The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Web/Tech
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]
“We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” – Max DePree
Many organizations are affiliated with the Smithsonian. The Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) in Oklahoma City has a mission to "collect, preserve, and share the history and the culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people." As the digital archivist of this Smithsonian Affiliates organization, I was able to participate in a two-week Visiting Professional Program at the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA). During the information-packed two weeks, I gained a plethora of experience and knowledge about innovative digital processes that are valuable to the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division's present and future collections.
Currently, the OHS houses more than 3 million digital pages of newspaper with 1 million digital pages online free to the public. The photographic archives contain more than 10 million images. More than 150,000 are digital files. In addition to print media, the OHS houses audio and visual materials that contain sound recordings on a variety of formats. The digitization of these in-house collections has become more prevalent and the imminent step, today, is to continue this mission by creating effective digital content management practices. My residency with the Digital Services Division was an initial step toward this goal as OHS' digital archivist.
Riccardo Ferrante, Director of Digital Services & IT Archivist, supervised a well-orchestrated schedule of events, workshops, lectures and internal collaborations, to direct my residency toward fulfilling the goals to improve the digital content management practices of the OHS. During my residency I learned about the Digital Services Division's mission and their current and future projects. Time was spent exploring conservation processes, and multiple practices and methodologies.
Of particular interest to me, I learned about the Collaborative Survey of Born Digital Collection Holdings. "Born Digital," describes all items that were created in electronic or digital form. A two-phased survey, this project focuses on born-digital holdings across the Smithsonian's archival units, by addressing the challenges faced by the inflow of digital materials. Participants include the Archives of American Art, the National Anthropological Archives and Human Studies Film Archives at the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum Archives, the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History Archives, and the Smithsonian Institution Archives. The survey goal is to conduct a multi-archive inventory of born digital holdings and identify the level of risk these historic digital files face in terms of current and future accessibility, and current and future requisites of care. Based on the survey findings, the best practices of the Archives' Electronic Records Program can be refined and implemented at the other archival units.
The survey directly relates to OHS goals by identifying endangered or obsolescent materials and preventing future deterioration through specific measures, which has been developed through collaborative efforts among the Smithsonian units. These efforts combine multiple-processes concerning reformatting and migration of data, database creation, and the importance of well-developed workflow management. The Archives provided plan initiatives and its changes to initial methods as a learning model to serve as a guide for implementation within OHS' current processes and, specifically, how the survey model can be applied to various digital projects. As technology changes and adapts to newer ideas, establishing a firm platform to build upon can be the most imperative step through the starting line into the progress.
With well-orchestrated scheduling, the Archives guided my experience in a practical and valuable manner. By learning about the processes, templates, workflows, and techniques used at the Archives, it is without doubt that the OHS will be better positioned to fulfill its mission.
- A unique collection indeed - North Carolina State University is developing a digital library of dyes. [via InfoDocket]
- Announced this week: Melissa Chiu, currently the museum director and senior vice president for Global Arts and Cultural Programs for the Asia Society in New York City, was named the director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
- Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive launched a new digital online exhibit of World War II propaganda films. [via Kira Sobers, SIA]
- Members Only - A look at the characters who made up the membership of the Royal Institution. [via Royal Institution Blog]
- Who knew? - Roy Lichtenstein's, Modern Head, outside of the Smithsonian American Art Museum gets cleaned with dishwashing liquid. [via Eye Level, SAAM]
- The Biodiversity Heritage Library adds the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as its 16th member. [via InfoDocket]
- Another use for Legos - Cable management! [via Core77]
- Talk about a passion - Tim Jenison, a Texas-based inventor and computer graphics specialist, quest to determine the painting techniques of Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer. [via Colossal]
- Using a combination of clever sculpting and well-timed strobes, artist, Takeshi Murata created what appears to be a perpetually melting sculpture. [via PetaPixel]
- Think you have a lot of data on your computer, tablet, or phone . . . the federal government has real big data that it needs to manage. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Librarians make lasting impacts on people and their respective organizations everyday, take library analyst Eilene Galloway, who helped launch the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [via The Library of Congress blog]
- When we think of the internet we tend to think of its invisibility and ever present nature around us, but it takes a real and substantial presence to make all that cloud computing and connectivity work. Timo Arnall, a designer and artist from London, takes a look at the machinery of the internet. [via Wired]
- In 1863, at the age of 48, Julia Margaret Cameron, received a camera as a gift. Her subsequent photographs are awesome! [via PetaPixel]
- This week saw the passing of two important and influential people: Author and poet, Maya Angelou, and designer, Massimo Vignelli. [via InfoDocket and Core77]