Take Me to 1911!

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Guys, fantastic news!

The New York Public Library released 180K historic images to a digital archive, and yes, instead of braving the frigging cold of 16 degrees (as it is outside right now), you and I can peruse in our pajamas!

A 1936 pic of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg by Walker Evans. Source: NPR, via the NYPL

A 1936 pic of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg by Walker Evans. Source: NPR, via the NYPL

One very cool feature of the NYPL is this feature: A comparison of 1911 street photos with 2015 Google Street View images. You click on the button, “Take me to 1911!” This is something like an earlier feature I mentioned on the blog, here.

This is part of a move to get library archival holdings out there, and more accessible, to the general public. It’s all about getting information and educational materials OUT to people (of course, the people still have to actually READ and LOOK AT the materials themselves). The NYPL is moving and grooving with digitizing their holdings — this is a great model for other public libraries to emulate; it so appeals to the researcher-teacher in me.

I wish this were a possibility for all libraries with archives. Not to be a downer, but the reality is that it will take years for other library archives to emulate what the NYPL is doing with their holdings.

The problem: Money and time. Digitizing images and holdings takes a lot of time — and I don’t mean sitting at a scanner and digitizing the artifact.

Library archivists spend their days researching the items themselves for inclusion in their holdings (i.e., they don’t simply accept everything given to them, because they don’t have the space to store them), educating the archive’s users on how to handle materials, preserving fragile source materials from decay, assisting other researchers with searches, learning how to save historic printed artifacts from disintegrating in their hands…there’s more, but you get it.

Stetson University Archives has been moving their holdings to digital format. What's nice is that the holdings are also searchable -- a great resource. Source: Stetson University Archives

Stetson University Archives has been moving their holdings to digital format. What’s nice is that the holdings are also searchable — a great resource. Source: Stetson University Archives

Some university archives, such as Stetson University in DeLand (Emmett’s alma mater) are digitizing collections extensively, and using the opportunities to train up-and-coming archivists. For instance,my colleague Angela the Archivist has told me that this is the type of project given to students who are in archival preservation studies at Stetson.

Case-in-point: Over a year ago, I inquired if they had a specific student catalog available for when Emmett was a student there. Angela told me they did; and, they would use my request as ‘project’ to get the catalog digitized. It was assigned to an archive preservation student, and voila, it was done:  The student received academic credit, the archive got a digitized document, and I could search it to my heart’s content in my pajamas.

Win-win.

Most archives in the libraries I use do not have a large staff, nor do they have this kind of program available at their school. Some libraries barely have enough space to keep their holdings on-site.

Holdings at the Provincial Archive specific to Pensacola Hospital.

Holdings at the Provincial Archive in Emmitsburg, Maryland specific to Pensacola Hospital. These are not digitized, but it would be great if they were! It’s a long schlep from Pensacola to the Maryland-Pennsylvania border!

 

Two tables worth of research materials, when I was at the University of West Florida. About half of the artifacts I handled were in good condition. None of these artifacts are digitized.

Two tables worth of research materials, when I was at the University of West Florida. About half of the artifacts I handled were in good condition. None of these artifacts are digitized. There are boxes on the other tables that I was reading, too — these items were in fragile condition.

When your archive belongs to a small, not-nationally-renown university that does not have a bazillion dollars’ worth of endowments, lots of other things get priority for budget dollars: A new HVAC system, for instance will ace a digital scanner, (especially in Florida in August).

Even my colleagues at the National Archives here in DC can attest to the rows and rows of historic documents in the stacks that are not digitized, in fragile condition. I saw them for myself: Literally thousands of books, documents and other artifacts that are well cared-for, but you need to show up in person to see them.

This is what it looks like in the stacks, folks. I wasn't allowed to take a photo while I was in there, but it does look just like this, many rows, many rooms. Most of this is not digitized. Source: LOC

This is what it looks like in the stacks, folks. I wasn’t allowed to take a photo while I was in there, but it does look just like this, many rows, many rooms. Most of this is not digitized. Source: LOC

I’m not sure about doing all of my research in my pajamas on a regular basis — even when I show up to dig around in a dusty archive, I dress professionally (or, at least try to look the part) — but I admit that the idea is appealing, especially when the weather is frigid.

 

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