The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Behind the Scenes
Cultural institutions and private collectors alike can struggle with the financial costs of preserving collections. Archival boxes, folders, and custom enclosures can be pricey, but there are ways to reduce the cost of housing while also providing a stable environment for collections. When the Archives received a large collection of oversized exhibition drawings from the National Air and Space Museum (Accession 17-013), we had to get creative with housing.
There were several factors we took into consideration when determining how to house this collection. First, the collection was digitized before being transferred to the Archives, so digital surrogates would be available for researchers. This reduces the need to handle the original drawings. Secondly, limited space was available in our flat file storage. We simply didn’t have enough room for the drawings to be stored flat. Thirdly, the drawings were in stable condition and posed very few preservation concerns. For these reasons, rolling and storing in our off-site facility was the best choice for these materials.
Once we decided that rolling was the most appropriate choice for storage, we quickly realized how expensive support tubes and tube boxes can be! While the decision was made to use archival tube boxes for the exterior housing, we achieved the real cost-savings with the inner support tubes. Rather than using expensive acid-free blueboard tubes, we used more affordable white mailing tubes, measuring forty-eight inches in length and two inches in diameter.
If this is setting off your preservation sirens, have no fear! To create a barrier between the non-archival tube and the drawings, 3-mil uncoated polyester terephthalate film, aka Mylar®, was wrapped around the tube and secured using polyester double-sided tape (See Image 1, above). Each section of Mylar® was cut to an appropriate width, allowing one inch of overlap once rolled around the tube. Double-sided tape was applied to the longer sides of the Mylar® and then rolled tightly to avoid gapping between the tube and the barrier film.
Once this preparation was complete, multiple drawings could be rolled around the tube (See Image 2, right). A large enough stack of drawings was formed so that, once rolled and inserted into the box, they fit snugly against the interior walls (See Image 3, below). This helps prevent the drawings from shifting in the box when handling. If needed, acid-free, buffered 20-pt. bond paper was used as interleaving to protect adjacent drawings from staples, friable inks, or incompatible materials.
This modification to housing produced a significant cost savings. We only spent 10 percent of what we would have using traditional archival materials, while still achieving an appropriate housing system. For other examples of innovative housing strategies for oversized collections, please visit:
- Stabilizing Special Collections for High-Density Storage, Library of Congress
- Storage Solutions for Oversized Paper Artifacts, Northeast Document Conservation Center
- Storage of Architectural Materials, Syracuse University Library
Thanks(giving) for the memories—a preservation family project, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
You Asked, We Answered: 2015 Ask an Archivist, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Collections Care Guidelines & Resources, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Sometimes you find something really intriguing when reviewing the electronic media in a collection of boxes at the Smithsonian Institution Archives. We frequently see CDs and DVDs. Sometimes we get 3.5” diskettes and occasionally a 5.25” floppy diskette. Recently, however, when reviewing a new accession (the David H. DeVorkin Papers, 1889-2011) the Archives’ Digital Services team came across an 8” floppy disk in a folder entitled, “Computer Use Committee: NASM Word Processing Project, 1980-1981”. For me, remembering that IBM introduced their first personal computer in 1981 triggered an interest in looking into this folder’s contents a little more.
At the Archives, unfortunately, we do not have the equipment to read an 8” floppy disk, so we do not know what it contains. But, the paper documents within the folder tell an interesting story. In 1981, an Ad Hoc Computer Use Committee within the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) wanted to evaluate future computing processing needs at the museum. As part of this evaluation, a questionnaire was created and distributed throughout the various departments within the museum to survey their present and projected computer needs.
The questionnaire asked the museum departments to prioritize their needs in the following areas:
- Mailing lists
- Interactive systems for scheduling tours
- Stats on audience surveys and questionnaires
- General word processing
- Formatting and production of camera-ready copy
- Exhibit scripts and labels
- Personalized letters
- Loan program reports
- Inventory and accession files
- Graphics, charts and statistical reports
- Budget reports
- Associates charts
- Quarterly publications
The survey results highlighted the importance of word processing capabilities. Areas requiring computer functions, i.e. programmability, were seen as lower priority. A few of the museum’s departments did identify the need for computers to provide “electronic mail”, collections cataloging, information retrieval by researchers and visitors, and inventories, but the bulk of the response was for word processing functions. Obviously, only a few back in 1981 thought that email and computers in general would become such an integral part of everyday life.
According to the documents in the folder, at the time of the survey, NASM had a centralized word processing system with a small number of trained operators. (In 1981, I remember word processing was done in secretarial pools with IBM Selectric typewriters and magnetic card readers.) The Status Report of the Ad Hoc Compute Use Committee concluded that the basic word processing needs of the museum were currently being met by the existing system and that there was no need to expand the word processing capacity within the museum. A memo by Mr. DeVorkin concluded that more training was needed regarding the capabilities of word processing and that more staff should be trained to use the existing system. As more departments created more need for word processing, additional equipment might be needed.
Advance 35 years to 2016: Everyone has a computer on his/her desk. Individuals now generate huge amounts of data, spreadsheets, photos, drawings, videos, audio files, presentations, and email. And this does not begin to include the effect of the internet, social networks and smart phones on the amount, type and volume of work being conducted. My, how times have changed!
As a little background information, I did a quick search online on the history of personal computers. The personal computer was introduced as early as 1975.
- 1975 – Altair 8800 and IMSAI 8080
- 1976 – Apple I and the 5.25” floppy drive
- 1977 – Apple II and TRS 801980 – VIC-20 and Apple III
- 1981 – Osborne 1, Epson HX-20 and IBM PC
- From 1981 on, the history has been fast and furious.
Along with the developments of the computer, external storage media technologies also developed quickly. 8” paper sided floppy disks were available in the late 1960s and the 5.25” paper sided floppy disks became available in the mid 1970’s.Throughout the 80s the 5.25” floppy slowly replaced the 8” disk, although the smaller disk was still seen as physically too large. During the 80s other disk formats were developed and by the mid to late 80s the 3.5” plastic-sided disk replaced the 5.25” floppy.
When the Compact Disc (CD) was introduced in the early 1980s, it was first intended for music as a substitute for vinyl long playing (LP) albums. In the 90s, the CD was adapted for use as data storage and slowly replaced the 3.5” floppy disk. Though some computer designs still included a 3.5” drive, by the early 2000’s computer manufacturers started eliminating the 3.5” drive. Today’s computers have CD/DVD drives and USB connections for external disk drives. There are external disk drives for 5.25” and 3.5” floppies.
At the Archives we use these external drives to copy data from floppy disks we receive in our collections. It boggles the mind to think of the rapid technology advancements over the last 35 years and what might be coming in the next 35.
The History of Email at the Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
5.25” floppies: All Is Not Lost, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Timeline of Computer History, Computer History Museum
At the end of the summer, my responsibilities expanded to include treatment of items designated for digitization as part of the Field Book Project. This brings a whole new slate of interesting and challenging treatments, including opportunities to treat damaged bindings of the journals scientists frequently brought with them into the field. As the Field Book Project has moved forward, the subject areas of the field notes have expanded accordingly. Recently we have begun drawing from the collections of the Department of Invertebrate Zoology, previously unexplored by our digitization team.
This field book from the collections of Paul Bartsch documents a voyage into the Philippines, investigating a specific group of marine invertebrates called nudibranchs. These beautiful creatures are brightly colored and come in a large variety of shapes, and these characteristics are thought to be camouflage mechanisms.
As you can see, the images are gorgeously rendered, and have aged well. The artist has been identified as Kumataro Ito, a Japanese illustrator whose skill is clearly evident. Miniscule inscriptions in Japanese appear on many of the images, and these feature unique information not always captured in the descriptions made by Bartsch.
The book is in poor shape at the moment, and to build excitement for the volume’s eventual entrance in the Transcription Center, I wanted to briefly share my plans for its treatment and share these images of the nudibranchs to whet the public’s appetite.
The treatment plan is simple: Many of the pages are damaged along the spinefolds, so these will all be mended; the book will be sewn back together in keeping with its original structure, and the missing spine of the book will be replaced so that it returns to being a functional volume. While the plan is straightforward, it will be time-consuming, given the level of damage.
We look forward to sharing more of this with you in the near future!
Smithsonian Institution Archives projects, Smithsonian Transcription Center
Where in the World Is That Field Book?, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Field Book Project: Uncovering Hidden Gems at the Smithsonian, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Offscreen, a spooky laugh is heard...
Welcome back horror fans! ‘Tis another Halloween edition here on the blog, and try as we might, we just can’t get rid of our
fiend friend, The Mold, now can we? Inasmuch as we try to avoid it, we also can’t quite help from falling in love with our fungal revenants. They’re so clever! And even beautiful, to some eyes.
Microbial growth has been haunting us since midsummer and it isn’t good manners to just keep calling our occasional visitor by a generic name when we could call it by its proper name, i.e. by its genus, or what we can identify further through the process of speciation. But must we be specific down to the species to know if it is a threat to our collections and our health? Not necessarily, but for our disaster preparedness, and safety programs, we have been investigating when and why we would wish to do so.
Meanwhile, back in the laboratory, we decided to run a tiny experiment under controlled conditions. Some time ago, we banished an object from the deep collections stores for fear it could contribute to a looming Blob-like takeover someday. But could this mad conservator prove that this lurker was in fact a viable threat? Armed with nothing but a sealed Petrie dish, a water mister, a sample from the object, the warmth of my computer’s drive, and time, I determined….
….that indeed, I could revive the dormant subject.
Please see portraits of our revivified sample, newly added to our Gallery of Horrors album on Flickr, (Mold XV-XX).
With the assistance of our brave and thorough Industrial Hygienist, Sophia Kapranos, we sent further samples off to our labs to get closer to a name for our Creature (or creatures). as seen in Laura Wahl’s post linked below. We shall be presenting further on the logistics, practicality, cost-effectiveness and wisdom of culturing and speciating mold strains for an upcoming seminar Control of Health and Safety Hazards in Museums and Collections Care next week. Please join us….if you dare…
(With apologies to Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley)
Conserving Archival Collections Suffering from Fungal Attack, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Mold . . ., The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Mold! Webinar, Connecting to Collections Online Community
While panoramic photographs provide us with a unique and often breathtaking view of a landscape, such as the photographs of the Canadian Rockies in the Charles D. Walcott Collection, they also provide a housing challenge for archives. While flat storage is typically preferred for oversized items, often times these panoramas are rolled to save space. But if they are rolled too tightly or folded, it can lead to long-term preservation concerns, as well as access issues for researchers. Check out our series of post entitled, “Panorama Panic! A Sticky Situation,” to learn more about the conservation treatment of a particularly unruly rolled panoramic photograph.
Over the past year, the Archives has hosted two interns who’ve focused primarily on the inventory, reorganization, and rehousing of oversized collections stored in our map case drawers. Some of the collections contain architectural drawings, reproductions, photographs, and – you guessed it – panoramas! We quickly realized that these panoramic photographs, drawings, and maps required something a little more robust than our usual 20-point folders. Some of the panoramas measured upwards of six feet long, and simply could not be handled safely without additional support. Our colleagues at the New York University (NYU) Libraries tackled this issue several years ago with their map cases, and we used their housing and drawer organization as inspiration for our own.
Based on the interior dimensions of our map case drawers, we determined that two standard sizes would be the best fit for our drawers – 20 inches x 56 inches (oriented front to back) and 16 inches x 85 inches (oriented side to side). Any panorama longer in length than 85 inches will be rolled for long-term storage.
Now that we have standard sizes based on the sizes of our drawers and collections, we are able to start constructing the housing. The base is made of archival E-flute corrugated board, cut to the desired standard size. Note: You can get archival corrugated board measuring 96 inches in length, which is necessary for our longer panoramas. It’s important to use one solid piece of board (rather than piecing two together) in order to maintain the integrity of the base support.
The next step is to create an inner enclosure for the panorama using uncoated polyester terephthalate film, also known as Mylar®. Two pieces of Mylar are cut to the size of the panorama, adding one inch to both sides. Sealing three sides using the ultrasonic welder, the top long edge is left open to slide the panorama into the enclosure.
Have you ever wondered what to do with all of those scraps of Mylar you inevitably end up with over the years? You’re in luck! This housing is a great opportunity to use up some of those scraps by creating photo corners to secure the panorama to the corrugated board base. All you need is a piece of Mylar that’s 1 inch by (at least) 2 inches. Fold over both sides to create a triangular “corner.” Archival double-sided tape is used to secure these to the base at all four corners, orienting the folded flaps towards the board.
Lastly, a protective cover mat is created cut to the dimension of the corrugated board base, adding 2 inches to the height. This two-inch section is folded over, creased using a bone folder, and secured to the back of the board using archival double-sided tape. Each cover is labeled in the lower right-hand corner with the collection and folder number.
Panoramas can be a challenge for both preservation and access. However, the supportive base allows them to be safely moved for researchers and the Mylar inner enclosure and corner restraints provide support to prevent future warping and curling in storage. This simple solution can take a collection from unwieldy and space-consuming to manageable and accessible.
An ‘Intern’duction to Storage of Oversized Archival Collections, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Panoramic Panic! A Sticky Situation, Part 1, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives
The Quest for Walcott's Quarry, The Bigger Picture, Smithsonian Institution Archives