The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Relaunch
As mentioned in recent posts, the Smithsonian Institution Archives has redesigned our website. We have expanded the resources available on the web, increased the amount of electronic records on display, and created new resources to help visitors understand the history and mission of the Smithsonian.
We recently highlighted some of the new history resources and reference service resources available to you. Additionally, some of the most improved aspects of the new site are its navigation and searching capabilities. I’d like to show you how visitors can search a specific topic, person, or museum using the new features on the site. For this little exercise, I decided to search for the Smithsonian’s sixth Secretary: Alexander Wetmore. Not only is he an interesting person, but the Archives also house numerous materials relating to his career as both an administrator and ornithologist.
The first place to start your search (unless you know where you want to go on the website) is in the search toolbar at the top right of the home page. Type in the term you want to search, for example “Alexander Wetmore” and hit enter or click on the Search button.
The search will send you to a results page that contains two options.
The first tab, “Site,” shows results across the site containing your search term. These results include blog posts, webpages, and forum posts that mention your search term.
The second tab, “Collections,” displays results that focus the search on the Archives’ collections, and include finding aids and images. You can also choose to browse through the collections search by clicking on the link found under the search bar.
Another place to look for resources is through the Smithsonian History tab on the site’s home page.
Here you can find information about the Institution’s museums; research centers; important programs; and the people who have, and continue to serve, the Smithsonian. For example, information about Alexander Wetmore can be found under both the History page’s resources and exhibits navigations.
As Wetmore was a Secretary of the Institution, he has an entire page dedicated to his career in our “Secretaries of the Smithsonian” resource.
While under the exhibit pages, Wetmore’s ornithological work in Latin America is detailed in the online exhibit “150 Years of Smithsonian Research in Latin America.” From general to specific, the new website’s navigation offers multiple ways to access the Archives’ collections. So jump in and get your search on!
The Smithsonian Institution Archives has just launched our new website with a new look and navigation, as well as expanded pages on the history of the Smithsonian. If you’re interested in the history of the Smithsonian, what can you find? The History of the Smithsonian section has an array of resources and exhibits to answer your questions, from when individual Smithsonian museums were founded, to the laws that govern the Smithsonian, to images of the Smithsonian during the Civil War.
To explore the history of the Smithsonian on the new site, simply click on the “Smithsonian History” link at the top of the new homepage. From there you can investigate what happened on your birthday or a specific date in the past by visiting our “This Day in Smithsonian History” page. Here you can learn about interesting events that occurred at the Smithsonian on every day of the year, from 1846 to the present, from expeditions to exhibits, and from acquisition of objects to natural disasters.
Under our Resources tab, we have sections on General Smithsonian History, which includes an introduction to the legal documents—from public laws to deeds of gift, to court cases—that govern the Smithsonian. Get to know our enigmatic founding donor James Smithson, and read a blog post about what kind of student he was. Learn about the twelve Smithsonian Secretaries who served as our CEOs, as well as the Board of Regents who oversee the Smithsonian. You can also follow the development of our nineteen Museums, and our varied Research Centers.
For each of the museums and research centers, you can view a page with historical background information, images, a chronology of its history, an annotated bibliography, a search of all our archival records for the museum or center, as well as links to a variety of web resources. You can even check out the “Did You Know?” section on each page to learn some little known facts about that museum, and impress visitors from out of town with your insider knowledge. Soon we will add audio and video excerpts of oral history interviews that document the lives of the people who have made the Institution what it is.
We still have a variety of exhibits on Smithsonian history in an older format that will be migrated later this year. And we will be greatly expanding our pages for students and teachers in the Smithsonian Stories section, and our page on Joseph Henry, the first Smithsonian Secretary. Our Historic Pictures image gallery has already been expanded and transferred over so be sure to check out the wonderful images it has to share.
Additionally, the hundreds of historic images on all these pages will take you back to a time when the Smithsonian consisted of a single building set next to a swamp, cut off from downtown by a fetid canal. They illustrate interesting people and times during the Institution’s history: beer drinking young explorers who lived in the Smithsonian’s Castle towers and serenaded Secretary Henry’s daughters; the first animals that came to the National Zoo; watchmen who guarded the National Museum in its first years; to Smithsonian scientists raising a family on Barro Colorado Island in Panama in the 1960s. We’ve even begun geo-tagging these images so you can create your own Google map mash-ups. We’re especially interested in any additional identification you can provide us about these images.
It’s been a lot of work to expand and reorganize our web materials, but very exciting to see our history pages in a fresh new format that is easy to navigate. We hope you’ll take time to explore Smithsonian History on the web and check back periodically for the new content we’ll be adding. Just email us as SIHistory@si.edu with new information or questions on the history of the Smithsonian. We hope you enjoy traveling back in time with us!
In an earlier post, Tammy Peters, pointed out some of the big changes to the reference section of the Archives’ new website, mainly, how the new Collections Search feature is able to identify collections, and refine results, to pinpoint what will be most useful. Try this search feature before submitting a research request - you’ll be surprised at what you might find. But what if you don’t find what you are looking for using the Collections Search function?
One of the most interesting parts of my job as a reference archivist is helping researchers find what’s not in this Archives, but may be in another part of the Smithsonian museum complex (after all, the Institution is made up of 19 museums and galleries, the National Zoological Park, and nine research facilities) or beyond. These requests don’t go unanswered, in fact, this challenge was the motivation behind another reference feature on the new website.
From the homepage, click on Services, then on Reference. Once you’re at Reference Services there is an option for “How to Search.” Once there, you can see the results of a variety of frequent searches that have already been done for you - oral histories, personal papers, expeditions, and more. We also compiled a list of links to other Smithsonian archives and museum collections, and at the bottom of this page is long list of other research institutions and online reference resources outside the Archives.
So don’t be discouraged if you don’t find what you’re looking for right away, we’ve tried to give you options to help you continue and expand the reach of your search. Who knows where starting here may lead? And don’t forget, you can always ask for help through our Reference Inquiry form. We won’t leave you hanging.
The Archives’ revamped website offers several new and enhanced features intended to improve service to our researchers, and to make information more readily accessible to those searching our collections.
One of the big changes on the site is our new and robust Collections Search. Among its features are several browse options to find materials in our holdings. These browse tools are created to help researchers learn about our Archives, and also to focus searches on the history of the Smithsonian. Say, for example, you want see all the records and information we have cataloged documenting the history of the Smithsonian American Art Museum—you can search on Smithsonian Museums & Research Centers, and select the museum you’re interested in under “Filter Your Results.” This will return not only collections and selected digitized images, but also chronological historic entries on major events in the museum’s history.
From there you can further focus your search to just collection guides (box and folder inventories of collection contents) by selecting “Show only collection guides,” or just images by selecting “Show only digital media.” There are numerous ways you can continue to refine your searches from these browse lists. We invite you to explore these topics and give us your feedback for improving these options.
One feature that we’ve wanted for some time is a Reference Inquiry Form. This form allows researchers to enter and submit their questions to the Archives online. There is a drop-down list of topics on the form so that your inquiry can be directed to the appropriate staff, and a place to enter your detailed request. While you are searching, if you find a collection you want to explore on-site in our Reading Room, or if you need help finding something specific, click “Submit a reference request about this item” from any of our Collections Guides. The form will pop up with the collection number already populated for you. Requests submitted by this form will go directly to email accounts that are monitored on a daily basis. Our staff is, as always, committed to getting back you as soon as they can. Please note that we’re still answering emails through our normal reference account (email@example.com) and still answering your telephone calls. We hope the form, though, will be a quick and usefully way for you to contact us with any of your questions.
As you may have noticed, we have some new features on our website, which we’ll be highlighting over the next few weeks. Today, I want to focus on our new help forums. For years, the Archives has been answering your reference questions, as well as questions about your own archival collections care, by email, phone, letter, and fax (yes, even fax!), but we’ve never had a convenient place online for you to ask questions, or for us to post our answers. Now we finally do!
We’ve pre-populated the forums with a couple of commonly asked questions and answers about our photography collections and conducting research at the Archives, researching the Smithsonian's history, and taking care of your own collections. For example, need to know the best way to display an old map—we’re here for you. Or do you need to locate a bibliography about the Smithsonian’s history—yep, got that too. And if what you’re looking for isn’t on the forums, we’ve made it easy for you to post a new forum topic for one of our experts to answer.
We encourage you to look around the forums, and we look forward to hearing from you there!
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