The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Conservation
Over the last several weeks, the Archives has welcomed Heather Weiss, an intern with Project SEARCH. Heather Weiss came to us from successful experiences at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Office of Fellowships and Internships, and the National Portrait Gallery, among others, and has been assisting the archivists and the conservators with a pair of different ongoing initiatives: a finding aid data entry project with the archivists and a rehousing project with the conservators. We wanted to highlight Heather's valuable contribution to our work at the Archives, and have invited her to share her thoughts about working with us.
Hi, my name is Heather Weiss. I am an intern at a program called Project SEARCH at the Smithsonian Institution. Project SEARCH, or PSSI, is a 10-month program designed for people with disabilities who are looking to find full-time jobs. As a part of the PSSI program, I have recently been gaining a positive experience in learning about the art of preservation. So far, I have discovered that preservation comes in many different forms, such as repairing an art sculpture, checking the lighting in an art gallery, dusting picture frames, and polishing the Plexiglas on artworks. But, my most recent positive experience to date is learning about preservation at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Archiving is important, because when you preserve art and documents, then that means that you’re preserving a part of history. And while I am learning about archiving, I have also learned about data entry and rehousing folders into new boxes. When you’re rehousing folders, that means that you’re transferring older historical documents from older boxes and folders, and then putting those documents into new and more stable boxes and folders that will last longer. Data entry is when you take the data from a paper source and then digitize that source by putting it on the computer. Eventually, people will be able to look at the information once it is available. My favorite part of this experience is getting to see the history that’s been stored from different decades within the folders. I find it very amazing.
Heather's data entry for the archivists was a testament to her detail-oriented nature. It was meticulous work, and Heather's efforts will lead to improved finding aids of our collections. She moved quickly through that project, leading the archival team to work speedily to keep her busy! Heather also accomplished the conservators' first rehousing assignment in record time, changing out all the nearly one hundred acidic boxes of one collection (Record Unit 158: United States National Museum, Curators' Annual Reports, 1881-1964). After completing both of these tasks, Heather moved on to the next portion of the finding aid project, as well as a more complex rehousing assignment (Record Unit 137: Office of the Under Secretary, Records, 1958-1973) that involved replacing both boxes and folders, necessitating careful copying of folder information from old to new, as well as removing bulky and harmful clips and staples, safely rehousing photographs in photo-safe enclosures, checking the condition of documents and flagging them for later attention as needed.
We have appreciated Heather's willingness to learn new skills, attention to detail, and inquisitive mind. It has been a pleasure to watch her take on more difficult tasks as her time with us has progressed, and to play a part in her personal growth. We wish her all the best following her graduation from Project SEARCH, and know that she will be successful at whatever she puts her mind to. Good luck, Heather!
- 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]
- That thing must weigh a ton! A vault door will great visitors to the new Numismatics Gallery at the National Museum of American History. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- Putting the pieces together - A curator's journey to find pieces of the history of the Art and Technology Program of 1967-1971 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The program was an initiative that paired artists with corporations in the areas of aerospace, entertainment, scientific research, and other industries. [via Unframed blog, LACMA]
- Ever evolving - Lessons in research instruction from the Biodiversity Heritage Library. [via Unbound blog, SL]
- Bibliophiles rejoice - More than 100 lectures from the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia are now available online. [via InfoDocket]
- Between a microfibre cloth, lambs' wool duster and HEPA filter vacuum cleaner, the dust removal winner is . . . [via The National Archives UK blog]
- 5 things you probably didn't know about the 'ukulele. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- The British Library announced this week their plan to digitize and make available online 500,000 "at risk" rare and unique sound recordings. [via InfoDocket]
- Start your Memorial Day Weekend with the following video from the National Archives and Records Administration which tells viewers of the importance of the holiday. [via Prologue: Pieces of History, NARA]
- For the first time - The National Air and Space Museum lowers the Bell X-1 to the floor for the first time since the museum opened in 1976. [via SI Newsdesk]
- From the National Postal Museum - The 10 most common and preventable problems that can damage collections, both in a museum and at home. [via Pushing the Envelope blog, NPM]
- In 2008, photographer Anita Cobin embarked on a 10-year project to take portraits of women in the United Kingdom who were the first to achieve something in their field to celebrate in 2018 the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage in the UK. [via PetaPixel]
- Everyone needs some guidance - Helping Congress archive their personal digital records. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LC]
- No available as Link Open Data - The Getty's Union List of Artist Names. [via The Getty Iris]
- May is Asian Pacific Heritage month and the Smithsonian will kick off the month with "Korea Day: A Family Festival" which will be hosted by the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, on Sunday, May 3, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. [via SI Newsdesk]
- The University of Virginia in partnership with the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, will embark on a project to publish Martha Washington's letters in fully edited and annotated volumes. [via InfoDocket]
- Opening today at the Whitney Museum of American Art is it's inaugural exhibition in its new home: "America is Hard to See." [via Cool Hunting]
Every year, the American Library Association (ALA) organizes events and initiatives designed to promote preservation-minded activities amongst the general public, known as Preservation Week. According to ALA's website as of 2005, nearly 5 billion items are stored in U.S. museums, archives, and libraries, and while many of them have staff to care for them and are provided for in disaster planning, all are susceptible to damage. In addition to simply advocating for preservation, ALA further "encourages libraries and other institutions to use Preservation Week to connect our communities through events, activities, and resources that highlight what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our personal and shared collections."
As a small contribution to Preservation Week, the conservation staff at the Smithsonian Institution Archives wants to share some of our recent forays into practical applications of preservation-mindedness.
Innovations for Safe Display of Collections
At the beginning of April 2015, Archive conservation staff attended a symposium presented by the Folger Shakespeare Library entitled "Don't Rock the Cradle: Books in Exhibitions - Mounts, Materials, and Economy." The importance of safely displaying any museum or archive collection cannot be overstated. When exhibitions are planned, much thought is put into the environmental controls, the duration of the display to account for possible light damage, and security. With books, it is exceptionally important that its structures be properly supported.
Born from a German master's student research, "Don't Rock the Cradle" was a sequel to a similar conference held in Berlin in 2013 that presented and evaluated strengths and weaknesses of various types of exhibition-appropriate book supports, focusing mainly on the cradle format. Leading conservators and exhibition experts from institutions in the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany, among others, were invited to present their methods of supporting and displaying books with the goal of sharing expertise and inspiring innovation, with an added emphasis on improvements that could be beneficial to the wider preservation community. A "marketplace" was also set up to demonstrate solutions presented during the conference, and proved a fruitful opportunity to exchange ideas. Postprints describing the contributions are forthcoming, including that of Archive's own Nora Lockshin, whose development of collapsible magnetic book cradles and magnetic strapping was of great interest to the attendees. Nora's work will also be uploaded to the American Institute for Conservation (AIC)’s Book and Paper Group Wiki during AIC's annual conference in May 2015 - look for it in the exhibition section and gallery.
Initiatives to Promote Safe Handling
With the innovations of others fresh in our minds from "Don't Rock the Cradle," we wanted to carry forward this momentum and take a look at collections care in action in our own space - specifically that of our reading room, where patrons come and use our materials. We plan to refresh demonstrations for staff and patrons in order to successfully promulgate the best conditions for our documents and build awareness among our researchers of the importance of safe handling. With the steady stream of researchers making use of our collections, it can be difficult to ensure that all who consult our materials do so with the highest standards of handling. In addition to providing basic reading room guidelines that patrons must agree to follow, we encourage staff to speak to patrons who can use a gentle reminder of best practices, and speak up when appropriate based on observation. Alongside refreshed in-person training and demonstrations, we plan to prepare visual reminders and tip sheets to reinforce best practice and act as a resource for visiting researchers. We are also considering creating video demonstrations of our handling practices, like this one from Harvard on handling special collections, or Duke University Libraries' video demo of a book futon.
With the right training and tools - like adequate book supports - researchers and staff contribute to our mission to preserve the records of the Smithsonian for the future. We hope this inspires you to take part in Preservation Week! Have a look at the links below for ideas, tips, and events near you.
- Preservation Week, Facebook
- Harvard Libraries' online resources on care and handling
- Preservation Resources, American Institute for Conservation
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