This past Monday saw the official launch of the Digital Center for Americana project (DCA). Only a small number of people were able to attend in person, so I thought it would be nice to share with you some of what those present were able to see.
This event was heavily focused on the digitization aspect of the project and the flow of documents. All of this begins with archival processing. Project Archivist Cathleen Miller spends her time sifting through the collections, rehousing them, identifying items that require conservation, and flagging some materials for digitization. With an estimated 300,000 total graphics items in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s collection we cannot hope to digitize them all within a single project. Instead, we are working to create digital signposts. While processing, Cathleen keeps an eye out for items that well represent the contents of a collection, contain a good amount of research value in themselves, and that are visually interesting. Digitizing documents with these qualities provides researchers with information to help them decide if a collection is worth studying for their research.
Items that Cathleen marks as requiring special care or cleaning make their way to HSP’s conservation lab. It is there that conservation staff such as Leah Mackin, Tara O’Brien and Watsuki Harrington take steps to prolong the lifespan of the physical object. Dirt and mold is removed, tears mended, custom housing constructed, and items may be washed and deacidified. Once an item has been conserved it either makes its way back to Cathleen, or it proceeds to the digitization lab.
The digitization lab is where all of the images that make their way online are created. Here HSP’s digital imaging technicians Ashley Harper and Elsa Varela scan and photograph images that have been flagged for digitization. Creating a digital surrogate is more than simply capturing an image, however. Images must be cropped, color corrected and white balanced. Metadata recording information about the physical object, such as creator, title and format, and information about the digital image, must be entered into a database. The newly created digital files must also be properly managed, moved to their access point on our file server as well as a backup server.
The event this week focused on digitization, but this is only a small part of the DCA, one means to the end of access. This project aims to make HSP’s holdings more accessible and better represented for anyone with an internet connection. More finding aids will go online with the help of Archivists’ Toolkit, images and records representing collections will be searchable through our digital assets management system Collective Access, and our online public access catalog will become more user friendly and with better records. Keep an eye out for more information on this transformative process in future blog postings.