The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Behind the Scenes
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
Back in 2010, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Archives launched the Field Books Project, a joint initiative focused on enriching access to the institution’s collection of field books, notes, images, and journals related to field research. Since then, field books have become a common theme on this blog, as well as popular projects on the Smithsonian Transcription Center. There was just one slight problem:they weren’t searchable on our website. In fact, not only were they not searchable, they weren’t actually anywhere on our website at all.
That recently changed as work was completed that made over 9,000 field book related records available on our website. Those 9,000 records contain collection descriptions, organizations information, collector information, expedition information, and finally the field books themselves. Each of these records contains detailed metadata, which helps our search functionality (and you!) find these field books, much like the large collection of images found on our website. As cool as searching for them by metadata is, the field books contain a lot of information that just won’t show up on a metadata search. To be able to truly search the field books, they really need to be fully text searchable.
Thanks to the contributions by the digital volunteers at the Transcription Center, we are now working on doing just that. As the field books are largely hand written notes, they need to be transcribed into machine-readable text before we can index their content. Once the volunteers at the Transcription Center complete transcribing a field book, we pull the resulting full text and encode it with the field book item on our site. The text is then crawled by our search appliance and indexed with the full text.
The result is that a search for “bipedally” will return James Peters’ Field notes from his 1949 Mexico trip, as the phrase “I saw a very large lizard which stayed too far ahead of me. To get a shot at it, that got up on its hind legs and ran, bipedally” appears in his entry for March 8, 1949.
The really cool thing about all of this is that you can help us with this project and be a part of making our field books searchable and findable. As I mentioned before, none of this would be possible without the work done by the digital volunteers over at the Transcription Center, and they’re always looking for more volunteers.
The Field Book Project: Uncovering Hidden Gems at the Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Growing to a Community of Volunpeers: Communication & Discovery, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The problem of dealing with mold on papers and books in collections has been an ongoing concern of mine for a number of years. I have responded to biological damage on library and manuscript materials--beginning with a mold damaged photograph that had weathered both Hurricane Katrina and irradiation treatment used for decontamination.
My goal of late has been to develop procedures for mold contaminated collections that keep staff safe, and to develop an isolated collections cleaning space. Hagley Museum and Library, where I am Library Conservator, became a Smithsonian Affiliate a few years ago. When I learned of the Smithsonian Affiliations Visiting Professionals program, I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to bolster my mold I.Q. I applied for the program and was thrilled to find a kindred spirit at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Conservator Nora Lockshin who is head of Collections Care agreed to be my mentor for two weeks in Washington D.C. this summer.
I was lucky to have Nora, as she was a welcoming well-connected host. She coordinated visits to several institutions in the D.C. region, including our colleagues at the Library of Congress, Maryland State Archives, and the National Archives and Records Administration. During our tours we learned first-hand from conservators who had responded to mold and water emergencies. Hearing of their experiences shone a light on the importance of having plans, and supplies and facilities readied for dealing with water damaged collections because response time is limited. To prevent the germination of mold, drying or freezing procedures should commence within 48 hours of discovering damage.
The Maryland State Archives (MdSA) shared with us their experience dealing with historic paper records that had experienced more than one flood. Besides the obvious mold growth, due to the source of the floodwaters, it was likely that bacterial contaminants were present. Because of the volume of these papers (record cartons numbering in the hundreds), they determined that gamma irradiation was their best option. In my own experience, a gamma irradiated photograph that I had treated years ago was browned and “toasted” along the edges, likely due to overheating during the dose. Others who have seen irradiated mail (from the anthrax scare and subsequent irradiation of U.S. Postal mail in the early 2000s) have documented melted plastics, browned papers, and deteriorated photographs. Those items had dosages that were not directed by conservators, however, and the irradiation of the MdSA’s historic papers seemed to have fared much better. Gamma irradiation is definitely effective for sterilization. The mold swab tests and cultures done by the conservators at MdSA as a monitoring procedure confirmed this. So far, none of the documents that they have attempted to culture contained any viable mold after treatment.
I also learned that alcohol is effective for killing mold. It must be used at the 70 percent concentration with deionized or distilled water. This mixture is able to penetrate the mold cell wall and move into the cell to cause permanent damage to the mold. The 70 percent alcohol mixture may be used for cleaning surfaces after moldy documents are cleaned, or it may be sprayed on objects to dry out active mold.
We met with Sophia Kapranos, our dedicated industrial hygienist within the Smithsonian’s Office of Health, Safety and Environmental Management. She helped sample mold residues on paper items, one with heavy black spots of mold. The method of sampling was the use of a “tape lift”, in reality a thin prepared microscope slide with a section covered by an adhesive layer that was gently placed in contact with an area of mold to pick up spores. The slide was sent for microscopic examination, and we are awaiting results.
While at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, I made some great connections that will be useful for future collaborations. On the whole, it was a great experience! Thank you to all at the Smithsonian who made this possible!
The Mold . . ., The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
I've got mold in my files, Collections Care Guidelines & Resources Forums, Smithsonian Institution Archives
In the fall of 2015, we officially moved over 3 million photographic negatives from the cold storage vault in the basement of the National Museum of American History to our new space at the Smithsonian Institution Support Center in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Thanks to that move, there are new possibilities for projects that will bring great discoveries for the Archives. The first project we started was scanning glass plate negatives from the United States National Museum, Division of Graphic Arts. The collection of glass plates range in date from 1860 to roughly 1920. Sadly, this collection came to SIA with little to no information, so each glass plate is a mystery to be solved.
The question becomes, how do we determine what each image is? The majority falls on institutional knowledge. It seems as though the longer someone has worked at the Smithsonian, the more images they’re able to recognize. One example I’ve discovered is when trying to determine if an image is from the Castle or the Arts and Industries Building. Images from within the building at first glance appear to be the same. However, I started to look at the light fixtures or the windows, and slowly I started to recognize the differences between the two. Knowing the history of the Smithsonian can do wonders when identifying unknown images!
Possessing a strong background in history can also help one identify unknown images. The Smithsonian has pictures of important landmarks, persons, objects, expeditions; the list goes on and on. Some of us are able to recognize people or places because we might be familiar with that subject matter. Each individual becomes invaluable for his or her own specialty.
When all else fails, we have the benefit of reaching out to our Smithsonian Institution colleagues. Curators who specialize in certain subject areas such as textiles, aircrafts or ship models can help. Sometimes, we even reach out to the public to help identify unknown images. Especially for images of buildings or geographic areas that are unknown to us, the general public may be able to help identify them.
With nearly 20,000 glass plates to scan from this collection, we have many more mysteries to solve. Ultimately, we hope to identify each image, but we have to have a realistic expectation and understand that we might not be able to accomplish that. In the end, we want to use all the resources we have available to make this wonderful collection more accessible. This project is a fantastic way to gain more knowledge of what was occurring at the Smithsonian over 150 years ago.
What Does a Photograph Archivist Do?, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Unlocking the Vault, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Walking on Broken Glass, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Let’s Play the Name Game: Identifying Women Scientists on the Flickr Commons, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
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