The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Web/Tech
- I've read about trying out historic recipes, but historic deordorant recipes? [via O say can you see? blog, NMAH]
- The recognition of the importance and need for improvements to disaster preparedness and art conservation and historic preservation got a boost after the 1966 flood of the Arno River in Florence, Italy. [via Pushing the Envelope blog, NPM]
- Collaborations towards tools to access and preserve email. [via The Signal: Digital Preservation, LOC]
- Have a little one? Here is some great advice for getting kids to really explore museum exhibitions. [via O say can you see? blog, NMAH]
- Photographic inspiration - 7-year old gets deep in the mud to get the shot at a cyclocross race in Colorado. [via PetaPixel]
- From Europenana - #OpenCollections - highlights of some of the most interesting and high quality collections from around Europe. [via Euopeana blog]
- A look at what it means when one inherits a collection, particularly one which may have significant monetary value. [via The New York Times]
- Is Pluto a planet? A discussion and vote on the definition of a "planet." [via Smithsonian Science]
For the past few months I've been walking around the office telling my coworkers my latest project was upgrading our site's search. In actuality the word "upgrading” wasn't really the best indication of what I was doing, "extreme overhaul" would have been a better fit.
The project really got kicked off in June when we started looking at the results from our website survey. Yes, we do read those! So if you happen to have one popup while your browsing our site, please fill it out and let us know how we're doing!
The thing that immediately stuck out when reviewing the surveys was that people were not overly happy with our site searching capabilities.
Our old site search was actually three separate searches that had been linked together with tabs to make them appear as one. This was done because some of our site content is actually stored in a separate database which has it's own way of searching.
If one had typed "Wetmore" into the search box at the upper right hand corner of the page, they would have been presented with results of mostly blog posts and few pages from our Smithsonian history content. To find actual collection items related to Wetmore, one would have to click on one of the tabs (either collections or finding aids depending on what they were looking for) and load yet another page with the search results.
The process of searching was clunky, limited, and not terribly helpful for researchers. In fact we had three respondents say they would just use Google to search for pages on our site instead of using our actual site search. We had known the search wasn't very good, but the survey results opened our eyes to how much higher a priority fixing it had to be.
Our site search now relies on one search, which is powered by a Google Search Appliance, with a contributed Drupal module and custom module providing the wiring to hook the site up to the Search Appliance.
Now performing a search for "Wetmore" will provide you with not just blog posts and pages, but also anything else on our site related to your search (collection guides, images, chronologies, legal documents, etc.) To paraphrase J. R. R Tolkien, we now have "one search to find them."
The Google Search Appliance also indexes metadata for us. Not only does the metadata get factored into our searches, which provides more accurate searching, but we can also filter off of the metadata. The result is the ability for our site visitors to now filter based on subject, creator, and date ranges.
Certain keywords are also flagged to provide suggested search results. During the process of rewriting our search, we looked at our top site search queries. We paired each of those searches up with pages that provide general information on the subject of the search. Using the same example I used before of a search for "Wetmore" (who was the sixth Smithsonian Secretary.), it will provide the user with a light grey box containing a link to Alexander Wetmore's biography along with a brief excerpt from that page.
But let's say you just did a search for an item that you know is in the Smithsonian's collection, but it turns out it isn't in the Archives. What then? Are you doomed to search all of the other Smithsonian Units until you find that one collection item your looking for? Not at all! On most of our site search results there will be a link to the Smithsonian Collection Search Center (it's located in the left column under the date range filter). If our search doesn't have what you’re looking for, there's a good chance it exists somewhere in the Smithsonian.
- Smithsonian Institution Archives Moves to Drupal 7, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Search results for "Wetmore" on Smithsonian Institution Archives website
- Smithsonian Collections Search Center
- To boldy go - On September 11, 2014, the studio model of the Star Trek starship Enterprise, which has been on public display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum since 1976, was removed for conservation in preparation for its new display location in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, which will open in July 2016. [via AirSpace blog, NASM]
- As part of its exhibition, Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations, the National Museum of the American Indian will have on display the Haudenosaunee–U.S. Treaty of 1794. [via NMAI blog]
- Now online - 5 million First World War Prisoner Files from the Red Cross, The Barnard and Gardner Civil War Photographic Albums at Duke University, and 35,000 artworks from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. [via InfoDocket]
- Additional guidance came out this week from the National Archives on managing email. [via AOTUS blog, NARA]
- A 500 year old map that helpd guide Columbus reveals hidden text using multispectral imaging. [via MapLab, Wired]
- A now you know - Images from the 1970s of tree-planters who were hired by logging companies to replant trees on the large portions of land left bare by clear cutting forestry operations. [via Cool Hunting]
- Get to know the Civil War by taking the MOOC "The Civil War and Reconstruction" taught by Pulitzer-prize winning historian, Eric Foner. [via Open Culture]
James Smithson’s original purpose in bequeathing his estate to the United States was to establish the Smithsonian Institution for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” And the saying goes - learn by doing. To this end, the Smithsonian has been increasing its interactive opportunities across its entire network of museums and research centers, and the Archives are no exception.
This summer, I had the opportunity to work as an intern with the Digital Services Division (DSD), mainly working on the digitization of special collections. During my time here, I noticed that both the DSD and the Archives as a whole place a heavy emphasis on public engagement with the Archives collections. Peoples' use of collections definitely plays an important role in guiding the Archives decisions on what to prioritize for digitization. This aspect combined with other factors such as the physical condition and size of the collection, the available information about the materials, and the use of digitized collections for special projects inform the Archives as to what collections to digitize.
My work this summer, along with a few other interns and volunteers, was to digitize some of the Archives collections for special projects. All of us came from different backgrounds and had varying degrees of experience with digitization. With the ever increasing demand for digitized materials from the Archives, it is constantly in need of as many helping hands as possible. As a result a great deal of the digitization work is done by interns or volunteers.
The digitization of materials allows the Archives to share its collections with those who are not able to physically come to the Archives. By making its content as widely available as possible on the Archives' website, in the Collections Search Center, and in the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) its collections can be discovered by as many people as possible. A new avenue that people can interact with the Archives collections can be found in the Smithsonian Transcription Center, where “volunpeers” can help transcribe text from digitized materials. Meghan Ferriter, Project Coordinator, Smithsonian Transcription Center, talks about the role of volunpeers in her blog post Growing to a Community of Volunpeers: Communication & Discovery.
Making archival collections available online and engaging people to help make them more accessible are just some of the many steps towards connecting people to collections. As more museums, libraries, and archives put their collections online there will be more opportunities for people to see materials from across the country and from across the world. The Smithsonian has made great strides in the past few years in getting its collections online and is now poised better than ever to work with other institutions and organizations to make it collections more readily discoverable.
Indeed, Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough mentions in his e-book, Best of Both Worlds: Museums, Libraries, and Archives in a Digital Age, that one of the Smithsonian’s next endeavors is collaboration with other institutions. With the expanding role of Wikipedia in research archives around the world are recognizing that collaboration with sites that get heavy traffic is highly beneficial in making people aware of their collections. Indeed, the Archives continues to experience an increase in traffic on its website and in its use of collections as a result of hosting regular Wikipedia edit-a-thons.
The Archives is currently engaged in work with Gale Cengage Learning, and also often cooperates with other folks at the Smithsonian such as the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History. By collaborating with other museums and institutions in making its collections available, the Archives is following the tenet laid out by James Smithson for the "increase and diffusion of knowledge."
- Growing to a Community of Volunpeers: Communication & Discovery, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Location! Location! Location!, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Best of Both Worlds: Museums, Libraries, and Archives in a Digital Age, by G. Wayne Clough, Smithsonian Institution
- Stunning, simply stunning - Infographic from the Library and Archives of Canada that describes their collections and services one comic book panel at a time. [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA]
- Brilliant - Millions of histoic copyright-free images are being added to Flickr that are seachable via automatically added tags. Thanks to Kalev Leetaru and the Internet Archive! [via BBC News]
- Rosa Parks Archive purchased by Howard G. Buffet to be donated to, for the time being, undetermined institution. [via USA Today]
- Smithsonian Transcription Center continues to be in the news at Smithsonian Magazine and at Federal News Radio.
- Now available - Digitized speeches from the likes of Ray Bradbury and Charles Schultz from the 1960s and 1970s at UCLA. [via InfoDocket]
- Introducing Photogrammar - A project coming out of Yale that is a web-based platform for organizing, searching, and visualizing the 170,000 photographs from 1935 to 1945 created by the United State’s Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information (FSA-OWI). [via Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, SIA]
- While not hidden away in a basement, corporate archives and archivists face challenges that others in the profession do not. [via Advertising Age]
- At the touch of your fingertips - the FBI has digitized 30 million records - and as many as 83 million fingerprint cards - as part of its Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, a state-of-the-art digital platform of biometric and other types of identity information. [via Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, SIA]