What We Are Working On: Digital Preservation

The Smithsonian Institution Archives digital curation team talks about their process for preserving nearly 250 pieces of removable media containing digital files from the Smithsonian Exhibits office.

Black and white digital graphic of a rocketThe Smithsonian Institution Archives recently acquired and accessioned digital records from Smithsonian Exhibits. Smithsonian Exhibits, Exhibition Records, circa 2000-2016, SIA 18-150 is an exciting collection that documents the design of exhibitions for Smithsonian museums and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). SITES offers exhibitions to other institutions across the United States.

We are in the early stages of copying the files off the original media that include almost 250 CDs, DVDs, and ZIP disks so we can preserve them. This collection features exhibition titles from the Eight Wonders from the Salvador Dali Museum, 2004  to Jazz Age in Paris, 1914-1940  to Yesterday’s Tomorrows. Some of these exhibitions seem like they were just on view yesterday.

The digital materials include architectural drawings and floor plans, graphics, images, and other planning files. Many are from exhibitions during the early to mid-2000s. About 38 gigabytes or more than 5,300 files have been transferred to our server, with more to come.

There have been some preservation challenges so far. Some of the CDs are unreadable on some machines and will require trying other equipment. Other issues with this collection include older design software and fonts not installed on current computers. As we continue processing, we will determine what software we have or need in order to preserve these digital files in a long-term accessible format.

Screenshot of a grey dialogue box

Some exhibition folders do contain printing instruction text files for the exhibition graphics packages, which are very helpful to archivists and researchers, too, since they have information (metadata) about the creation date, the project contact, the files that complete graphics package, and the fonts that are used. There also are production plans that provide design parameters, timelines, and various duties associated with content development, design, and directions for set up at various locations when it was a traveling exhibition.Color photograph of a red covered bridge facade with the words covered bridge atop it. Two individua

From what we have transferred so far, it is fascinating to see the individual components such as different colors and images as separate elements that informed and sometimes became part of various final designs. These records show the importance on how design, planning, and timing all need to come together to create a compelling exhibition.

To learn more about Smithsonian exhibitions, the main Smithsonian website provides access to current, upcoming, and past exhibitions.

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