The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Preserving Your Treasures
Throughout the years, we have written about our digitized and born-digital materials that include images, video, architectural drawings or CAD, and websites. We have not touched upon the preservation of word-processing documents very much, though. Most do not find them as exciting as an image of a Smithsonian event, a drawing of the plans for a museum, or an animal video from the National Zoological Park. So, they can get overlooked as something that needs digital preservation. However, consider all the typing we do on a computer either at work or at home. Some of those digital documents do have long-term value.
The advent of computer word processing caused a revolution in the business world. No longer did one have to use Liquid Paper or correction tape to fix mistakes made while using a typewriter (electric or manual).
Word-processing software that we think of today dates back to the 1970s. Prior to that, word processing was considered more of a business process to make work more efficient through procedures and machines.
The Archives has documents from across the Institution in various versions of Wordstar, XyWrite, WordPerfect, and Microsoft Word for both PC and Mac. These files include press releases, memos, and photo captions. Some of these files are 30 years-old and the software that originally created them no longer exists.
In some ways these files are easier to preserve or convert to another format because they are not as complex as an image file or a website. If you have an older file and cannot read it, here are three ways your document possibly can be accessed. Make sure to use a copy of the file before proceeding.
- Try using viewer software that can read older word-processing files. Some of these programs can even tell you the version of the software program, e.g. MS Word 8 vs MS Word 14. Keep in mind the font and display may be different from the original. Google search “file viewing software” for possible options.
- Try opening it as text file in a text editor. In some cases you also can figure out if the file is WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, or something else. See image examples. Older WordPerfect files have WPC at the beginning of the file. Microsoft Word files have Word and version information at the bottom of the file. Additional coding (like font and printer information) also might appear in the text file view. When dealing with decades-old documents, a file with .doc extension might just mean it is a document and not a MS Word file. Other “extensions” we have seen in the Archives are .let for letter and .mem for memo with files from the 1980s.
- Try opening it with current word-processing software even if it is a different program. Keep in mind that different software can render files in different ways.
If you are working on something very important, you should also consider saving the file in PDF or PDF/A (the A stands for archival). This is good step especially when you want to preserve the look and feel (layout, fonts, etc.) of the document and not rely on proprietary software. These are the best practices we follow at the Archives.
PDF/A files are harder to create, though, due to certain requirements such as no encryption, no audio or video content, and fonts that must be embedded within document. Some proprietary fonts are unable to be embedded. Another option is to migrate the document by saving it in a newer version of the software, if available.
Happy digital preservation in 2016!
A Peek into an Electronic Records Archivist’s Toolbox, The Bigger Picture Blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
On Thursday, October 22nd, four of our archivists/conservators were available on the Smithsonian's Facebook page to answer questions about preserving your own archival collections. The four archivists at the Q&A have specialties in the preservation and organization of audio/visual material, photos, and digital records (email, digital video, etc.) This is our fifth year hosting this event we received some really interesting questions this year. If you don't see the question you have, check out our past Q&A's, or reach out to us in our forums. We enjoy getting to hear from you through this fun event each year!
Q: To kick things off, please introduce yourself and tell us your favorite item in the Archive.
A: Hi Everyone, I'm Eden Orelove, contract photographer at the Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives (NAA). My academic and professional background is in photography, including the history of photography, and the preservation and access to collections. One of my favorite images from our archives is of a two-year old Choctaw boy sitting in a basket. Taken in 1909, it was produced by the Bureau of Ethnology, the foundation of NAA's collection.
A: Welcome everyone. I am Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig from the Smithsonian Institution Archives. I am the electronic records archivist who specializes in born-digital materials from across the Smithsonian. This includes images, video, audio, email, and text records. We have lots of cool things in our archives but one of my favorites is the draft of James Smithson's will. Smithson, who actually never came to the United States, was the founding donor of the Smithsonian. My colleague Nora Lockshin, who is here today as well, wrote an interesting blog post here: Smithson's Draft Will: A Case for Handwriting.
A: Hi folks! Michael Pahn, head archivist at the National Museum of the American Indian, here to answer any questions you have about caring for your archival collections. My background is in audiovisual materials, but here at NMAI we have an amazing collection of historic photographs, manuscripts, film, and more. I'm proud to report that we recently put our first fully digitized archival collection online. Check out the Thomas Henry Tibbles papers and learn all about the Standing Bear habeas corpus trial and the birth of the Native American civil rights movement.
A: Hi there, I'm Nora Lockshin, senior conservator for the Smithsonian Institution Archives. As for my favorite thing, this year, what's cooler than being cool? ICE COLD! We are SO excited to have a new cold storage facility coming online next month for the Smithsonian Institution Archives' photographic collections! It is gorgeous in there, due to the careful planning and hard work of my colleagues!
Q: We had an early question come in yesterday about what to do with microfilm that smells like vinegar.
A: Nora - Microfilm that smells like vinegar is suffering from deterioration or "vinegar syndrome". The degree of deterioration can be tested with test strips. There's a really good summary over at Image Permanence Institute, with links to their guide that explains what is going on, guidelines for testing, and solutions for managing film collections. If your microfilms are published access copies for general use, you might want to think about budgeting for replacement of these access films from their preservation master, if at all possible for your facility. If they are originals, you're going to want to think about solutions for slowing their deterioration in cool or cold storage, and imaging duplication (aka reformatting) to a new preservation master format.
Q: I have some voicemails I'd like to save - What's the best way to get them off my cell phone and preserve them? Since I upgrade laptops and phones every few years, where's the best place to store them?
A: Michael – This is an interesting question. It's going to take a little bit of technical know-how, but if you have a computer with an audio line-level input this may not be too difficult. You'll need a couple of things: first, a way of recording audio on your computer - there are many applications that do this, including open-source programs that are freely available. You'll also need a mini-to-mini cable - it should have small jacks like your headphones have, but at both ends. Plug the cable into the headphone jack on your phone and the audio input on your computer. Open your audio recording program, and make sure your voicemail audio is audible to the program. There are probably some settings that you will need to adjust, like the line input level. Once you can hear your phone's audio in the application, just record the audio as the voicemail plays back. At that point you should preserve it as you would any other digital audio file. Here's some guidance on that from the Library of Congress. Good luck!
A: Lynda - You should store them on a computer that you back up regularly onto something like an external drive. You will want to check a copy of them periodically to make sure you can still listen to them.
Q: So what can I do to preserve those VHS tapes of ballet recitals?
A: Lynda - You should get those VHS tapes digitized and store the digital copies in multiple places. See the Library of Congress for some additional information.
A: Michael - To ensure that your videotapes are playable, they need to be stored someplace with stable temperature and humidity. Fluctuations in climate can really speed up the deterioration of a/v materials like videotape. The tapes should be stored in cases, on end like books. Keep them on shelves, not on the floor (just because the floor is more likely to heat up and cool down than shelves are). Here's a link to a great, easy to read resource on videotape preservation from the National Film & Sound Archive of Australia.
Q: I recently came across some books I had when I was a kid stored in the basement of my parents house. The box must have gotten wet/damp at some point because it looks like there is some mold (black spots?) on the pages of some of the books. Is there a way to remove those? How should I store books and papers and the like so it doesn't happen again?
A: Nora - Hi there Becky! We have a few tips on our Collections Care Forum and our website on recovery of papers and books. Most importantly - you have to think about your health and anyone who may be using the books in the future, as mold can cause allergic reactions and worse. With children's books that might be easily replacable, do consider discard and purchase of like copies, or potentially at least have them evaluated by a book conservator to see if they can be treated. If they are unique for sentimental or antiquarian value, proceed to our Q&A Forum to learn more, and the links within to find more we've written both on our blog and in our Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery resource page. Through the Disaster page, you'll find links to more info about disaster response vendors and Preparedness precautions you can take in the future to prevent more damp books, starting with don't keep precious things in the basement, or near sources of water or heat. (But if you have to, at least keep them a few inches off the floor, boxed and on shelves!)vIt sounds like your books are dry now, but for wet or damp books, our friends at the Library of Congress just released a terrific video on how they deal with wet and moldy books. We'll be adding it to our Disaster page shortly.
Q: When my mother passed away, I inherited her wedding dress (married 1966) and the dress from my great-grandmother (married 1910). Neither had been stored correctly and so both are damaged from age: yellowed, falling apart in places. Is it possible to preserve them now so that they don't get worse? Or is it too late?
A: Nora - It's lovely that you have them and wish to care for them! Try these resources that have been specifically developed for textiles over on our Museum Conservation Institute's Taking Care page, specifically Tips on How to Handle Antique Textiles and Costumes among other articles (scroll down the menu on the right!). Elsewhere, the Minnesota Historical Society has a great tips sheet and a series of video tutorials on care of textiles. For another quick read, our colleague Sarah Scaturro (formerly of our Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum) at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was quoted in the New York Times. There's a very brief video there too, but I suggest also watching the longer series from Minnesota.
Q: I have a dozen historic negatives of Native Alaskans from 1900-05 by a little known photographer. I would like to restore them digitally. How can I find out if these images are already in NMAI's archives?
A: Michael - Only a small percentage of NMAI's photographic collections are available online at this time, but you can find them by searchinghttp://collections.si.edu. Enter a search term and limit your results by "catalog record source" to see just the photos from NMAI. Needless to say we have many, many thousands more photos in our collection that are not yet publicly available online. To learn more about these, and to find out if we have images like the ones you own, please email your inquiry to NMAIPhotos@si.edu. As for digital preservation and restoration of your negatives, here's a great Q&A from the New York Times written by a colleague from the Library of Congress. Good luck!
A: Eden - There are some useful links to more information about digitization and digital preservation at the bottom of this Smithsonian Institution Archives page. Also, remember that the National Anthropological Archives holds many negatives and photographs of Native Americans.
A: Lynda - If you do opt to get a digital version, which I recommend, be sure to have a multiple copies of it. You want it to be the highest resolution possible. We consider TIF to be the preservation format while a JPG can serve as an access copy to share.
Q: I have a collection of vintage radio controlled car manuals. Most of them are B&W printed on what is akin to either construction paper, and/or thin parchment paper. Most are staple bound while one or two are glued. Any suggestions? How should i handle display (preferred) and storage?
A: Nora - This sounds like a really fun collection, Schuyler! For display of books, we prefer not to display them open or closed for long periods of time, as covers and prints can fade or darken, but generally advise short periods of display, under conditions that protect them from ultraviolet and extremes of temperature and humidity that can distort bindings and thin parchment-like paper. Books left open can "remember" their opening page in the spine and start breaking down the structure. Ideally if you want to display a book, support it on soft pillows or angled supports, such as are seen here in this terrific blog post by our own William Bennett.
Further, our former colleague Kirsten wrote up a great tip on imaging historic books, including some info on copyright, for you to consider imaging and printing facsilmiles for framed display or even use, should you have any of the actual little cars. If the manual is staple bound on the side (as opposed to "through the fold", in the center spine of the paper sections, it is harder to open for imaging or display, and can lead to breakage and loss of pages. Same goes for books that are glued up "perfect binding" style, without any sewing. Books don't like to be pressed flat and open on a flatbed scanner or copier! Consider consulting with a book conservator (see this link to find a conservator) to see if the books can be safely disbound and rebound to allow for single or double leaf imaging on a flatbed if not with an overhead digital camera - but then you are really intervening with the historic structure of the book - an ethical decision for both you the owner, and the conservator.
Q: What is the best advice you can give to someone looking to get into the museum/archivist field?
A: Effie - Great question! We've written a blog post about becoming an archivist. Definitely see if you can volunteer or intern at a museum, archive, library, or historic society to give it a try.
A: Eden - I would also recommend talking to practicing archivists about their jobs and the archives they work at. It helps to know what the "day in the life" of an archivist consists of. Best of luck!
Q: I have a couple of old documents, the one I am concerned about is a first communion doc from about 1894 for my great grandmother. It is about 10x12 size. My grandmother kept it in a box but folded up. It is in bad shape especially where folds were and she used scotch tape to keep together. How can I remove this and what can I use in its place?
A: Nora - We don't suggest removing the tape on your own, as it could easily take inks, or more paper away with it. Here is a note we wrote up about tape specifically on a photograph, but also applies to your document. Also, sometime in October as part of #archivesmonth, or in April during #preservationweek especially, libraries, archives and historical societies sometimes host open clinics for people to consult with experts, or offer other lectures on preservation! We do suggest that you consider finding a conservator, and definitely take steps to house it in an proper, labeled enclosure so that it doesn't get lost and you don't handle the actual document as much, but instead handle the folder to look at it and protect it in storage. Here is a link on how to find a conservator to consult with you.
Q: How do you get still-sticky glue off of the feet of plastic Star Wars action figures without hurting the plastic? And, would you recommend paper or plastic containers for storing plastic objects?
A: Nora - What a timely question for all those Star Wars fans and collectors out there! I'm not exactly familiar with the substance used for action dolls. If these are new figures right out the packaging and the glue is anything like the weird clear sticky goo that bulk mailers are using to attach credit and coupon cards these days, I'm super curious about it too. I keep meaning to bring some in from home and analyze it, so stay tuned. That said, if it rolls off and sticks to itself with a little rubbing and rolling with your finger, without removing paint or texture, try that, or using a cotton swab to see if you can get it off in tiny motions. However, if the figurines are older vintage objects (say over 10+ years old), the plastic may be decomposing on its own, and the only answer is proper storage and a cooler environment. Plastics are a sticky issue indeed - more on the most recent collaborative international research in preservation of plastic artifacts can be found here. The glue and the coating/paint or plastic may be deteriorating via oxidation or hydrolysis. I'm sorry about that. Cold storage in a limited anoxic environment apparently worked for Han Solo.
And, the never-ending question, "will that be paper or plastic, ma'am?"! Its a great question, because different plastics degrade differently. Some might be more affected by humidity, some by oxygen, and some decompose in a way that if their offgassing or leaching components aren't allowed to diffuse, increase the rate of deterioration. If you can identify or characterize the plastic(s), you can get to the best solution for your items more easily. The brilliant Yvonne Shashoua breaks it down for you here, via the Getty Research Institute, a partner in the PoPArt project. And note, you don't always need fancy technical equipment to ID plastics - there are sometimes visible production marks and types of objects that trend to one type of plastic or another.
In celebration of Archives Month, join us Thursday, October 22nd
27th, 11am to 3pm ET, where archivists and a conservator specializing in documents, books, audio/visual material, photos, and digital records (or electronic records) will be on the Smithsonian's Facebook page to answer questions about your own archival collections. Questions from our readers in the past have ranged from storing letter and diaries, to digitizing cassette tapes, to organizing digital photo archives.
Here are the folks who will be on-hand to answer your questions:
Nora Lockshin is Senior Conservator at the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and conserves physical objects and consults on preservation goals with archivists, collection managers, and curators at the Archives and throughout the larger Smithsonian archival and museum community. She leads the Smithsonian Institution Archives Collections Care team, and the Smithsonian Center for Archives Conservation, a service, research, and teaching treatment laboratory for archival collections.
Eden Orelove is a Photograph Archivist at the Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives. She holds an MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh and an MA in art history, with a specialization in the history of photography, from the George Washington University. Her work includes processing and inventorying photos and assisting with reference.
Michael Pahn is Head Archivist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center located in the museum’s Cultural Resources Center. Michael began at NMAI in 2003 as its Media Archivist, and has overseen preservation projects funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation, Save America’s Treasures, and the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund. His prior experiences include Save Our Sounds Project Librarian at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and Librarian at The Nature Conservancy. Michael is a member of the Society of American Archivists’ Native American Archives Roundtable Steering Committee. He has a BA in Anthropology from the University of Pittsburgh and an MLS from the University of Maryland
Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, Electronic Records Archivist at the Smithsonian Institution Archives since 2005, specializes in preserving born-digital materials that include images, audio, video, websites, and email from across the Smithsonian. Her work involves using tools and creating methods that help digital objects remain accessible in the future.
On Monday, October 27th, four of our finest were available on the Smithsonian's Facebook page to answer questions about preserving your own archival collections. The four archivists at the Q&A have specialties in the preservation and organization of audio/visual material, photos, and digital records (email, digital video, etc.)
This is our fourth year hosting this event and the questions have evolved into increasingly digital landscapes. We also have an increased number of resources online to point you to which we embed in the answers below. If you don't see the question you have, feel free to reach out to us in our forums. We enjoy getting to hear from you through this fun event each year!
Q: Effie Kapsalis, Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) - To get things rolling, would any of the archivists like to chime in with their favorite preservation project?
A: Lynda Schmitz-Fuhrig, SIA - I find it rewarding to make digital materials accessible again. I really enjoy researching possible solutions when it seems digital files can no longer be used. I recently was asked by a colleague if I could retrieve audio off a CD that had been mishandled by the addition of masking tape on the media (any type of adhesive on optical media can damage the contents. Also avoid writing on CDs/DVDs). Previous attempts to copy the file were unsuccessful, but I was able to access the majority of it by using some special software. Just because something seems unreadable is not always the case.
A: Dave Walker, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Ralph Rinzler Archives - Some of the most exciting preservation projects we have worked on are the home recordings and impromptu performances captured of artists like Lee Hays and Pete Seeger. A recent tape we uncovered featured Weavers’ singer Lee Hays playing guitar and singing with a little boy he was babysitting. This candid snapshot of sound helps to paint a more complete picture of an artist and humanize him in ways the records he performed on might not.
A: Michael Pahn, Archive Center, National Museum of the American Indian - I love seeing people connect with the materials in our collections, and preservation is an important step in making those connections. If a document isn't stabilized enough to handle, we can't digitize it and put it online. If a motion picture film has shrunk and deteriorated, no one will be able to watch it. Preservation is key to providing access. The most rewarding part of my job is hearing from people, often tribal community members and tradition-bearers, who have deep interests in, and knowledge about, the materials in our collections. NMAI recently preserved a series of silent films from 1923, and were able to share the newly-restored footage with the community. It has been extremely rewarding to hear how exciting people are to see the films, and to learn so much more about them from the community.
Q: Do you have any best practices for storing digital file
A: Lynda - We preserve digital records (both digitized and born-digital). The practices we follow include the files being stored on servers that are backed up regularly. We also have our materials on two sets of LTO tapes. For someone dealing with their own personal digital archive, it is wise to have two copies of the files. Try to store one of the copies somewhere else as well. CDs/DVDs and USB thumb drives have their limitations but can work as a temporary measure. It is important to check the files regularly and migrate them to other media to avoid obsolescence. Hard drives can be a good option. Digital preservation is an ongoing task. There also are cloud-based services, but be sure to read the terms of service carefully. You need to know what they plan on doing with your files and their plan in case they go out of business.
Q: We have two fine art photographs that are showing signs of buckling in their frames. This occurred after relocated to humid southeastern climate from New Mexico. Paper does not seem to be straightening out - can anything be done to re-flatten these two images?
A: Effie - Thanks for your question! Here is a post with some great tips on flattening out archival materials. It is a fairly labor-intensive, elaborate process, so if you need help from an conservator, you can locate one here.
Q: What is the best way to capture and save AVCHD video footage? I've been using Adobe Prelude but am not sure the best codec to use for archival storage and later editing in Premiere Pro.
A: Lynda - Digital video is tricky and is there no consensus on what the best codecs for preservation are. Those creating digital video should go for the highest quality possible: uncompressed and lossless is desirable. Files that are too compressed are difficult to preserve. Audio tracks on the video should strive for a minimum of 48 kHz and a minimum of 720 by 486 pixels at 30 frames per second.
Q: What is the best way to store audio tape (temperature, containers. etc.) to maintain integrity of the tape itself? I have nine cassette tapes of my grandfather narrating his life story. I've transferred them to CD and mp3, but I don't know if the original exists, so I'm concerned about keeping the tape's integrity for as long as possible.
A: Michael - Audio cassettes have the benefit of being made of polyester, which is one of the most stable plastics around. The basics for making sure that your audio cassettes last are: keep them in cases, keep them out of direct sunlight, and keep them somewhere in your house where the temperature and humidity do not fluctuate much (so not in your attic or basement). Changes in temperature and humidity have a major impact on the long-term viability of magnetic media. For some additional information, take a look at the Library of Congress' collections care page for sound recordings.
A: Dave - Magnetic audio tape does best in cold dry environments, ideally between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit with a consistent relative humidity between 30% and 40%. You can extend the life of the tapes by keeping them away from strong magnetic sources (motors, electrical fixtures, loudspeakers, vacuum cleaners…etc.) and by storing them vertically, like books. Because the materials and dyes used to create consumer tape boxes are unknown unless tested, it is recommended that the original housing be replaced with enclosed inert plastic polypropylene cans. If stored well, open reel tapes can have an expected shelf life between 35-50 years and between five to 15 for audio cassettes.
Q: I am the head archivist for my college radio station at SUNY Fredonia and we have tons and tons on reels. We are in the process of getting our reel-to-reel machine fixed and I haven't worked with a reel-to-reel before, let alone digitizing old reels. I need to know a few things: what should I be most careful with when digitizing the reels and should I practice using a reel to reel on a separate machine? Also, is there any other advice or direction you can give me? Thank you very much!
A: Michael - First of all, be certain to have the reel-to-reel machine fixed and checked out by a qualified technician. It's the first step in your signal path, and it's going to be in direct contact with your original recordings, so it's very important that it be of a high quality and in tip-top shape. The other important detail is to get your output and input levels set well, which is going to take attention with each tape you digitize. Having the input level set too high, for instance, can result in digital distortion which, besides just sounding bad, is lost data. There are some great, and highly technical, resources online for audio preservation, such as this from Indiana University. Another great resource is the Sustainable Heritage Network, which targets tribal archives, libraries, and museums, but has very useful information for everyone.
A: Dave - Open reel tapes are fairly fragile so you’ll want to make sure to handle them with care prior to playback so as to not scratch or otherwise deform the plastic tape. As Michael suggested, it would be a good idea to have any machines serviced and calibrated by a knowledgeable technician so that you’re able to capture the most amount of information stored on the tape when it’s time to digitize. Before digitizing, you’ll want to put together a digitization plan that outlines what the goals of digitizing the reels are. Definitely check out the Sound Directions: Best Practices for Audio Preservation for a full walkthrough of what goes into audio digitization at Harvard and at IU-Bloomington. Another tip: if you find tapes that shed grey or black particles when handling, it may have the dreaded “sticky shed syndrome” which affects polyester backed tapes and should not be played back until a specialist can treat the tape! Hope that helps and feel free to reach out off-line for more specific guidance at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Where can I find a good manual to start to work with films archives? I work in a museum in Chile and it's very hard to get some material. Thanks for this opportunities.
A: Michael, A great place to start is the National Film Preservation Foundation's "Film Preservation Guide." Another great online guide is Film Forever, which is sponsored by the Association of Moving Image Archivists. It's focused on home movies, but you should check it out.
Q: Can you recommend me a text or book on how to assemble a catalog of a cinematic file, and if you know some place where I can find good examples of such catalagos.
A: Michael - There are many, many different ways to catalog moving image materials, and there isn't a single correct approach. The Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) put together a publication called the "AMIA Compendium of Moving Image Cataloging Practice." This document pulls together responses to a survey that AMIA sent out about moving image cataloging, and includes guidelines and catalog records from several different institutions, each of which does things differently than the others. The AMIA Compendium is available for purchase from the Society of American Archivists.
A: Dave - A good place to start might by the “The FIAF Cataloguing Rules For Film Archives “ which covers the recommended basics for arranging and describing archival moving image materials. A hosted version can be found here which also includes some examples that you might find useful.
Q: I already have an MLS from a few years ago but with a focus in public service. How can I now shape a career path to become an archivist?
A: Marguerite Roby, Smithsonian Institution Archives - Hi, check out this great blog post regarding archival career advice. It includes links to several other resources as well.
Q: I've got approximately 150 very old vinyl records taken from my great-grandmother's house post-Katrina that were completely submerged in mud for at least three days following the storm. I've been cautious in my attempts to restore them, fearing the dried mud and dirt particles would scratch and damage the modulated grooves inscribed on the vinyl. Any advice from you guys on the proper way to restore and hopefully salvage an awesome record collection is greatly appreciated!
A: Dave – The records may be recoverable, and we’re glad you've been cautious. Given the dates your great-grandmother's collection may cover, our worry is that some of them may not be vinyl but made of other materials that are more vulnerable to solvents including distilled water! It is first important to identify what you have and sort them based on type before attempting any recovery. Do take a look at the following links, including one written for #presweek and more that get into the nitty-gritty, literally. This article “Preservation Week: Caring for Your LP Records” is a great short overview. The Library of Congress has an excellent tips sheet on caring for audio recordings, scroll down for cleaning recommendations. Do note that is meant for general cleaning, when the type of record is known. Dried mud can be very tenacious, so it may take several sessions to clean a record, starting with a soft brush to loosen the bulk of dirt before wetting. (The brush can also help you remove dirt from the covers.) Do also note that solvents may affect the labels and their adhesives, so take care to work a small section at a time. For disaster recovery in general, do take a look at guides on our disaster page.
Q: I've been making field recordings of musicians performing live in Rhode Island for the past few years and have accumulated days of material; my dream has been to establish some sort of online archive for these recordings & everyone I've talked to has been enthusiastic about the idea but I've been struggling with questions of how to actualize it, i.e. as more than just a dumping ground for files. Would love recommendations of existing online collections (I of course am already familiar with the Lomax archives!) that present material in dynamic ways that highlight interrelation, especially incorporating hypertext, as well as any other suggestions for making such an audio archive as interactive as possible.
A: Lynda - A few links you might find interesting from the National Museum of American History and the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.
Q: I'd like to know what digital tools you use to help tease out the text on difficult to read documents - such as faded documents, or documents where the writing from the backside is interfering, etc.
A: Effie - We have a great summary of some steps you can take to enhance legibility of documents.
Q: I work in college archive that is working to preserve student blogs. How would you recommend going about this especially if the blog is still active?
A: Lynda - If the blog is still active you could capture it at regular intervals. There are both open-source and commercial services that provide web crawling. The WARC format is an established archival container format for web crawls. The International Internet Preservation Consortium has some great information as well. And you can read about our web and social media archiving efforts here.
Q: Hi - we need to transfer DAT audio to hard drive - any advice on this?
A: Dave - The best way to transfer a DAT to a hard drive is by going digital-to-digital. On most DAT machines, the AES/EBU output provides a stereo digital output which can be captured 1:1 in a digital audio workstation. You will need an interface attached to the computer with AES/EBU inputs and will need to clean the DAT machine prior to playback to avoid any errors and dropouts.
A: Lynda - You can also read about our DAT project here.
Q: What sort of degree/education should I pursue to specialize in Audio Digitization? From what I've read, this field is still fairly new and there exactly a direct pathway.
A: Dave - Digitizing archival audio is an activity which stems from traditional archival practice but one that requires strong technical backgrounds in audio engineering, material science, and digital preservation. For someone interested in working specifically with analog audio media, a Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering or Audio Engineering would provide a solid foundation for understanding the principles of recorded sound and would prepare someone for a career in troubleshooting equipment, dealing with problematic media, and obtaining the highest quality transfers. Since the field is still so new, there is no direct pathway for a career in audio digitization but having ample experience recording onto magnetic tape and operating studio equipment is an absolute must. For those interested in archival work, there are a number of universities which offer Masters of Library Science degrees within which someone could specialize in any number of special formats such as moving image film, obsolete photography, digital records, and audio media.
Q: I have an old color photograph from 1956 that had been partially exposed to light while in a frame so that now half the image is mostly white while the rest is very washed out. What is the process to restore old photographs, can old photos actually be restored to close to their original state, and do photography shops do this or do I need to find a SPECIALIST who does this?
A: Marguerite - Unfortunately there is no chemical process that can restore faded colors from a photograph. Your best option would be to scan the image and digitally restore color in a program such as Photoshop. I don't know that you would need a specialist to accomplish this, but you would have to pick up some technical expertise. If that is not a viable option, you can search for photo restoration services online where you can submit your digital file for color servicing
Q: Hello - I had a question regarding CD storage. How does the SIA deal with a large volume of CDs? Do they stay in the original jewel cases are they moved to something slimmer/another method of storage? My collection is getting a bit too large for the space I have and am looking for ways to condense the storage space without jeopardizing the CDs (many are out-of-print classical CDs).
A: Lynda - Be sure to store your CDs standing up as opposed to flat. Tyvek enclosures can be used to save some space and are archival. If we receive a CD missing a container or has a problematic enclosure (cracked, dirty, etc), a Tyvek envelope is used.
Q: I would like to know your opinion regarding cloud-based storage. Is it reliable? Is it a good alternative to a hard drive?
A: Lynda - Cloud-based storage can be a good alternative depending on your needs. You do need to read the Terms of Service from the provider very carefully. You want to note what they will do with the files (can they post your pictures on their website without permission) and what is their plan in case they shut down. Do you feel comfortable letting someone hold your materials? What type of access do they provide (24/7)? Can you easily retrieve/remove your files?
Q: How would I preserve paper/cards from the 1930's through the 1960's? I also have some war ration stamps from WWII, how would I preserve those?
A: Lynda - It is usually best to keep papers organized in archival paper folders and boxes. According to the British Postal Museum and Archive, if it is coated on the back with adhesive known as gum, humidity can cause stickiness and dryness can cause brittleness. Each sheet of stamps should have its own folder.
Q: Also, is there a different way to preserve newspaper?
A: Effie - We happen to have a forum post on preserving newspapers from our conservator on this! Check it out!
Q: I work in an archive with no collection management policy and we have a massive backlog as well as a constant uncontrolled influx of new materials. How do you manage a massive collection? How to you process backlog while capturing new items when they come in?
A: Lynda - A collection management policy is important and a first step. A solid inventory of the backlog and documenting what new materials are coming in would help. Depending on the types of materials, minimal processing might work until a plan is in place.
A: Dave - When dealing with audiovisual material, we find it helpful to reduce backlogs by documenting the peripheral information written on the media housing as the collection gets processed. Without playing back each disc or tape, it is difficult to know exactly what is on the media so any handwritten information (track list, artist info, location, date, tape speed…etc.) can be useful for researchers as they make their way through the collection. This cursory documentation can help to prioritize items for digitization as well. Hope that helps!
A common inquiry I receive from Smithsonian staff is whether it is better to keep their files in electronic or paper format. The best answer to this question is "it depends." There are several factors to consider.
1) How long do the files need to be kept?
Paper files, especially when accumulated over a long period of time, require a lot of physical storage space, but if the space is cool and dry, little needs to be done to preserve and maintain them in the long-term. Electronic files generally require little space, but must be regularly reviewed to determine if they need to be migrated to new media or converted to a new file format to ensure they can be accessed in the future.
2) Does one format have more value than the other?
A common example of one format having more value is documents containing signatures. Signatures are often proof of an agreement or testimony. Traditionally, they have been handwritten on paper documents. These paper documents with original signatures are generally necessary for ensuring the authenticity of a signature and are therefore more valuable than a scanned version of the document. The technology surrounding digital signatures, however, allows for the electronic file to ensure authenticity and a printed copy is not as valuable.
3) Is one format easier to use?
In the 21st century, most documents are created electronically and some just don't translate well into a printed format. All sorts of reports and even the data tables can be printed from a database, but printouts just can't be used as efficiently and the database itself can. Another example is a website. A printout does not allow a user to click on links or even give any indication of where the link goes. Not to mention the audio and video elements of a website do not translate at all in a printout.
The opposite can also be true. It is not uncommon for many different electronic files to be printed and compiled into a single printed document, such as a publication. A user could identify all of the electronic files and then attempt to read them in the appropriate order, but it would be easier just to look at the paper version.
4) In what format are the majority of the records already?
There can be value in having all related records in the same format (paper or electronic), but scanning or printing on a large-scale is time-consuming and potentially expensive. It is often best to choose the format that will require the least amount of printing or scanning. A cost-benefit analysis should always be done prior to converting files to a new format. Leaving existing files as is and documenting which files are paper and which are electronic may be a reasonable alternative.
In some cases, there may be significant benefit to maintaining files in both formats. One should be designated as the official copy – the format that will be maintained and preserved – and the other as a reference copy. An electronic version of a document may be suitable to maintain locally for quick reference or electronic searching while a paper version designated as the official copy could be stored off-site and retrieved if needed. Electronic files designated as official copies may be printed to create a paper file that can be easily browsed.
The decision to maintain files in paper or electronically is not an easy one, but by thinking it through and asking the right questions, a solution can often be found that will meet everyone's needs.
- Managing Active Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- What Does an Electronic Records Archivist Do?, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Describing Digital Preservation: As Easy as a Walk in the Park, The Signal: Digital Preservation, Library of Congress
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