The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Web/Tech
- Strike a pose - Portraits of vintage photography gear by photographer Julian Calverley. [via PetaPixel]
- Awesome sauce! The Getty Research Institute releases Art and Architecture Thesaurus as Linked Open Data. [via InfoDocket]
- In more Linked Open Data news, OCLC released 194 million bibliographic work descriptions. [via semanticweb.com]
- Rewritable CDs - Insights on how to transfer their data to a more stable format from WNYC's John Passmore. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Its going to be a banner year at the National Museum of American History as it celebrates its 50th Anniversary and the 200th anniversary of our national anthem. [via Smithsonian Magazine]
- These beautiful panoramas capture how Glacier National Park and Yellowstone changed from 80 years ago to today. [via PetaPixel]
- In honor of a colleague who just came back from visiting Vermont that included a trip to the Snowflake Bentley Museum, here is filmmaker Vyacheslav Ivanov's short of individual snowflakes forming. [via Colossal]
When it comes to digital preservation the work is never truly finished. As we have written before, our best practices with digital curation and preservation involve keeping the original file in its original format as well as creating a file in a preservation format when possible.
For instance if we have an older Microsoft Word document, we will keep it and also create a PDF version of that file as its preservation master. If a researcher is interested in the file, they will get a PDF copy since it is a standard format and easy to access.
Benefits of retaining the original version:
- It is good to have it in case the preserved copy becomes corrupted.
- If the file cannot be accessed now, software and/or emulators may be developed eventually that can read it. Emulators are used quite often with old video games.
- Better software can be developed that can render a “better” file that is more complete, such as displaying metadata or displaying at original size.
Kodak Photo CD (PCD) files are one such example of original files that have benefitted from being revisited. Developed film was scanned onto CDs that contained up to 100 images and saved as the proprietary PCD format rather than the more familiar JPEG or TIFF. Kodak no longer supports the product.
Offices across the Smithsonian have these CDs and the Archives is no exception. We have a manageable number from our collections that total approximately 1,000. Some of them were converted previously into TIFF preservation files, but we were not capturing the “entire” file with the software we were using. The file size was set to a smaller one during conversion to a TIFF from its original size on the CD. Meanwhile, other software that could convert the PCD files discontinued the plug-in that was needed in software upgrades.
A few years later there are now more software conversion options available to handle these obsolete files. You can find some by searching “PCD conversion” online. Our latest conversion to TIFF files has resulted in full-size files with higher resolution and metadata about the film and scanner that was not present with the other software. All our collections with PCD files have been converted to these “better” versions.
If you have older files that are in obsolete formats, here are some things to consider:
- Convert a copy of the file to a more sustainable format. Example: old word-processing file to a PDF.
- View the original (if you can) to compare the migrated file to it. Does the look and feel match? Is that important for the document to you? Is metadata present?
- Consider retaining the original file in case you can get a “better” version of it later.
- Don’t forget to monitor the preserved/converted file itself for obsolescence.
- For all you parents of toddlers out there - A 19th century lithographer's alphabet made up of sweeping landscapes is available from the British Museum. [via Colossal]
- Breaking stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur, is on a journey to document people from the more than 560 federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States by photographing them as they want to be depicted. [via Lens, New York Times]
- When it comes to remembering, there is a marked difference between a physical object and a digital one. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Coming to you from WCAI Cape and Island NPR Station, an interview with Research Associate, Marcel LaFollette!
- To the surprise of some, librarians are a diverse group of people and photographer Kyle Cassidy proved just that after spending some time taking portraits of librarians at the American Library Association's midwinter meeting in Philadelphia. [via Behold, Slate]
- Talk about institutional knowledge, Bill Bonner, archivist at National Geographic, is responsible for the 8 million photographs in their vintage collection and has personally handled each and every one. [via PetaPixel]
Time-based media art: artwork containing audiovisual components that rely on playback mechanisms or systems for decoding, and that are typically engaged with other elements as an installed, interactive and/or performed experience
In September 2013 I arrived at the Archives to commence the inaugural 9-month National Digital Stewardship Residency designed by the Library of Congress and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Directed at the curatorial and conservation obstacles time-based media art imposes on museum workflows, I was tasked with developing strategies for handling the digital assets that make up these kinds of works, with particular focus on how they might best be placed in a trustworthy digital repository environment.
Jenny Holzer’s For SAAM (Smithsonian American Art Museum), and Siebren Versteeg’s Neither There nor There (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden) are just two examples of time-based media art that rely on digital assets to operate and that can be found in collections across the Smithsonian.
Through acquisition, installation, storage, and later re-installation, these works require technical evaluations and monitoring generally laid out in digital preservation strategies, which have not typically been cemented in museum procedures. At the same time, the variable, iterative, and subjective nature of these works necessitates the use of granular, yet scalable policies for describing, representing, and preserving their essential elements, behaviors, and variability. For these reasons, the standard assumptions surrounding documentation, authenticity, and custodial roles in the realm of digital preservation fall short of meeting the needs of time-based media art.
As part of my residency I am in conversation with curators, conservators, registrars, and gallery staff across the Smithsonian who have been participating in the Time-Based Media Art Working Group efforts. They have been looking internally and externally for resources and expertise in handling these types of works in order to fit the needs of their own collections. From these discussions I am developing higher-level procedures based upon preservation practices and current museum approaches.
It is important to note that the Smithsonian is particularly unique in this conversation, in that it represents a number of designated communities (units) with disparate collections, missions, and infrastructures.
With all of these things in mind, my ultimate goal is to produce baseline ingest, storage, and access policies for specific classes of time-based media artworks (web, video game, generative, etc.) with supplemental suggestions for the more granular, yet flexible guidelines based off variability and intended behaviors (installed, networked, performed, etc.). Through my deliverables I hope to add to the resources to be considered not only within the Smithsonian, but in other institutions collecting digital time-based media art as well.
Finally, since artists have and will continue to produce works using an assortment of both obsolete and emerging software, processes, and tools (whether intentional or not), it is necessary to remain flexible with regard to digital preservation approaches across museums. Priority should be placed on strategies that are adaptable, with the understanding that continued learning and collaboration will be essential in maintaining authenticity in the future re-creations of these works.
- Happy Valentine's Day with a flurry of related blog posts about love tokens, bouquets, and matchmaking for endangered species. [via O Say Can You See? blog, NMAH and Unbound blog, SIL]
- Not so easy to put up on the frig . . . the challenges of saving creations in virtual worlds (particularly relevant to those parents whose children play Minecraft). [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- With the snow the Washington, D.C. region received this week, it is hard to imagine choosing to sleep outside in the snow in a three-sided building, but that is just what artist Abbott Handerson Thayer and his family did. [via Archives of American Art blog]
- Check it out - The Digital Public Library of America and the Brooklyn Public Library launched new Tumblr blogs. [via InfoDocket]
- Taking a serious look at what it means to be "cool" at the National Portrait Gallery's new exhibition, American Cool. [via Face to Face blog, NPG]
- That is just super awesome - Marvel Comics opens up their metadata for non-commercial use. [via InfoDocket]
- One cool cat - an interview with Craig Saffoe, Curator of Great Cats at the National Zoological Park. [via Smithsonian Science]