The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
It is with very mixed emotions (with a big sad-face part of the mix) that we say good-bye to Catherine Shteynberg, manager, editor, and regular contributor to The Bigger Picture, as well as the Archives’ social media outreach coordinator.
Catherine joined the Smithsonian Photography Initiative as an intern (!) in 2008 and worked her way into serving as the curatorial assistant for the project, click! photography changes everything, a project of the former Smithsonian Photography Initiative. Catherine then seamlessly moved into the role of keeping this blog humming with a lovely tune. She inspired many of us with meticulous research and ideas about how to keep the blog engaging and relevant. She encouraged many-a-new blog author. If you enjoyed her weekly Link Love (which I’m happy to say will continue with our own Mitch Toda), you know she was great at making fun lists of interesting projects. In fact two of her most popular posts were lists:
- The Smithsonian's Top 6 Archives Myths puts to rest all the intriguing, but unfortunately false, lore about the Smithsonian including the belief that there is a massive underground storage facility under the National Mall.
- Start the New Year Right with Tips from the Archives, a post summarizing all of the amazing advice our archivists and conservators have shared which includes tips on managing email, storing keepsakes, and much more.
These were only two of the nearly 200 posts she wrote for The Bigger Picture! It has personally been a pleasure to work with someone as whip-smart as Catherine, but more importantly, someone who does her work with integrity and joy. We are happy that Catherine will not be leaving the museum field – she will be the Assistant Curator/New Media Coordinator at the University of Tennessee’s McClung Museum. And never fear, The Bigger Picture will continue with our staff of amazing contributors.
- Fun new images in Historypin: Princess Di and John Travolta dance in the White House, jazz greats, and suffragettes.
- We blogged a few months ago about photo morgues at newspapers across the country, and the Springfield, Illinois State Journal-Register’s newspaper photography digitization project. Because of a photo a young woman pilot included in the Journal-Register’s project, a family learned the story of their daredevil flier relative, 80 years later [via Lynda Schmitz Fuhrig, SIA].
- Old Maps Online: a massive database aggregating beautiful map collections from around the world [via Effie Kapsalis, SIA].
- Why you should take your little kids to a museum.
- Remembering Neil Armstrong.
- Are you dealing with lots of born-digital content in your archive? A new report, with input by our own Ricc Ferrante, deals with just this issue. Read “You've Got to Walk Before You Can Run: First Steps for Managing Born-Digital Content Received on Physical Media” and watch an introduction below:
Just two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists. Sporting the theme “Beyond Borders,” I was impressed by the recent transformation in how archives and archivists “do business”—how the technological and digital border has for the most part disappeared.
Five years ago, the handful of conference sessions talking about digital records focused on how to capture and preserve born-digital records. This year, most sessions touched on digitization and digital records not as a novelty topic, but as one of today’s facts of life. History and access to it is happening in the digital realm, and archivists around the globe have embraced the Internet’s potential to enhance and expand the ways their organizations deliver services on a daily basis.
Then and now on my phone. Today, people are searching archival collections with their smartphones, accessing primary sources through “wired” devices they carry with them almost everywhere. In many cases, visitors are using the web browsers on their phones to visit an archives website or review the RSS feed from its blog. Mobile apps are starting to roll out. Photos from the Smithsonian Institution Archives collections can be accessed through the Historypin app (you can also see our photos on the Historypin website). You can plot the images on a map, use an embedded Google Street View to superimpose the historic photograph on the location in real time, and contribute your own stories about that particular place.
Going where the people go. More and more, archives, museums and libraries are establishing a presence at popular online social media sites. In places like Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter, they proactively call attention to the rich body of primary source materials in their permanent collections. Some have begun to engage with Wikipedians enhance and expand content related to their collection. Several Wikipedia editing events have been held at the Smithsonian, including our own recent edit-a-thon “She Blinded Me With Science: Smithsonian Women in Science." We are planning another event with the Archives of American Art and other Smithsonian groups for mid-October in honor of the “Wikipedia Loves Libraries” initiative.
Relevant connections. Has someone ever told you about something they’ve just discovered? The connections other researchers have made with a particular set of historical records can stir up new ideas and point to new areas to focus on. Some of the best archival blogs do just that, sharing the stories of people making connections with rich research material relevant to their field of study. In our own case, Archives’ research associate Marcel LaFollette ran across previously unpublished photos from the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, and she and our staff blogged about these finds here on The Bigger Picture. The trial photo set we shared on Flickr have been viewed over a 107,000 times, and people who were actually at the trial have contacted us to share their personal experience of the event.
Conversations enrich collections. Something archives have known for a long time is changing the way we learn more about our special collections. That secret: we are not the only experts. “Crowdsourcing” is another way archives and libraries are inviting others to contribute their own expertise or even simply their interest to enrich parts of their collections. Maybe you took part in New York Public Library’s “What’s On the Menu?” transcription project? It’s still going on with over one million dishes on over 15,000 menus transcribed so far!
These are just some of the huge and valuable changes occurring in Archives worldwide. Are there any issues we’ve missed or innovative archives projects you’d like to share? Please let us know in the comments below.
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