Slide cabinet located in the lobby of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

#AskAnArchivist 2019: The Year of the GIF

You asked. We answered. On October 2, 2019, five Archive staff members were excited and ready to answer questions on Twitter and Instagram for #AskAnArchivist Day. 

We kicked off American Archives Month with another successful #AskAnArchivist Day on social media. We rallied a team and headed to Twitter and Instagram to answer all of your burning questions. And there were GIFs. All of the GIFs.

Moving image of a slide cabinet.

Do you try to preserve/save everything? If not what materials do you keep?

Jennifer: This is a good one! If we find a document or a story that we find particularly interesting, we assume the world will too! That being said, we have appraisal criteria and a Smithsonian-wide records disposition schedule.

Do you have tips for affordably rehousing and scanning a collection of hundreds of thousands of negatives currently in poor condition? 

Marguerite: If affordability is an issue, just rehouse using *better* materials. Grab acid-free envelopes at a stationary store. In terms of digitization, the prices of scanners has actually recently gone down. I would also digitize and rehouse at the same time.

Moving image of a box.

We managed to get a competent scanner but manpower is a major issue as it takes several minutes to scan 1 out of 200,000+ negatives.

Marguerite: Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. The costliest part about rehousing and digitization is time. There are numerous grants you can apply for that may cover the costs of rehousing materials, temporary staff, and digitization equipment.

Are you only archiving the Smithsonian born digital materials? If so what types, or are you archiving external born digital content?

Ricc: The Archives documents the history of the Smithsonian, its staff and a few organizations affiliated with it. The vast majority of what we take in is from the Institution, but we are archiving some external born digital content. Whether the digital content comes from the Smithsonian or another organization, the formats are all over the map: images: documents, manuscripts, CAD blueprints, audio, video, databases, email, websites, social media, research data…easily over 1,000 formats.

Three different sizes of floppy disks.

How does one become an archivist?

Emily: You’re in luck! We have a whole series with ~free~ career advice

Can you use gifs to describe good practices for a researcher?

Deborah made us really proud with these answers.

How do you accept digital donations (USB sticks etc.) and maintain cyber-security for the Institution?

Ricc: Everything comes in on removable media (USB sticks, etc.) is required to be scanned for viruses, malware, etc. on a standalone machine. It has to pass the scan. 

How would you archive something like a video game which is A) more active than passive in consumption and B) may require specific old/rare hardware to run properly? 

Ricc: Like Atari's Bank Heist from 1983? We would develop an emulation of the original environment (operating system, etc.) allowing us to run the original software in its original format in a way that behaves and displays like it did in 1983, minus the game controller.

Three pairs of hands.

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