Finding the Digital Treasures

While it is easy for most people to say what their favorite object or artifact is from a museum, library, or archive, it seems that selecting a digital item is hard. Part of this is probably because digital is not as old as paper/analog/physical objects and perhaps not as "valuable" to some. Digital items can disappear quickly either by malfunction or by choice. Do they mean less to us because of this?

While pondering the worth of digital items, here are a few digital objects from our archives that I consider to be some favorites that definitely have long-term value and are being preserved. These include digitized and born-digital files.

  • Chip Clark was a Smithsonian Institution photographer who captured some beautiful images at the Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History in February 2008 with a digital Canon camera.

Accession 11-281 - National Museum of Natural History, Office of Public Affairs, Images, c. 1992-201

  • It is hard to believe but the Smithsonian celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1996. This digitized video from VHS, which explains the poor quality, highlights the Hope Diamond with some help from actress Barbara Eden.
  • Computer-aided design files or CAD can be tedious to view and even harder to preserve, but there is something artistic in this colorful rendering of an aerial view of the National Museum of the American Indian building. It also reminds me of some Spirograph drawings.

Accession 06-012 - Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations, Project Files, 1999-2005, Smiths

  • This audio clip excerpt from the O. Orkin Insect Zoo History Files at the National Museum of Natural History features sounds of the rain forest. Click on the image to hear a sample. 

O. Orkin Insect Zoo mural, Accession 11-281 - National Museum of Natural History, Office of Public A

  • This press release from 1995 announces the launching of Smithsonian websites on the World Wide Web. It is certainly true that the sites and pages have continued to grow and change quite significantly since then.

Press release for first Smithsonian website, Accession 98-094 - Office of the Secretary, Smithsonian

  • While this is not part of the Archives, this unexpected video was an attachment in a Smithsonian email account that came to us while we were conducting our email preservation project. The video can still be viewed. This demonstrates the point that you never know what you will find when working with electronic records.


Do you have any favorite digital items? Feel free to let us know about them.

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