The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Posts tagged with: Preserving Your Treasures
A common inquiry I receive from Smithsonian staff is whether it is better to keep their files in electronic or paper format. The best answer to this question is "it depends." There are several factors to consider.
1) How long do the files need to be kept?
Paper files, especially when accumulated over a long period of time, require a lot of physical storage space, but if the space is cool and dry, little needs to be done to preserve and maintain them in the long-term. Electronic files generally require little space, but must be regularly reviewed to determine if they need to be migrated to new media or converted to a new file format to ensure they can be accessed in the future.
2) Does one format have more value than the other?
A common example of one format having more value is documents containing signatures. Signatures are often proof of an agreement or testimony. Traditionally, they have been handwritten on paper documents. These paper documents with original signatures are generally necessary for ensuring the authenticity of a signature and are therefore more valuable than a scanned version of the document. The technology surrounding digital signatures, however, allows for the electronic file to ensure authenticity and a printed copy is not as valuable.
3) Is one format easier to use?
In the 21st century, most documents are created electronically and some just don't translate well into a printed format. All sorts of reports and even the data tables can be printed from a database, but printouts just can't be used as efficiently and the database itself can. Another example is a website. A printout does not allow a user to click on links or even give any indication of where the link goes. Not to mention the audio and video elements of a website do not translate at all in a printout.
The opposite can also be true. It is not uncommon for many different electronic files to be printed and compiled into a single printed document, such as a publication. A user could identify all of the electronic files and then attempt to read them in the appropriate order, but it would be easier just to look at the paper version.
4) In what format are the majority of the records already?
There can be value in having all related records in the same format (paper or electronic), but scanning or printing on a large-scale is time-consuming and potentially expensive. It is often best to choose the format that will require the least amount of printing or scanning. A cost-benefit analysis should always be done prior to converting files to a new format. Leaving existing files as is and documenting which files are paper and which are electronic may be a reasonable alternative.
In some cases, there may be significant benefit to maintaining files in both formats. One should be designated as the official copy – the format that will be maintained and preserved – and the other as a reference copy. An electronic version of a document may be suitable to maintain locally for quick reference or electronic searching while a paper version designated as the official copy could be stored off-site and retrieved if needed. Electronic files designated as official copies may be printed to create a paper file that can be easily browsed.
The decision to maintain files in paper or electronically is not an easy one, but by thinking it through and asking the right questions, a solution can often be found that will meet everyone's needs.
- Managing Active Records, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- What Does an Electronic Records Archivist Do?, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Describing Digital Preservation: As Easy as a Walk in the Park, The Signal: Digital Preservation, Library of Congress
Welcome to Throwback Thursday! This holiday season, I hope to inspire you to take a trip down memory lane to the land of erstwhile and bygone days of the family photo album. What better time to pull these one of a kind treasures off the shelves than during the family festivities! Recently over the Thanksgiving holiday, I rediscovered my own family’s quasi-prehistoric, long-forgotten photo albums. As I flipped through the pages looking at photos of my mom, tan and beautiful on a beach somewhere before I was born, or at my younger sisters giggling at birthday parties, and awkward middle school outfits and family photos, I thought what a great gift it would be to share this album with my siblings. If only my parents had used a digital camera- then I could just click and share! So simple, right?
And yet, even though with the ability to share my digital photos so easily, they are scattered throughout the internet, on computers, phones, flash drives, and attached in emails. Not to mention the preservation issues with digital images. Perhaps this is why it is refreshing to view these unique hand held albums of carefully chosen and collected photographs that tell a story in a cohesive pattern.
So, this holiday season, if you too have the urge to dust off those family photo albums and share them digitally with your loved ones, then this post is for you! Or better yet, digitize them, and then create a physical copy to give as a holiday gift, just like the original. You could even supplement the facsimile with your new digital photos to add to the legacy! To help you, my colleagues and I have assembled some useful tips on how to digitize your family/travel photo album or family book (or even your grandmother’s handwritten cookbook) and make a physical facsimile:
- Here is our recent answer with links on how to digitize your family photo album or historic book and create a physical facsimile, from our Collections Care Forum.
- The New York Times also answered some questions about how to scan your photographs and photo album in this helpful Q & A session.
- May I also suggest you take the opportunity of viewing the full-length television program Jefferson’s Secret Bible while it is still available for viewing on the Smithsonian Channel. Your object may not be as technically complex, but it is still a fascinating story and instructive opportunity on creating a physical facsimile.
- The National Archives: Preserving and digitizing photo collections
- The Library of Congress: Preserving your Memories: Traditional albums and scrapbooks
- And don’t forget to check out my colleagues excellent posts on preserving your photo album prior to any digitization and Archiving Family Traditions!
Happy holidays and happy digitizing!
- Digitization, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Scantastic: Scanning Archival images to make them more useful, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Holiday family traditions are some of the things that people look forward to throughout the year. For my family, that would be the annual Christmas party. This is an unusual tradition in a Jewish family that emigrated from Russia at the turn of the 20th century.
That's my Grandmother, Sally, on the lower left, her 4 brothers and sisters and her mother. It was her younger sister, Frankie, on the upper left, who started the family tradition that lives on today. As an adult, Aunt Frankie lived in New York City and before she got married she shared an apartment with a roommate from Chicago. As the story goes, one year the roommate could not get home for the holiday. Aunt Frankie decided to throw a party for her and invited her own extended family, which at that point lived in New Jersey and New York. The party has been held each year since then.
I'm not sure in exactly what year that first party took place, but in 1939, my mother attended the party. She is the second on the left in the first row.
And at the 1940 party this picture was taken of my Grandma Sally, her 4 brothers and sisters and their spouses in front of the Christmas tree.
Grandma Sally is in the middle of the back row with her husband, David, to her right. Aunt Frankie is wearing the pinafore and her husband, Wally, stands behind her. Nearby is the piano which was part of the entertainment at the party for many years.
In 1982, this picture was taken of Aunt Frankie's extended family. Aunt Frankie is in the middle row on the left with her children, grandchildren and in-laws. Frankie's eldest grandson, sitting on her lap and making a silly face, now has a child of his own as does his brother on the far right. Cousin Francie, one of Aunt Frankie's daughters, on the right with her arm around the boy in red pants, now hosts the party. Even after the passing of Sally and Frankie's generation, we still celebrate on Christmas Day along with the four generations of family that live in an ever-widening circle from Massachusetts to Virginia to California and points in between.
There are many traditions that are part of this family gathering. For example, we always have a Christmas tree and when Hanukkah and Christmas coincided, we light the candles on the menorah. The menu has remained fairly unchanged over the years. The feast includes turkey, stuffing (with and without nuts), beef tongue (don't knock it till you've tried it), baked beans, a chopped cabbage salad (served in the same huge bowl), cranberry sauces of various kinds, and of course a variety of delicious desserts.
There are other elements that make this tradition so rich including shared stories of past parties, family recipes and cooking rituals (the preparation of that chopped salad begins days in advance). Cousin Bill, Aunt Frankie's son, wrote and recorded a story for a public radio station one year that we listened to together during the party. We have also heard music, poetry and comedy records and there were even a few years where some of the cousins performed magic tricks. All these things are part of the history of a family tradition. There have been many photos and videos taken over the years to record the parties and we love to look back at images of past gatherings. Sharing our memories brings great pleasure to us all.
Preserving these traditions takes some effort in collecting and organization. The Archives has written about this before and it seems timely again.
Here are a few ideas about saving stories, recipes and video/audio recordings:
- Create a journal. Tell the story of an event. Share it with other members of the family to capture more details. Including information about who, where and when comes in handy when you want to recall some detail from a previous event.
- Write down and share recipes. Take pictures of food (tablets and smart phones are great for doing this). Write down a recipe and save it on your computer. Include information about who made that dish, its origins and family memories and stories associated with it.
- Make video/audio recordings of people singing, telling stories, reading poetry, or in the case of my family, doing magic tricks. It is easy to download these files from a camera/smartphone/tablet to your computer.
- Scan paper documents/pictures. Today's all-in-one printers make it easy to scan a document. And there are hand-held scanners that allow you to copy images/documents from a book or album.
- Save these files on a computer and organize them. It is good to name and group files by date, location or name so that you can find them later.
- Make backup copies in a different place, for example on a hard drive, flash drive, CD/DVD, or the cloud.
- Save hard copies of select files. Pick the best, or most favorite and print them out. Create a scrapbook that can be shared.
Taking a little time and effort will help to preserve family traditions and create a legacy to share. Remembering the sounds, smells, tastes, laughter and warm feelings bring us together again over the miles and the years. So, pass the turkey and the beef tongue and don’t skimp on the chopped salad!
- Clean Sweep in the New Year: Organizing Digital Photos, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Preservation of born-digital video is one of the more challenging types when it comes to digital files. As we noted in August, the Archives worked with Smithsonian Channel programs on DVD this summer. This project helped us develop workflows we are now adopting with some born-digital video.
Video on authored DVD is complicated. If you have ever viewed the files on a computer, usually you will see an AUDIO_TS folder and a VIDEO_TS folder. The VIDEO_TS folder contains VOB, IFO, and BUP files and the AUDIO_TS folder is empty. The VOB (video object) files contain the video and audio streams, subtitles, and menus; VOB is the wrapper or container. IFOs are information files or directions that the DVD player uses and the BUP files are backups of the IFO files. The video codec itself is MPEG-2 with either linear PCM, AC-3 or DTS audio within the VOB wrapper. The Archives also has received other video containers and codecs on DVDs and external drives that include MOV, AVI, MPG, and SWF formats. Workflows are to be developed for those separately.
We have seen a wide range of playback quality with these DVDs. The videos are lossy, meaning there has been compression to get smaller file sizes, resulting in some loss of data from the original production file.
The Archives’ policy is to transfer all digital files to our server and create a copy as soon as possible after receiving them. We do this because specific media, software, and hardware can become obsolete quickly, and it also allows us to determine current preservation requirements. Just copying VOB, IFO, and BUP files directly off the authored DVD breaks the menu functionality that one sees when a DVD is launched from a player or computer. Our solution has been to create a complete disk image or ISO of the DVD. This ISO file can be mounted to a computer for viewing with appropriate player software as if it was an actual DVD with the user menus in place. This serves as our preservation master.
An access copy, which should easily play back in multiple viewers on a computer while retaining menus, was desired as well. This was the tricky part, as results were mixed when testing various software programs. Either the video menu was missing or artifacts (distortion or waves in the picture) were introduced into the video. Timecodes (running time of the video) also were corrupted.
Working with the Smithsonian's Digital Asset Management System (DAMS) team in the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), we started testing ffmpeg, which is a popular and free command-line tool for converting, streaming, and recording video and audio. We successfully have been able to create one VOB by stitching all the VOB files together and then using ffmpeg to transform that VOB file into a playable MPEG-2 with an MPEG wrapper that is supported within the enterprise DAMS used internally at the Smithsonian. Ffmpeg also retains original timecode of the authored DVD from the concatenated VOB files, in addition to any original subtitles on the disc.
While the access MPEG-2 file lacks the menu’s functionality, there is a brief screen of the menu at the beginning of playback. When asked why it is important to capture the menu the answer is the information that is displayed. In the example of the baby anteater video screenshots here, its menu provides dates and times when it was filmed (at least according to the settings of the recording device), which is not always apparent from the DVD file directories.
This workflow, though, is not the final solution. Some videos on authored DVDs that were created with a Mac have not been successfully transformed to date and more research is needed. Digital preservation always will be a moving target. As tools and software change and mature, there also is the need that procedures do the same through regular evaluation to make sure the right approaches continue to be taken with digital assets.
- Digital Video Preservation: Continuing the Conversation, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Digital Video Preservation: Further Challenges for Preserving Digital Video and Beyond, The Bigger Picture blog, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Born Digital Video Preservation: A Final Report, Smithsonian Institution Archives
- Refining Conversion Contract Specifications: Determining Suitable Digital Video Formats for Medium-term Storage, Federal Agencies Digitzation Guidelines Initiative
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