In July of this year, HSP undertook a project to survey its microform holdings. Microform includes both microfilm and microfiche. Microfilm is like 35mm film, while microfiche is tiny images on a sheet of paper. HSP holds approximately 23,000 microfilm reels and 10,000 microfiche leaves, including facsimiles of serials, vital records, manuscript collections, and other materials.
This project has two primary objectives: 1) compiling an inventory of the microform holdings and related data, including physical condition, image quality, intellectual property status, whether materials has already been digitized elsewhere, and other factors; 2) as time permits, I will assess select microform’s suitability for digitization based on physical condition and intellectual property concerns.
So, where did I start with this project? I began by combining two already existing databases, and updating the new one with fields that help to describe the metadata that HSP wants to collect (physical condition, image quality, intellectual property status, etc). I also took note of the various locations around HSP where there is microfilm (there is film on 4 of our 5 floors!).
My day to day work includes working with film from one of these spaces. I either create or update a record for each film or set of films (collections). I check each individual reel for physical condition and image quality. When there are many reels in a collection, I “spot check”– choosing films from the beginning and end of the collection. In some cases, the collections are quite large, and have been filmed at various points over time. An example of this is the Philadelphia Inquirer, which was filmed in sets over the course of many years. When something like this occurs, I make sure to “spot check” film from each date. One fun part of this job is getting to see the fun colored film that different film companies have used – I have seen blues, red, pinks, and yellow, among others.
What obstacles have I come across during my work? For the most part, the largest obstacle I have run into has been preservation problems. The main preservation problems with microform include degradation (usually redox blemishes – colored dots from oxidation), vinegar syndrome, and discoloration of the film. Vinegar syndrome refers to the smell from the off-gassing and decay of the film, which over time also degrades the film so that it comes brittle and fragile. Other preservation problems stem from eroding tape or rubber bands that have been used to keep the film from unspooling. In these pictures, you can see how the tape leaves residue on the film. You can also see how an old rubber band holds onto the film, and breaks when taken off.
The great news is that the progress of this project is on target. At the end of the six-month project, in late January, there will be a complete inventory of the microform holdings at HSP, ready to be used for reference work and to be consulted for digital projects in the future.
When I started interning in the Digital Collections and Systems Department here at HSP several months ago, I had no idea what was in store. Though I had recently completed my MLIS degree from the University of Pittsburgh, the fact that I was working full-time in another field unrelated to library science, archives or collections made it so that this internship, along with another internship I’m doing here this summer in the Collections area, constitutes the first actual job experience I have in my chosen field.
What I can truly say about this internship is that though some of the tasks can be repetitive, I’m never bored because of the wide variety of tasks I’m working on here. I started off trying to locate missing images from various drives in order so that they can be matched to the proper DAMS record and uploaded as such. I’ve also learned the ins and outs of scanning images, the batch upload process and even attended the one-day training we had on the fancy new scanner that was displayed on the ground floor for several weeks. One day I spent the afternoon accompanying the then R&R (Rights and Reproductions) director to find requested documents.
Though I enjoy digitizing, scanning and uploading images, the biggest thrill for me is encountering posters, flyers, photos and other archival materials that in subtle and not-so-subtle ways chronicle the history of this great city. A great example is the nearly forgotten Shibe Park (later Connie Mack Stadium) at 21st and Lehigh, the home of the Philadelphia Athletics and Philadelphia Phillies until it closed in 1970 (it was demolished in 1976).
The crowd at a baseball game in 1941
An image of the crowd from a 1941 game says much about the fashion of the time (compare the attire to the manner of dress at a typical sporting event nowadays) and more significantly, the overt racial barriers that existed not just on the field (it would be another 6 years before the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson, who famously broke the Major League Baseball color barrier) but in the audience as well. Significantly, Shibe Park also played host to the Philadelphia Stars (a Negro League team) in the 1940s since its capacity was almost twice that of their regular park at 44th and Parkside (the old site of that park now has a memorial plaque along with a mural devoted to the Stars).
Archives, like nearly all fields, are being forced to do more with less. Coupled with the denizens of the internet growing desire for more content at a more rapid pace and we have quite the dilemma. Luckily, there are still a few tricks about that can help to lessen both of these trials plaguing cultural institutions. The most recent of which I was able to experiment with was the usage of long-distance interns.
This past spring semester I worked with professor Jeff Cohen of Bryn Mawr’s Growth and Structure of Cities program and two of his students, Ariel Rosenstock and Cindy Spalding, on a project utilizing HSP’s David J. Kennedy Watercolors collection and our recently launched digital library. The idea behind the project was to have Ariel and Cindy further describe Kennedy’s watercolors based on their digital surrogates, which were digitized in toto as part of the Digital Center for American project, and add in georeferencing information so patrons of the digital library could compare the view and surrounding location Kennedy painted to that of contemporary times. You can see an example of this completed work in the item level record for “Friends Meetinghouse after Breton;” one of several records that Ariel and Cindy were able to update for this project.
One of the enhanced record from this project
Traditionally such a task could only have been completed by having the interns work on site. Now, however, the internet and tools that run either on the web or that connect to a centralized database make the necessity of coming into the archives to do your work a thing of the past! When the Kennedy watercolors were digitized they were added to our digital library with only a minimal amount of description; title, artist, call and collection numbers, and dates. Once the materials were digitized and online I was able to work with Ariel and Cindy to train them in using our digital asset management system, Collective Access, and start filling in additional information and corrections; inscriptions, attributions, controlled subject terms, wikipedia linking and the geo-locating information to name a few.
One of the screens our distance-interns saw while enhancing records
Though the project was a success, it was not without its hiccups. Cindy notes some of the issues she experienced:
…We encountered problems due to ongoing work on the database and programming of the software and security, which at times prevented our being able to login, to sort the images according to call #, and at one point we lost the ability to see the inscriptions that had been transcribed from the images…We were also slowed by the research to geo-locate the 19th century images, which in many cases did not correspond easily to a 21st century map. To do this research we used 19th century maps on the philageohistory.org website. I also utilized other online tools, such as historic Philadelphia directories available from philageohistory.org and other sources…These searches helped me to pin down locations that were sometimes erroneously located by Kennedy, or were nebulously described in the inscriptions…
Additionally, the work we had anticipated as the most time consuming for Ariel and Cindy was not nearly as lengthy as other aspects of the project :
Initially, we were concerned that the subject tagging would take extra time to add, but that proved not to be the case…The geo-locating and other research were the most time-consuming aspects of the project. I spent on average 15 to 20 minutes to complete the work on one image, but in a few instances, it took up to 1 hour.
Overall, however, we were all pleased with the results and the experience:
Cindy: I think the pay-off was a high level of correctness and completeness of information for each image, and it was this work that was the most rewarding part of the project… On the whole, I think this was a rewarding project that helped us to hone our research skills, and also let us be involved in the process of bringing an important part of Philadelphia history to online researchers.
Ariel: The internship has been a wonderful learning experience— providing an opportunity for me to implement and expand my academic knowledge, while gaining a critical introduction to the “digital humanities”. In particular, it exposed me to the digital technology methods that have become crucial today in capturing, cataloguing, and sharing our historical, cultural, and artistic memory. The flexibility in having a remote internship was convenient and unique.
There are refinements to be made to distance internships just as there are with any new workflow or methodology. However, I feel the potential pay off with such work to be great. Both for the students in the many online-only archives programs who need experience, and the archival institutions who would love to enhance their collections through improved metadata and error correction. Hopefully, following the creation of some video tutorials to make training easier, I will be able to continue projects such as the one with Ariel, Cindy and Professor Cohen and eventually expand it to other software we use, such as Archivists’ Toolkit, which could also be worked with in such a manner.
Before I even applied for my current internship, which is in digital collections, I debated whether or not I should apply for a traditional archive internship … processing, describing, ladder-climbing, etc… To be honest I do a little bit of those now. Actually, I do a lot of ladder climbing (it’s a good thing I got over my fear of heights during a rappelling excursion in college), but I do a lot more than that as well. One of the best things about my internship, besides the people, is that no day is the same. This is perfect for me since I like variety, especially when it comes to work. Here are some of my favorite aspects of my internship so far:
Researching. This includes using a card catalog — yes those still exist! — to find materials that need to be digitized. This may not seem like a lot of fun, but I liken it to a treasure hunt. Sometimes Melissa, the Rights and Reproductions Coordinator, and I spend a long time tracking down a specific document, letter, map, or photograph. We’re both fairly short and we often have to ask for help reaching an item because even a ladder isn’t tall enough to help us. However, the feeling of satisfaction you get when you find an item after a long hunt? Yeah, it’s good.
Folders of digitization requests from authors, professors, journalists, etc...
Digitizing. My friends often ask me if I get to read historic documents while I’m digitizing. I try to, but I often get in zone of scanning and it doesn’t always happen. Instead, I read snippets of someone’s life, which I liken to watching a reality show on an inconsistent basis. The most interesting document that I have digitized so far is a diary of a soldier in the 29th Infantry during the Civil War. His diary was equal parts History Channel and Oregon Trail, complete with every type of illness you can imagine. One of the more exciting aspects of digitizing is that I get to use Photoshop, which I love playing around with because it has so many unique features.
The scanner — where I spend a lot of quality time
Metadata-ing. Can I make that a verb? I have a love/hate relationship with metadata. Fun? Yes. Tedious? Yes. Of course, I know it needs to get done because it helps you find what you are looking for in the Digital Library. If you haven’t visited the Digital Library yet, there is no better time to start. Launched earlier this month, it contains thousands of images from our collections that focus on Philadelphia and Pennsylvania history. For the past four months, I have been going through our digital access management system, affectionately called the DAMS, to fix typos and other stay marks that would prevent you from finding what you are looking for.
If you are interesting in gaining first-hand experience in digital collection in an archival environment, read more about about the various types of internships on this page. I love my internship so far and plan to stay along the digital collections path once I graduate from Drexel. – Stephanie
The implementation of this system, which is driven by the open source software Collective Access, was a major component of the Digital Center for Americana (DCA) project. With the DAMS, you can now search and browse through HSP’s ever growing collection of media representations. The system currently holds roughly 17,000 images, but will also contain audio, video, pdf, and other files as we swell our digital collections.
The media overlay screen for image viewing
The above screen shot shows an image from the Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenewalt Collection (featured in HSP’s free Musical Finding Aid event this coming Tuesday, April 5th). When you click on an image in the DAMS you will be presented with the above overlay. Here you can utilize the small tool bar in the upper left of the screen to manipulate the image. You can zoom in, out, pan, and scale it to the full size of the original digital surrogate. For records that represent multiple images, you can click on the thumbnails at the bottom of the overlay to move between the different images.
Search results for one of the DCA featured collections in the DAMS
One of our purposes in building the DAMS is to provide more access to researchers to assist them in making decisions about what materials to use. Part of the DCA was trying out a new methodology for digital signposts. The concept can be thought of as More Product, Less Process for digitization. For the DCA we processed and created signposts for 52 Civil War related collections. The idea behind signposts is that the processing archivist can identify a small number of items within a collection for digitization that represent the type of materials a researcher would find if they were to come on site and make use of the collection.
The above screen shows search results for the term “Meade,” which brings results for entity (people, family and organization), collection, and object records entered in the DAMS. The George G. Meade Collection is one of those we created signposts for in the DCA. Some other collections from the DCA are the John Rutter Brooke Papers and the Civil War Envelope Collection. The signpost methodology is pretty new, and to the best of our knowledge HSP is the only institution utilize it. Please take a look and let us know what you think about this method for improving access and assisting in research decisions!
Browsing the DAMS
If you just want to poke around in the DAMS and see what we have to offer you may wish to try the systems browse feature. The above screen shows browsing collections, where you can scroll through and see all of the collections that HSP has at least one record for in the DAMS. HSP has over 21 million documents and several thousand collections. The DAMS only has a small portion of HSP materials online, but through patron requests, internal requests, grants, digital partnerships and project work we are increasing what is accessible online every day!
The DAMS is just one step in improving access and services for HSP patrons. The coming months will see the records in the DAMS added to our meta search system, discover.hsp.org (running Villanova’s open source software VuFind), as well as an e-commerce module for the DAMS which will allow you to make digitization requests, purchase images and acquire usage rights through the system. A little further out will see the addition of HSP’s graphics catalog, consisting of over 70,000 records, added to the DAMS as metadata only. It’s an exciting time at HSP, and we hope to continue to improve the types of services we can offer everyone!
In 1995, in a seminal article on digital preservation in Scientific American, Jeff Rothenberg presented this hypothetical scenario:
The year is 2045, and my grandchildren (as yet unborn) are exploring the attic of my house (as yet unbought). They find a letter dated 1995 and a CD-ROM (compact disk). The letter claims that the disk contains a document that provides the key to obtaining my fortune (as yet unearned). My grandchildren are understandably excited, but they have never seen a CD before – except in old movies – and even if they can somehow find a suitable disk drive, how will they run the software necessary to interpret the information on the disk? How can they read my obsolete digital document? (Rothenberg, 1995)
If it seems funny to imagine CDs as unreadable antiques in 50 years, consider the storage mediums of the 1980s and early 1990s, which only 20-25 years later look almost Mesozoic:
Legacy formats from HSP’s Institutional Archives.
In Ghostbusters, released in 1984, when Janine Melnitz said to Dr. Egon Spengler, “You’re very handy, I can tell. I bet you like to read a lot, too,” Spengler famously, monotonously responded, “Print is dead.” And while predictions of paperless offices have proved premature, the papers that document an individual’s or an organization’s history are, increasingly, not actually created on paper, but rather digitally, via software programs. Digital preservation, therefore, is a pressing issue in archives that affects the integrity of not only the material that is already part of collections, but also affects decisions regarding the types of digital materials and file formats that institutions will collect in the future. Obsolescence with regard to file formats, software, media and hardware presents complex issues that are difficult to predict. Any preservation strategy that is employed must be designed to adapt to unknown changes. Even if, for example, the 3.5” disks found in HSP’s collections have not been damaged — their data neither erased nor compromised — there is no guarantee the newest version of Microsoft Word will open up documents that were created with WordPerfect, or even an earlier version of Word.
Emory University’s work with Salman Rushdie’s archive material has brought to light many of the issues involved with preserving legacy digital materials. Not only did the Emory archivists collect all of his printed material, but they took every computer, hard drive, CD, and diskette in Rushdie’s apartment. Erika Farr, Emory’s director of born-digital initiatives, noted: “Rushdie’s archive is pretty remarkable and high profile. It’s a perfect one to start with. Much of his archival material after the 1980s, including daily calendars, virtual sticky notes, email correspondence and first drafts of novels, never existed on paper. We have close to his entire digital life up to 2006” (Naughton, 2011).
A Macintosh Performa 5400 like the one used by Salman Rushdie
If most of Rushdie’s archival material since 1990 never existed on paper, we can imagine how little material will be created on paper in the future.
My internship at HSP consists of two primary projects that will hopefully contribute to planning a digital preservation strategy: 1) Identifying materials within the collections that exist on digital formats, such as CDs and DVDs, and migrating the files to a separate, secure location, as well as identifying materials that exist on legacy formats, such as 3.5” and 5.25” floppy disks, WANG disks, audio cassette tapes, VHS tapes, open reel tapes, etc., and researching migration and/or emulation solutions to ensure their preservation; and 2) Interviewing the staff of HSP to determine the types of digital files that are being created during the course of business, how and where they are saved, and what is being done with them.
The goal of any digital preservation strategy is to provide long-term access to digital information, and that access is dependent on the integrity of each of the digital items. The challenge for archives is to preserve the integrity of the digital information that has already been collected and to have a plan in place for collecting and managing digital materials in the future. By failing to commit to digital preservation, institutions risk having Jeff Rothenberg’s hypothetical scenario become reality, and contributing to the “Digital Dark Age” – “the idea that historians of the future will look back to our present age as another Dark Ages since so much important information documenting our current civilization is recorded digitally and will have vanished” (Simons, 2004).
Naughton, J. (2011). If you have lofty ambitions for your legacy, head for the attic. The Observer.
In case you’re not familiar, a finding aid is a descriptive, but purposely non-interpretive, tool used by researchers to help identify and locate material within an archival collection. Anyone who has done research in an archive has used a finding aid in order to give them a guiding point for their research with collection materials. For many collections, the finding aid and organization of the collection is broken down into series; groups of materials that share a theme, format, or some other similarity.
I hope that anyone interested in using the Greenewalt collection for research finds this supplement useful in their research. This was the perfect collection for such a project considering Greenewalt’s background and interests in life. Greenewalt, a Lebanese woman born in the late 19th century, was a pioneer in the arts with her interests in music, light and color. She developed a color organ for displaying colored light scored to music and a notation system for this art which she called nourathar. In order to fulfill her musical pursuits, Greenewalt had to enter the engineering world and was awarded several patents, including one for an improved rheostat (you may know this best as the light dimmer switch). In the 1930s she spent much of her time in court, suing others for patent infringement.
As this project and its product is an archival experiment, I encourage readers to please comment and discuss the project via the comments section of this post. HSP will also be hosting a composers’ panel for this project starting at 6pm on the evening of April 5th, 2011 where we will bring the artists together, have a discussion about the project, listen to the music created and have the Greenewalt collection on display. More details on this event will follow when they are available.
Below is the music and video created for this project, as well as notes about the pieces primarily by the artists. The musical finding aid itself can be used by following this link. I would also like to thank the Heritage Philadelphia Program, without which this project would not have been possible.
Reviewing the papers of Mary Hallock Greenewalt, as well as the finding aid by HSP staff, I noticed several “characteristics” of Greenewalt’s personality and work that I thought could be translated well to a study of musical contrasts. I decided to focus on contrasts instead of colors since I find the concept of colors in music a very subjective way of “looking” at music. Greenewalt being a pianist herself , once I got involved with the project I wanted to write for the piano. I picked some of the “characteristics” that I found reflected in the papers-piano music, Impressionism, the waltz from Chopin’s perspective but also a little bit of Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, pulse-rhythm studies, her Middle-Eastern background-and started to combine different ideas in several different sequences in order to achieve the contrasts that I wanted. I want to offer my special gratitude to Jay Fluellen, pianist and a notable composer himself, for understanding my vision and translating it beautifully with his performance.
Willhem Echevarria was born in Puerto Rico, studied at University of the Arts under John Swana and Dennis Wasko, and worked for years as a trumpet player, arranger, and composer in a commercial studio setting. Always wanting to work in libraries in general, and music libraries in particular, he finished a Master in Library Sciences and worked at the University of Puerto Rico as a librarian before returning to Philadelphia in 2007. A professional librarian/archivist during the day, he still dedicates his evenings to music (performance, arranging, composing, and a little bit of ethno musicological research on the Caribbean).
The above video, entitled “Light-Color Play,” utilizes a painted board by Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenwalt which can be found in Box 12, Folder 3 of this collection.
Maurice Wright was introduced to the craft and technology of film when he met Director Gene Searchinger in 1976 and contributed an electronic score for an unusual film about recycled aluminum, “Metallic Tales: The Social Life of a Non-Ferrous Metal,” which received a Golden Eagle Award. Over the next two decades Wright continued to work with Searchinger, most recently contributing music and special sound for the three-program series about linguistics, “The Human Language,” broadcast in the United States and Japan. You can learn more at www.mauricewright.org
In the writings of Mary Elizabeth Hallock Greenewalt, great length is taken to explain that there is no direct correspondence between sound and color. According to her, they “speak in different ways” and are always subject to the interpretation of the artist and the experiences they bring to each piece. I’m not certain if Mrs. Greenewalt was a synesthetic. This piece, instead of relying on historical verisimilitude assumes she might have been. If not, I can only wonder what drives someone to spend the majority of their life exploring the bridge between the worlds of the seen and the heard. I thought it would be an interesting idea to put aside any pressure to provide a strict textual interpretation and instead attempt to explore the dream world of Mrs. Greenewalt. The very place where her thoughts, with all their meanings, resonances and impressions would have gestated and found themselves expressed in the light of day. She would later take these ideas and call her art, nourathar, derived from Arabic and literally translated as ‘essence of light’.
Ted Houghtaling is a sound designer working in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. You can learn more about him and his music at tedhoughtaling.blogspot.com.
Maximillian P. Lawrence earned his BFA in painting from The Rhode Island School of Design. He is a founding member of Space 1026, an artists’ collective that focuses in silk-screening, painting, audio/video production and graphic design. His work has been exhibited at the The Institute of Contemporary Art, Spector Gallery and Vox Populi, Philadelphia; Jasmine Pasquill, Jonathon Levine Gallery, and DUMBO Art Center, New York City; Lump Gallery, NC; The Butcher Shop, Chicago; Mina Gallery, San Francisco; Antisocial, Vancouver; and in Europe. His work is featured in publications 8 ½ by 11, 55DSL Book; and Rockpile Magazine. His work is in the collection of 55DSL Corporate.
I was inspired by writings and graphs by Mary Hallock Greenewalt, as well as one of her paintings with a fragment of a score by Claude Debussy (Volume 25). Ms. Greenewalt indicates “music for the ‘sigh’” under the sketch. My work is built around excerpts from Debussy’s “Soupir” (Sigh), for soprano and piano, set to the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé in 1864. The title of my piece is taken from a line in Mallermé’s poem.
The music from “Soupir” is alluded to throughout the work as well as Debussy’s “And the Moon Descends on the Temple That Was.” I also recorded myself at the piano, playing the musical excerpt that she transcribed, a series of descending dream-like chords. In her writings, she references music with a “moon” theme: “Et La Lune” by Debussy and the “Moonlight” Sonata by Beethoven. Layered in the music are fragments of these works and others, including Ms. Greenewalt’s own performances of Chopin and Beethoven. Also woven through the texture are various sounds of organ music.
I wanted to create a luminous soundscape, reminiscent of the “jeweled world” that Ms. Greenewalt describes in her vision of a new art form: Nourathar (essence of light). She imagines people “sitting within a huge living every-color jewel” while this “spoke the music of one’s soul”. She also speaks of the “shifting tones of light and color”, the “now brightening, now darkening, now a Jasper sea on the warm water”. Moon, soul, pulsing rhythm, color, light, dream, gems and water are recurring themes in her writings.
This piece is a creative response to her words, sketches and vision. In addition to the elements above, my own synesthesia (seeing colors to musical notes) helped inform the musical “color” of the work. There is a fluid progression from Debussy’s sigh-like chords to a high female voice singing “mon âme” (my soul) appearing and retreating into the distance like fleeting memories, an hommage to Mary Hallock Greenewalt and her extraordinary vision and creation.
Andrea Clearfield is an award winning composer of music for orchestra, chorus, chamber ensembles, dance and multi-media collaborations. Her works are performed widely in the U.S. and abroad. She has composed 8 cantatas for chorus and orchestra and is working on a new cantata for premiere at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts this spring. Recent premieres include Kawa Ma Gyur, a chamber work inspired by her 2010 trek documenting the Tibetan music in the restricted northern Himalayan region of Lo Monthang, Nepal, commissioned by Network for New Music. She was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome last fall, where she composed this work. She serves on the composition faculty at The University of the Arts and is the pianist in the new music ensemble, Relâche. She is also the founder and host of the Salon concert series featuring contemporary, classical, jazz, electronic, and world music, celebrating its 24th year and winner of the Best of Philadelphia Award, 2008. More information at www.andreaclearfield.com
In my last blog post I wrote about HSP’s ongoing wrestling match with its card catalog and the difficulties in converting legacy systems and data. One thing I failed to mention is the importance of designing any information system with future data migration in mind. This is of particular importance for an archival institution, like HSP, which has the end goal of maintaining records in perpetuity.
The graphics shelf list currently going through conversion survived as a viable access and retrieval system at HSP for more than a century. That system’s time has finally come, however, and for a variety of reasons (most of which could not have been predicted in the age of steam) we must spend a large amount of effort to bring its data into the digital realm. Surely it will be more simple in the future to migrate systems which are already digital?
Computer systems currently have a very brief lifetime. MANX, the manuscript management system at HSP built from a Microsoft Access database, has been in use for less than a decade and already needs to be replaced. Hardly the same life expectancy as the card catalog. Even so, MANX can be considered a dinosaur in the tech world where it is recommended that most systems be cycled out every 3 to 5 years. What can we do to prevent future difficulties in managing and migrating data from one system to the next?
MANX: HSP's ageing friend
Since we cannot predict what the future will hold, the best thing we can do is collaborate and standardize. We are moving ahead in this spirit at HSP by adopting the Archivists’ Toolkit open source software (AT). Though I am currently having some difficulties in getting data from MANX into AT, due to the nature of moving from one data model to another, I believe that once imported the data will be easier to migrate into future systems. AT has community support, is becoming more widely adopted, and has a data model built on the DACS rules. All of this translates into support from peers when it is time to move to something new, as well as widely adopted content standard in which to frame your information. Simply put, you no longer need to be alone when designing an archives system, and there will be many others in a proverbial migration boat built with the same structure come a few years time. All of this provides an incentive in the archival profession to find solutions to future migration issues together, hopefully making the jump from one system to the next a far easier task than what many of us face today.
Archivists' Toolkit: The new face of HSP's manuscript collection management
There is no guarantee that community driven and profession specific software will solve all of our migration issues. There are many who are skeptical of open source software and fear adopting a system that relies on development and support by their peers. While there are certain risks involved, I believe that building these systems together will in the long run make things easier for us all. I only hope these efforts allow the systems librarians who succeed me in centuries to come find their migration tasks less challenging than mine.
One of the major challenges we face at HSP with the Digital Center for Americana project is just how to deal with pesky legacy data. Getting information online to improve access is great and all, but it takes a lot of effort to select, customize, and design systems so they can function together, integrate data from older systems (legacy data) and then provide the easy online access we have all come to expect. One such system we are trying to port over, hopefully familiar to everyone over the age of 25, is HSP’s card catalog. Consisting of over one million cards, it is too big to tackle in its entirety for this project. Instead, we are charged with porting over 17,000 records relating to graphics items for the DCA and then another ~40,000 records as part of a separate project.
These card marking assistants are helping weed out duplicates for the retrospective conversion of HSP's graphics cards
This card didn't survive the selection process
There are many separate issues when it comes to converting these paper cards to electronic records; the first being data integrity. Some of the cards we are dealing with are over 100 years old and many of them have not been properly updated. As time goes on, certain items change location on shelves, or perhaps are moved to entirely different collections or institutions. It is not uncommon for the card pointing to the physical item to be forgotten when such a shift is made. Additionally, methods necessary to find information in a card catalog are handled differently in an electronic database. In most database systems you can simply keyword search to find a record based on a specific morsel of information. With a card catalog, however, to achieve the same task you need a separate subject, creator, title, geographic, and publisher cards; just to name a few. This is why our graphics card catalog, known as PC4, is bloated at over 95,000 cards for roughly 50,000 unique records. In order to ensure a speedy turnaround time by our conversion vendor, MARCIVE, a small army of volunteers and assistants carefully check each card in PC4 for duplicates and obvious inaccuracies, marking duplicate cards with a big X in highlighter. This process should take roughly 1200 hours worth of labor to complete.
There is much back and forth between us and our vendor for the card conversion. Its not as clear as one would think as to where information from these cards should fit into MARC fields
Once we have the duplicates removed, we have to send the cards off for conversion to MARC records. The MARC format has been around for the better part of 50 years in the library world, but it is not a standard utilized by most archives. We are using MARC because it is a system our vendor understands, and can serve as a sort of Rosetta Stone between the four systems (Archivists’ Toolkit, Collective Access, Voyager OPAC, and VuFind) that are being implemented or tweaked as part of the DCA. For systems that do not utilize MARC already, such as Collective Access or the card catalog itself, we have to develop field maps to make certain the data goes where it needs to.
A MARC record for one of the thousands of converted cards
All in all, it takes a lot of work to move data from one form of technology to another. When it’s all finished the greatly increased amount of manageability and access to HSP records, and by extension HSP’s collections, makes the effort worth it.
A record displayed by Collective Access from philaplace.org. The same software we will be using for HSP's DAMS
Posted on behalf of Lee Arnold, HSP Library Director
What constitutes a draft of the U.S. Constitution? This sounds like a rather simple question, but it is actually very complex. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) is home to millions of documents. Of these, we have considered six of them Constitutions. HSP has what we call the First and Second Drafts (both in James Wilson’s hand), Edmund Randolph’s copy of the First Printed Draft, Jacob Broom’s copy of the Second Printed Draft, one of the “official” copies printed for the Constitutional Convention, and the Pennsylvania Packet printing of the Constitution (the first public printing of this document).
The first page of the first draft of the United States Constitution
The first page of the second draft of the United States Constitution
The "upside down" paragraphs on the back of the second sheet of Wilson's first draft
The researcher who called our attention to Page 63 of the Wilson Papers believes that the “upside down” text is really the first page of another Constitutional Draft (and Page 63 being the second). What do you think?
Front view of page 63
Back view of page 63
We have provided links to several of these documents as well as soliciting Constitutional scholars for their thoughts. Whether folks believe this is a new found draft or simply notes from the Constitutional Convention, there is one point both sides can agree on. HSP’s collection of Constitutional documents allow researchers to study the entire process of the making of this great document: from Wilson’s first pass at pen to paper all the way to the first public printing in the Pennsylvania Packet newspaper. The role of the staff at the Historical Society is to keep these documents in a safe, archivally secure environment and to facilitate research. We have been doing so since 1824. Your support of HSP allows us to continue to do so for another 186 years.