The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Digitization
At the Archives, much of the treatment we undertake is driven by need and request: in this instance, the Board of Regents requested that their historical meeting minutes be digitized for easy consultation, requiring that conservation staff survey and treat the collections in question to ensure they are stable for scanning.
The majority of the volumes were in stable condition with few interventive needs; however, volume 1, covering the meeting minutes from 1846 to 1856, required some structural reinforcement before it could be safely handled during digitization.
Volume 1 is an oversized book measuring 19.5” by 14”, and is 4” thick; it is bound in plum-colored leather, decorated in a style similar to one known as the Cambridge panel. The first volume begins with a transcribed version of James Smithson’s will and the Acts of Congress that created the Smithsonian Institution; after these items, the minutes of the Board of Regents meetings start, carefully written across penciled grid lines to ensure straight text.
Despite the overall fine condition of the volume, there were a few obstacles impeding its quick send-off to digitization. These were structural, based on the style and girth of the binding. As described above, the book is quite large and weighty, with heavy covers that stress the joint of the volume as the book is opened and closed. It also appears that when the book was made, the spine of the book was not fitted closely enough to the paper textblock; as a result, when the volume is opened, it wants to pull further than the textblock is able to move, causing the textblock to break at various points and leave loose pages. The book’s leather spine is heavily cracked, another result of the overlarge spine trying to open further than the textblock can. The stress of opening the book also caused the leather to break along the joints, particularly at the head of the front cover board where the joint is broken through completely. The headcap was heavily damaged as well, probably because it is a natural place to grip a book when removing it from the shelf; the leather was broken, exposing the heavy cord used to strengthen it, and revealing a large unsupported cavity that contributed to its damage.
Attention was devoted first to the textblock, with some light surface cleaning. Loose pages were reattached with V-shaped Japanese paper hinges: one side of the V was adhered with wheat starch paste to the textblock and allowed to dry before pasting out the other side and laying the loose page atop it. This ensured that the page edges aligned properly. Once all loose pages were in place, the dilemma described above needed solving—how to connect the separated pieces of the textblock but allow the binding to open fully, preventing the textblock from breaking anew.
The solution arrived at is a modification of the V-shaped hinges. A W-shaped piece of Japanese paper, carefully scored and folded in advance, was created. This gusseted joint leaves the central peak of the W left free to flex across the opening of the book, distributing the stress and preventing future breaks. Each leg of the W was adhered in place along the spine edges of the pages facing across the break and left to dry under weight.
With textblock repairs completed, focus moved to the broken leather exterior. A simple but effective method of treatment, known as the Etherington hinge, was employed: strips of pre-colored Japanese paper, chosen to match the leather, were placed under the leather of the covers and of the spine to span the joint and adhered in place with wheat starch paste. Once this was set, the original leather was re-adhered atop the paper hinge. Slightly damaged endcaps can be repaired in a similar fashion.
The heavily damaged headcap needed more attention. As mentioned above, a large space inside the leather left the headcap without adequate support and resulted in significant damage. To fill this gap, a new core was created by wrapping the same Japanese paper used to repair the joints around a short length of linen thread; this was inserted beneath the leather on top of the original cord. A second, narrower one was created in the same manner to fill in the space left between the two cylindrical pieces, before re-adhering the original leather.
Finally, abraded and deteriorating areas of the leather were consolidated to prevent further loss of material.
Now in a condition to be digitized, the book was given a new Mylar wrapper prior to being returned to collection storage. However, in the process, something intriguing came to light: leather removed from a different book, lined with linen, and bound in to the rear of this volume. There is evidence of water damage as well as a repair done to fill a section of missing leather. But where did it come from?
Based on research in the Mary Henry diaries and conversation with Pam Henson, Smithsonian Historian, it appears that after the Castle fire in 1865, few to no records were saved, including the original minutes of the Board of Regents. This volume is in fact a sort of facsimile prepared from the edited and published versions of the minutes, copied into a new volume to create a similar effect to the original book. The style of the decoration is very similar and was possibly an attempt at reproduction.
Regardless of the “originality” of this volume, the minutes it preserves make up a valuable piece of the Smithsonian’s history. With a digital version forthcoming, it will be of even greater use to the Regents as they shape the present and future of the Institution.
- Smokin' Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Instituion Archives
- The Burning of the Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Color image of Smithsonian Castle on Fire, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Record Unit 1 - Smithsonian Institution, Board of Regents, Minutes, 1846- , Smithsonian Institution Archives
One hundred sixty-eight years ago, on the first Monday in September, the Vice President of the United States George M. Dallas convened the first meeting of the Smithsonian Institution's Board of Regents. Congress entrusted the governance of an unprecedented public trust, "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge," as stipulated in James Smithson's bequest, to this group that also included the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the mayor of the city of Washington, three members of the U.S. Senate, three members of the House of Representatives, and six citizens. The Board of Regents has since worked to guide the growth and development of the Smithsonian into a largest complex of museums and cultural heritage and scientific research centers unlike any other in the world today. Their input and oversight has seen the Smithsonian expand from a single research institution, to the first United States National Museum, and eventually to the 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park, and nine research facilities centered in Washington, D.C. with locations around the world.
The Archives has launched a rapid capture digitization project to make the whole of Record Unit 1 - Smithsonian Institution, Board of Regents, Minutes, 1846- , available online by early 2016. Normally a labor-intensive four stage process - preparation, scanning, metadata generation, and online publication, the Archives' rapid capture digitization workflow consolidates several steps and enables us to cut the time from scanning to online publication by an estimated 80%.
When digitization of this collection is completed and the Minutes are accessible online, digital volunteers in the Smithsonian Transcription Center will be invited to transcribe these historic documents so that scholars of American science, museology, and other disciplines will be able to use advanced research techniques with these important primary source materials.
In the months to come, we will share details about different parts of this project and tell you about what happens behind the scenes to make this project a success. Our first in depth post will come from conservator William Bennett who is preserving and preparing the oldest material in this collection for rapid capture digitization.
- Board of Regents Records at the Smithsonian Institution Archives
- 10 years in the making. Pictures of Pluto are stunning. [via PetaPixel]
- The fate of the Library of Congress' plan to archive Twitter is unknown at this time. [via InfoDocket]
- Thinking about doing some vertical gardening? The Smithsonian Gardens has some tips for you! [vis Smithsonian Gardens blog]
- More 3D digitization at the Smithsonian! - It is the Greek Slave by Hiram Powers at the Smithsonian American Art Museum that gets scanned this time. [via Smithsonian Science News]
- Home grown - An online archive of Leica Photography Magazine is now available. [via PetaPixel]
- Exhibitions for everyone - Tactile models help visually impaired museum goers experience collection objects and exhibitions. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH]
- A conundrum - Why are giant freshwater fish so hard to find if they are so big? A glimpse into biologist Zeb Hogan's quest to save these colossal fish appears in the video below. [via Wired]
A little under a year ago, we rolled out a new search for our site which is powered by the Google Search Appliance. The goal of implementing this new search was to make our content and collections more accessible, to make discovery easier, and to generally improve the user experience.
Work towards that goal didn't end a year ago.
Over the summer of 2014, work by our staff began on making PDFs of the Smithsonian staff newsletter, The Torch, text-searchable. Because these PDFs can be read by our Google Search Appliance's bots, their content can be indexed. This means that our site search will return any Torch issue that matches your search string.
Let's say you're doing some research on Smokey the Bear. So you head over to our website, and search for "Smokey." You'll be presented with a familiar search results screen (one of which is actually a link to a Torch PDF). But let's say you didn't want to see finding aids or collection items, just the PDFs. Don't worry, you can do that too.
You may have noticed there's a new link at the top of the content type filters, labeled "PDFs." In the above example, the site would return only PDFs that match the search string "Smokey," such as an article about if Smokey should be retired and the original Smoke's obituary.
- You Asked, We Listened: Introducing the Archives New Site Search, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Smithsonian Institution Archives Moves to Drupal 7, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- My how far we've come - A new website allows you to see when your digital images would lool like rendered on an old Commodore 64 computer. [via PetaPixel]
- In their own words, oral histories at the Archives of American Art shed light on the artistist, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, in their exhibition, Artist Teacher Organizer: Yasuo Kunioshi in the Archives of American Art. [via Archives of American Art Blog]
- Watch out manuscripts, the next step: Handwritten Text Recognition! [via InfoDocket]
- This week the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum announced the winners of the 16th Annual Desgin Awards. [via Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum]
- Four basic steps - Archiving the Arthur C. Clarke Collection. [via AirSpace Blog, NASM]
- Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, spoke with Smithsonian Magazine about the Baltimore protests, the role of museums during times of upheaval, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s plans for the future. For more from Lonnie Bunch about the museum, please see the video below. [via Smithsonian Magazine]