.
As you can see, the images are gorgeously rendered, and have aged well. The artist has been identified as Kumataro Ito, a Japanese illustrator whose skill is clearly evident. Miniscule inscriptions in Japanese appear on many of the images, and these feature unique information not always captured in the descriptions made by Bartsch.
The book is in poor shape at the moment, and to build excitement for the volume’s eventual entrance in the Transcription Center, I wanted to briefly share my plans for its treatment and share these images of the nudibranchs to whet the public’s appetite.
The treatment plan is simple: Many of the pages are damaged along the spinefolds, so these will all be mended; the book will be sewn back together in keeping with its original structure, and the missing spine of the book will be replaced so that it returns to being a functional volume. While the plan is straightforward, it will be time-consuming, given the level of damage.
We look forward to sharing more of this with you in the near future!
Smithsonian Institution Archives projects, Smithsonian Transcription Center
Where in the World Is That Field Book?, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Field Book Project: Uncovering Hidden Gems at the Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Offscreen, a spooky laugh is heard...
Welcome back horror fans! ‘Tis another Halloween edition here on the blog, and try as we might, we just can’t get rid of our
fiend friend, The Mold, now can we? Inasmuch as we try to avoid it, we also can’t quite help from falling in love with our fungal revenants. They’re so clever! And even beautiful, to some eyes.
Microbial growth has been haunting us since midsummer and it isn’t good manners to just keep calling our occasional visitor by a generic name when we could call it by its proper name, i.e. by its genus, or what we can identify further through the process of speciation. But must we be specific down to the species to know if it is a threat to our collections and our health? Not necessarily, but for our disaster preparedness, and safety programs, we have been investigating when and why we would wish to do so.
Meanwhile, back in the laboratory, we decided to run a tiny experiment under controlled conditions. Some time ago, we banished an object from the deep collections stores for fear it could contribute to a looming Blob-like takeover someday. But could this mad conservator prove that this lurker was in fact a viable threat? Armed with nothing but a sealed Petrie dish, a water mister, a sample from the object, the warmth of my computer’s drive, and time, I determined….
….that indeed, I could revive the dormant subject.
Please see portraits of our revivified sample, newly added to our Gallery of Horrors album on Flickr, (Mold XV-XX).
With the assistance of our brave and thorough Industrial Hygienist, Sophia Kapranos, we sent further samples off to our labs to get closer to a name for our Creature (or creatures). as seen in Laura Wahl’s post linked below. We shall be presenting further on the logistics, practicality, cost-effectiveness and wisdom of culturing and speciating mold strains for an upcoming seminar Control of Health and Safety Hazards in Museums and Collections Care next week. Please join us….if you dare…
(With apologies to Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley)
Conserving Archival Collections Suffering from Fungal Attack, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Mold . . ., The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Mold! Webinar, Connecting to Collections Online Community
While panoramic photographs provide us with a unique and often breathtaking view of a landscape, such as the photographs of the Canadian Rockies in the Charles D. Walcott Collection, they also provide a housing challenge for archives. While flat storage is typically preferred for oversized items, often times these panoramas are rolled to save space. But if they are rolled too tightly or folded, it can lead to long-term preservation concerns, as well as access issues for researchers. Check out our series of post entitled, “Panorama Panic! A Sticky Situation,” to learn more about the conservation treatment of a particularly unruly rolled panoramic photograph.
Over the past year, the Archives has hosted two interns who’ve focused primarily on the inventory, reorganization, and rehousing of oversized collections stored in our map case drawers. Some of the collections contain architectural drawings, reproductions, photographs, and – you guessed it – panoramas! We quickly realized that these panoramic photographs, drawings, and maps required something a little more robust than our usual 20-point folders. Some of the panoramas measured upwards of six feet long, and simply could not be handled safely without additional support. Our colleagues at the New York University (NYU) Libraries tackled this issue several years ago with their map cases, and we used their housing and drawer organization as inspiration for our own.
Based on the interior dimensions of our map case drawers, we determined that two standard sizes would be the best fit for our drawers – 20 inches x 56 inches (oriented front to back) and 16 inches x 85 inches (oriented side to side). Any panorama longer in length than 85 inches will be rolled for long-term storage.
Now that we have standard sizes based on the sizes of our drawers and collections, we are able to start constructing the housing. The base is made of archival E-flute corrugated board, cut to the desired standard size. Note: You can get archival corrugated board measuring 96 inches in length, which is necessary for our longer panoramas. It’s important to use one solid piece of board (rather than piecing two together) in order to maintain the integrity of the base support.
The next step is to create an inner enclosure for the panorama using uncoated polyester terephthalate film, also known as Mylar®. Two pieces of Mylar are cut to the size of the panorama, adding one inch to both sides. Sealing three sides using the ultrasonic welder, the top long edge is left open to slide the panorama into the enclosure.
Have you ever wondered what to do with all of those scraps of Mylar you inevitably end up with over the years? You’re in luck! This housing is a great opportunity to use up some of those scraps by creating photo corners to secure the panorama to the corrugated board base. All you need is a piece of Mylar that’s 1 inch by (at least) 2 inches. Fold over both sides to create a triangular “corner.” Archival double-sided tape is used to secure these to the base at all four corners, orienting the folded flaps towards the board.
Lastly, a protective cover mat is created cut to the dimension of the corrugated board base, adding 2 inches to the height. This two-inch section is folded over, creased using a bone folder, and secured to the back of the board using archival double-sided tape. Each cover is labeled in the lower right-hand corner with the collection and folder number.
Panoramas can be a challenge for both preservation and access. However, the supportive base allows them to be safely moved for researchers and the Mylar inner enclosure and corner restraints provide support to prevent future warping and curling in storage. This simple solution can take a collection from unwieldy and space-consuming to manageable and accessible.
An ‘Intern’duction to Storage of Oversized Archival Collections, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Panoramic Panic! A Sticky Situation, Part 1, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Quest for Walcott's Quarry, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
This past summer, I had the opportunity to work on an inventory and rehousing project for the oversized map cases at the archives. I inherited this project from a previous intern Caitria Sunderland, who had already rehoused and completed the inventory for drawers 13-77. I started my portion the inventory my first week on drawer 78 out of 252. I finished the inventory and then started working on the rehousing project.
While the name “map case” suggests that the collections in these drawers are homogenous, they are not at all. Each drawer held new surprises and challenges. Some drawers had a lot of material, others only had a few very thick items. Some contained only posters for art museums or plans for different museums, others had star charts and maps for the migrations of birds. This amount of variety helped me learn more about working with a wider range of oversized material. Once the inventory was finished, the next question was how to rearrange the collections to maximize the number of items that would fit in the drawers. The conclusion was made to arrange the collections by size, largest first. This fit our needs best because it would increase the number of smaller folders that could fit in a drawer. For example, while only one 36 x 48 inch folder would fit in a standard size drawer, two 24 x 36 inch folders would fit side by side, doubling the number of folders that could fit in a drawer. Rehousing also helps in this situation. Rehousing is most important because it makes sure that the folder is large enough to protect the object and small enough to fit more in a drawer and make the folder easily handled. This plan below was originally in a 24 x 36 inch folder, but a 16 x 20 inch folder was a better fit-- and meant that it was moved into a small drawing box, instead of being in a map case, saving more space.
For the rehousing portion of the project, I started with drawer 001. Drawers 001-012 are special, as they are larger than the normal oversize map cases at 57 x 87 inches. When I was working with the smaller drawers, each folder could contain up to 50 or 60 architectural plans. With the larger drawers, each folder only had one plan, meaning that I got more up-close and personal with each individual item, like the plans for the National Museum of Natural History.
The plans were consolidated so that there were 10 plans in each folder, instead of only one. This decreased the amount of space folder stock was taking up in the drawer, and once they were rehoused in larger folders the plans were not being damaged. These plans were originally housed in 36 x 48 inch folders, which were too small, and were then moved to 40 x 56 inch folders. These larger folders ensured that no part of the plan would stick out if the plans were properly oriented.
Once the plans were snug in their brand-new folders, they were put back into the drawers. This time they were place side by side with a custom divider in between. Drawers 001-012 were finished, and then I began the work on drawers 013-252, with multiple sizes of folders.
With the end of my internship approaching fast, I only was able to get to drawer 56 in the rehousing project before I had to go back to college. Between the amazing collections and the wonderful staff at the Archives, I had a rewarding summer working in the map cases!
An ‘Intern’duction to Storage of Oversized Archival Collections, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease: A Custom Storage Solution for an Unusual Collection, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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