The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Web/Tech
In just over a year, the Smithsonian Transcription Center has grown in size, scope, and participation. Every day, members of the volunteer community visit the Transcription Center to split projects into tasks and share their discoveries with us.
We have 956 active contributors on the site and we’ve completed over 13,412 pages, from 18,494 available pages. Over 450 volunteers have worked on the 46 different Archives projects; there are over 75 other projects in the Transcription Center. Volunteers made connections between Smithsonian collections, to other cultural heritage institutions, and opened doors to discovery while transcribing. Through daily work and targeted campaigns, our volunteers have moved from individuals to a community of “volunpeers” – taking pride in the ways they’re learning with us in this pan-Smithsonian project.
As we opened to the public last summer, we knew volunpeers would have to “work together,” yet we didn’t know what that would look like. What we've discovered are the ways that they use the features of the site and other tools to interact - indirectly and directly.
So, how do volunteers get integrated into the community? Typically by transcribing! From the homepage, there are 3 ways to jump into projects: from the main carousel "Featured Projects," from the dropdown "Projects menu," and in the "Latest Updates" section. Some volunpeers tell us that they check the "Latest Updates" section to see what others are working on - then they'll join a project that looks like it needs help (or looks interesting). Volunpeers also explain how they return to projects using the browse by Museums & Archives feature to check on their progress.
Many volunteers use the Notes feature we implemented on all projects in the Transcription Center this spring. This box under the transcription field allows them to communicate with the Smithsonian staff sharing the project and also share or discuss information with other volunpeers. For example, in the recently posted Lepidoptera notes project:
Here’s some insight into collaboration on a project: There are 34 completed Archives projects in the Transcription Center, with an average size of 83 pages and 25 contributing volunpeers each. When you enter a project page, you can see the status of each page and, by hovering over the thumbnails, how many people have worked on each page.
Let’s look at a completed project: Botanist Ellsworth Paine Killip’s field notes from Colombia (1944). This Archives (and Field Book Project) project is 59 pages and was completely transcribed and reviewed by 12 volunpeers. We can see collaboration on a microscale by looking at the number of members and contributions it took to finish a page. For Killip’s field notes, that was an average of 4 volunpeers and 12 contributions per page. That suggests that peer review is a process that can inform reliable results in the Transcription Center.
The excitement of releasing a new project continues as volunpeers start reporting discoveries via tweets, Facebook wall posts, and feedback e-mails. Using Twitter and Facebook, volunpeers will ask other #volunpeers for help and share what they’ve discovered. They also invite other interested parties to join the transcribing adventure.
We find that allowing people to communicate using tools they already use facilitates better collaboration. We are able to respond to questions and discoveries via social media; or highlight complicated pages, or share praise for completed projects, allowing us to communicate more widely with our community. If you transcribe with us, we'd love to know whether you find this helpful and how we can do it better (get in touch!).
The adventure continues! As new projects are added almost every week, you can join other volunpeers while you choose-your-own-adventure. Tell us more about your experiences with transcribing – follow and tweet @SmithsonianArch and @TranscribeSI on Twitter or drop us a note.
- In partnership between Gale, part of Cengage Learning, and the Smithsonian, there are two new products available based on Smithsonian collections: Trade Literature & the Merchandizing of Industry and World’s Fairs and Expositions: Visions of Tomorrow. Watch the video above to hear SIL Director, Nancy E. Gwinn, and Head of Special Collections, Lilla Vekerdy, discuss the collections, their relevance in research and the significance of digitizing them. [via Unbound blog, SIL]
- “Behind the Badge,” an interactive exhibition, recently opened at the National Postal Museum. It showcases the work of one of the nation’s oldest federal law-enforcement agencies. [via Pushing the Envelope blog, NPM]
- A look at the Smithsonian Transcription Center from the perspective of one of its volunteers. [via The Past Burns Bright]
- New from AVPreserve is The Cost of Inaction Calculator, a free online tool that helps organizations analyze the implications of varying levels of preservation actions when dealing legacy audiovisual collections. [via AVPreserve blog]
- President Obama proclaimed June 2014 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month and the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History holds over 68 cubic feet of LGBT-related collections including the DC Cowboys Dance Company Records, an all-male, gay, non-profit dance company based in Washington, D.C. that was active from 1994-2012. [via Smithsonian Collections Blog]
- Recommended reading: The Allure of the Archives, by Arlette Farge; translated by Thomas Scott-Railton; talks about the joys and experience of doing research in an archives. [via AOTUS blog, NARA]
- In the 19th-century, color dictionaries provided a common language for scientists to describe different hues found in nature. One such dictionary was Color Standards and Color Nomenclature, but the Smithsonian's first curator of birds, Robert Ridgway. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- A boon to anyone standing in line at a grocery store or managing books or archival boxes, last week saw the 40th anniversary of the barcode. [via Core77]
- On Monday, Asian elephants Swarna, Maharani and Kumala finished their 30-day quarantine and made their public debut at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. [via Smithsonian Science]
- Guess who's on Pintrest? - The Library of Congress that's who! [via InfoDocket]
- The Field Book Project sheds some light on what one does with a field book. [via Field Book Project blog, NMNH and SIA]
- Check out the awesome video series by Cooper-Hewitt, Design Dictionary, which illustrates the various design techniques employed in the museum's collections via video. [via Cooper-Hewitt Labs]
- The story continues, Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, voluntarily testifies at a congressional hearing regarding the loss of email at the IRS. [via The New York Times]
- Answers to a question you may not have thought of . . . what happens to my social media profiles after I die? [via Mashable]
- This week the Library of Congress released its recommended formats for the long-term preservation of six types of creative works. [via InfoDocket]
- Last week saw the passing of Stephanie Kwolek, a scientist at DuPont who invented Kevlar. [via Core77]
In the summer of 2013, my family and I took a vacation that was decades in the making. I actually consider it a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. More than 20 years ago my father and I talked about going on a Route 66 road trip, but it did not happen as life got busier with careers, moves, children, and other daily routines. We decided that it was finally time to do it – even if it meant only part of the 2,400-plus-mile road would be traveled due to time, expenses, and other constraints. The Mother Road goes from Chicago to Los Angeles (or Santa Monica Pier, depending on whom you ask).
My husband and I previously had traveled the iconic road from Chicago to St. Louis in two trips. Of course, this was before the explosion of the Internet, GPS devices, digital cameras, and apps that can make traveling easier. The road was decommissioned in 1985 and had been on the decline for decades as interstates made travel faster.
The 10-day journey comprised three generations in a borrowed family vehicle. The starting point was San Bernardino, California, taking a pass on Los Angeles this time. We went about 800 miles into Arizona and New Mexico on the route most the time (a decommissioned road means some rough spots and mysterious or missing segments). There were side trips to the Grand Canyon and El Morro National Monument in New Mexico. We were treated to beautiful landscapes, wild burros in Oatman, Arizona, iconic Route 66 signage, and lots of old roadside lodging and diner options you won’t find near the interstates. My boys even got to enjoy a movie at drive-in theater for the first time.
Not only are vacations about places but people as well. My father and I had a nice conversation with Mauricio Perez of Seligman, Arizona. The family runs a popular gift shop, and his father-in-law is Angel Delgadillo, 87, who is considered one of Route 66’s biggest supporters through his efforts to revitalize the highway after its decommissioning. We even talked about how the Delgadillo family is featured in the America on the Move exhibition at the National Museum of American History. Perez said they needed to take a trip east to Washington, D.C., to see it.
The allure of Route 66 has grown in the decades since its closing and attracts visitors from all over the world. Delgadillo, who is a barber, was giving a haircut to a filmmaker from Spain working on a Route 66 special while we were there.
Of course, we tried to document as much as we could through our cameras, resulting in lots of digital photos (there were more cameras than travelers). I did upload the images to my computer as soon as I got home and also printed the ones that I considered special for display. But a year later I still need to finish the job of deleting some of the images that I don’t need to keep and were missed during a first review (blurry ones, duplicates taken from inside the car by the youngest passengers, etc.), as well as making sure metadata is there.
There also are steps you can take before and during the trip to get the most out of the memories you are making:
- Get to know your camera/s before the trip especially if it is new. Most digital cameras have multiple options these days that you might want to use, such as a timestamp on the image. Some cameras and smartphone cameras also have GPS capability, which will note in the metadata of where the image was taken as a geotag. Take the instruction manual along if you have space for it.
- Delete blurry photos when you have down time (waiting for lunch, waiting at the airport, waiting to go on an amusement park ride, etc). Digital cameras allow us to take more pictures than with film, which can be a mixed blessing.
- Try out apps that can track your trip to create a map of the route that can be saved, if you have a tablet or smart phone.
- Write or type up observations while they are fresh in a travel journal/blog.
- Collect impressions of others who travel with you either by video or audio recording or writing them down.
- Consider purchasing some old-fashioned postcards to round out the images especially if you forgot to take some at a particular spot.
Now we just need to complete a St. Louis, Missouri, to Gallup, New Mexico, leg.
- Route 66: The Road and The Romance, online exhibition, The Autry
- The Mystique of Route 66, by David Lamb, Smithsonian Magazine
- Smithsonian Secretary Charles D. Walcott at the Grand Canyon, Record Unit 95 - Photograph Collection, 1850s - , neg. no. 83-14116, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Last chance - The National Zoological Park announced that they would be closing its Invertebrate Exhibit on Sunday, June 22. [via Charismatic Minifauna blog, Wired]
- Skills required - Taking a look at the job requirements for digital archivists. [via hangingtogether.org, OCLC Research]
- Can't get there yourself? No problem, Google Street Art allows you to explore street art from around the world. [via Colossal]
- Still chugging away - An 80 year old film printer still contributes to preservation. [via Media Matters blog, NARA]
- Archival explorations at the New York Public Library - Lydia Maria Child, author, abolitionist, and advocate for human rights. [via NYPL blog]
- Discussions on preserving digital and software-based artworks from the National Digital Stewardship Alliance. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- A first - President Obama's scanned 3D portrait. [via The Torch, SI]
- Never too early to start - 5th graders archiving websites. [via The Archive-It blog]
- Recently we received a collection of Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory records from the Harvard Depository in Southborough, Massachusetts, home to some 10 million books. Here's a look at the facility. [via InfoDocket]
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