Tag Archives: Digital Preservation

Preserving the Past: An Active Internship at the NEDCC

by Rebecca Carpenter

In the fall of 2016, I completed an internship with the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) with Frances Harrell and others in Preservation Services.

Screen shot of the NEDCC website.

The NEDCC, founded in 1973, was the first independent Conservation lab in the US dedicated to preservation and conservation of paper and film based materials. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities it has grown to encompass Imaging and Audio services as well. With the advent of new technologies, preservation and conservation will become ever more important in the archival world and the NEDCC is leading the way.

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This 19th-century scrapbook contains mixed media and provides complex preservation challenges.

I took a behind the scenes tour of the NEDCC facilities during Professor Morgan’s “Archival Methods and Practices” course. That experience, and my lifelong interest in preservation, led to the opportunity to work with the NEDCC.

Digitization as Digital Preservation?

Since the 1990s libraries, archives, and similar institutions have digitized select special collections materials at an increasing pace. This push occurred partly because technology enabled it. Digitization and the internet brought hidden collections out of the shadows and made them accessible to a much larger audience. This brought with it a host of challenges.

David Joyall, Senior Photographer at NEDCC, using digital photography for preservation.

At what resolution should items be scanned or photographed? What storage should we be using to store digitized materials? What platform is easily accessible to the public? How often should we do fixity checks? Is an internal or external IT department better? How much storage space will we need? What happens to the materials after digitization?

All these questions, and more, became commonplace when talking about digitization. Quickly, archivists began to ask, who could and should create and provide answers and establish best practices? The Library of Congress, Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative, and the Smithsonian Institute are some of the bigger institutions and groups that have taken on the task of creating and distributing best practices and guides. These standards are helpful, but often filled with jargon and might not be useful in small- to mid-size institutions who have limited staffing and budget resources. It is with this thought in mind my internship took shape.

The Survey

The main objective of my internship centered on assisting in the creation and distribution of a survey about the present-day digitization and digital preservation practices of small- and mid-size institutions. NEDCC hoped to use the information gleaned from the survey to devise educational classes and webinars on digital preservation and digitization techniques.

I researched and identified state and local institutions to target in the survey.

I worked with the Preservation Services team throughout the entirety of this process. In the first few weeks of my assignment with the NEDCC, much of the time was pulling together a list of possible institutions to target for the survey. Researching each state, I collected information about statewide museum and archive associations to get the information out to as many people as possible. Then, I targeted smaller and specialized institutions, especially those whose focus pertained to minority groups. After targeting individual institutions and statewide institutions, I moved to looking at listservs and social media pages that could be helpful in distributing the survey. In the end, I created a list of over 200 individual email addresses compiled for distribution, along with other 50 listservs and groups.

One of the most important steps was writing clear survey questions and making sure that the answers would give us the information we wanted. I have only made one survey before this project and it was a customer service survey. In a way, being new to preservation, digitization and digital preservation helped me to create questions hat were easy to understand, even for those with limited knowledge of the specifics of digital preservation.

I designed the preservation survey using Survey Monkey.

I designed the survey in SurveyMonkey. This was the most creative part of my internship and I had a good time with it!

The weeks following the opening of the survey became about data analysis. SurveyMonkey has an analysis tool; however, we collected so much odd and individualized data, the results of SurveyMonkey’s analysis were not great. Therefore, my job became attempting to do basic data analysis. Having never done data analysis before, I spent time watching YouTube videos and doing research about how to do data analysis. I found out from this survey how incredibly difficult data analysis is! I was not surprised to find out that the NEDCC previously hired data analysis employees.

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Staffing data from Digitization and Digital Preservation Survey. October 2016.

 

The work with the survey culminated in the presentation at the Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group (PASIG) conference in New York. I presented with NEDCC’s Frances Harrell. I was very nervous about speaking to such a large group of people but, in the end, our presentation went well by all accounts.

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Frances Harrell of the NEDCC and me after completion of our presentation at PASIG. October 2016.
Preservation Services Work

Along with the survey work, which took up most of the time, I was able to spend time doing other tasks for the preservation services at the NEDCC.

Kiyoshi Imai, Associate Book Conservator, working in NEDCC conservation lab.

One of my favorite tasks that did not directly relate to the survey was reference work. I read and answered questions that came to the Preservation Services email address . This enabled me to do research on preservation and conservation practices. Because of this task, I also spent some time in the conservation lab seeing what they were working on and the techniques they used regularly. This part of my internship I enjoyed more than anything else.

Take-away

The NEDCC Preservation Services team showed me how important preservation is to all collections and how vulnerable almost all collections are.  This internship was informative, educational, and challenging at times. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know more fully that preservation and conservation are where my true passion lies.

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Fighting Fire & Segregation: A Semester at the Boston City Archives

By: Connor Anderson

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Officers from the Boston Police Department standing beside school buses. Photo from the 1975 Hyde Park High School yearbook.

I decided to complete my internship at the Boston City Archives (BCA) in West Roxbury thanks in part to the experience I had there during our Digital Archives class in spring 2016. In that class, we worked with Marta Crilly, the Archivist for Reference and Outreach, to create exhibits for the class’s Omeka site, “Stark and Subtle Divisions,” which explores the desegregation of the Boston Public Schools.

My internship included many small projects but, primarily, I focused on digitizing materials from the desegregation collections housed at the City Archives, and inputting metadata onto their digital repository, Preservica, for future use. This project builds upon the work of Lauren Prescott, a recently graduated student from our program.

I started off in September digitizing materials from the Mayor Kevin H. White records, specifically feedback notes from the various “coffee klatches” the Mayor held throughout the city. Some of these notes mentioned the residents’ concerns about the busing situation. I then moved onto some materials from the Louise Day Hicks papers and the Fran Johnnene collection, two ardent opponents of desegregation, or “forced busing,” as they dubbed it.

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A map of neighborhood schools with accompanying geocodes found in the Louise Day Hicks papers.

The Louise Day Hicks material featured interesting content that Marta thought researchers would love.

I was really hoping that I would have the chance to scan images while at the BCA. I am familiar with digitizing still and moving images from my internship in the audiovisual archives at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and I really enjoy working with that medium. So when I heard that there were some negatives in the Kevin H. White records that needed scanning, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. We encountered some setbacks and I ended up only scanning a few negatives. In hindsight, that’s good since there were many other projects for to do.

After working there a few weeks, Marta mentioned that some of the materials from the Cocoanut Grove Night Club fire needed scanning.

In November 1942, Cocoanut Grove, a night club in Boston, caught fire. The blaze claimed the lives of almost 500 people making it the deadliest nightclub fire in the world at that time. The Boston City Archives has three collections which contain material about the fire: the Boston City Hospital collection, the Law Department records, and the William Arthur Reilly collection. The materials are fascinating, with items ranging from death certificates to samples of the fabric that caught ablaze (see below).

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A sample of fabric that caught fire at the Cocoanut Grove Night Club Fire.

This detour turned into one of my favorite projects of the semester, and I learned more about the privacy restrictions of some collections. The biggest issue we faced with this material involved HIPAA regulations that protect the privacy of medical records. After consulting with an attorney for the City of Boston, we were cleared to publish the names and other information about the victims online, because (long before HIPPA was enacted) the Boston Post had already published the names in a “List of Dead.”

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A page from the Boston Post featuring names of the victims of the Cocoanut Grove Night Club fire.

The materials in these collections reflect the fire’s immediate impact on the city and its long-lasting national legacy. For instance, the Boston City Hospital (BCH) records document procedures and treatments used on Cocoanut Grove fire victims. The approaches and practices used at BCH established a modern treatment of burn victims that hospitals across the country soon followed. The materials from the Law Department document the city’s creation of new safety and fire codes.  Many of the codes Boston created in response to Cocoanut Grove were later adopted nationwide.

After scanning materials related to the Cocoanut Grove Night Club fire, I returned to desegregation, this time focusing on yearbooks. I focused on two high schools in neighborhoods which busing significantly affected: Charlestown High and Hyde Park. I soon found out, to my surprise, that Hyde Park High School already enrolled a number of non-white students before busing started in the Fall of 1974. Charlestown High School, on the other hand, enrolled very few non-white students prior to the Fall of 1974. This began a troubling trend of white Charlestown residents sending their children elsewhere for school.

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A Hyde Park High School Senior sporting some groovy hair.

In total, I scanned twenty-three yearbooks between the two high schools. Needless to say, the fashion trends of the 1960s and 1970s puzzle me after going through the yearbooks.

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Some lovely metadata using a MODS template by yours truly.

For each object I scanned, I needed to complete the metadata on that object as well. In my internship, I created metadata that provided detailed information about the digitized content. Marta set up a Google spreadsheet to organize all of my metadata, which was a huge help since I scanned almost 350 objects. The metadata I was responsible for were–Title, Record Identifier, Date Created, Creator Name, City, Neighborhood, Description, Collection Name and Number, Location of Originals, Type, Language, Conditions Governing Access, Conditions Governing Reproductions, Library of Congress Subject Headings, Description Standard, Pages.

Thankfully, the Boston City Archives has a set of controlled vocabulary to help with the process. I also found that a lot of the Library of Congress Subject Headings, dates, creators, and locations could be repeated. Still, it took me around 15 hours to complete all of the metadata alone during my internship.

I benefited a lot from my semester at the Boston City Archives. I learned technical skills that I will use in my future career and also got a view of how a municipal archive operates. Some of these skills include redacting documents, digitizing documents, different metadata formats, and working with a digital repository. There are many more that I probably do not realize I acquired yet as well. I am excited to take the valuable experience and these skills with me as I begin my career! To read more details about my experiences each week, check out the class blog for internships: Archives In Turn: Interns in Archives.

 

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Books & Maps & Photos, Oh My! An Afternoon at the NEDCC

Amanda Maloney showing a a rare megalethoscope print and discussing the preservation process.
Graduate students in the Archives program learning about megalethoscopes from Amanda Maloney, Associate Photograph and Paper Conservator, at NEDCC (left).

By: Corinne Zaczek Bermon

Recently, graduate students in “Archival Methods and Practices,” a history course taught by professor Marilyn Morgan, entered the exciting world of conservation and preservation at the New England Document Conservation Center (NEDCC). Located in Andover, MA, the NEDCC, the premier center for conservation, provides treatment for rare books, oversized maps, photographs, historic documents, scrapbooks, illuminated manuscripts, audio recordings, movings images, and other rarer formats. Working with archival repositories, museums, and individuals, NEDCC aims to preserve records in their original format. They save tangible pieces of history.

Upon our arrival, Julie Martin, Marketing and Public Relations Manager, and Eva Grizzard, Preservation Specialist, provided a warm and informative introduction to the NEDCC and led us to the impressive main work laboratory. The vast room held several enormous tables at which conservators painstakingly attended to various projects.

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Main work room at the NEDCC.

While the conservators concentrated on their work, Michael Lee, the Director of Paper and Photograph Conservation, discussed the processes involved in paper conservation and explained the vital importance that advanced knowledge of chemistry and manual dexterity play in conservation work. He expertly described one process that used water baths to refresh the cellulose of delicate paper advertisements.

Michael Lee explaining paper conservation.
Director of Paper and Photograph Conservation Michael Lee (left) explains that paper conservation requires advanced knowledge of chemistry and manual dexterity to Lauren Prescott, Paige Kinder, Rebecca Carpenter, Laura Kintz, Connor Anderson, Corinne Bermon, Patty Bruttomesso, and Dorothy Clark.

Mary Patrick Bogan, Director of Book Conservation, displayed books, scrapbooks, and illuminated manuscripts in various states of deterioration. She described some treatments in book conservation including stabilizing the bindings, boards, and spines of books.

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Mary Patrick Bogan explains how to treat an early 20th century scrapbook to Maryrose Grossman, Connor Anderson, Lauren Prescott, Laura Kintz, and Paige Kinder.

As she highlighted the difference between conservation and restoration, she explained that, as a conservationist, her primary goal entailed preserving the books to prevent further damage.

Amanda Maloney, Associate Photograph and Paper Conservator, discussed the conservation of megalethoscope prints, a rare style of photography invented by Carlo Ponti between 1861 and 1862. Megalethoscopes used special translucent albumen photographs that were colored, pierced, and backlit from an internal source to create dramatic effects. Maloney demonstrated how she preserved the albumen prints and their support structures.

In NEDCC’s digital imaging area, Terrance D’Ambrosio, Director of Imaging Services, and David Joyall, Senior Photographer, demonstrated the significance of digital photography in preserving oversized items. Using stationary overhead digital cameras enabled them to photograph pieces of extensive works, such as the wall-sized historic map below. They then virtually stitched together the digital images to recreate a readable map online.

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Terrance D’Ambrosia (left) and David Joyall demonstrate to Corinne Bermon and Dorothy Clark how digital photography can be used to preserve oversized items such as this extensive map.

Lastly, Julie Martin introduced a fascinating machine: IRENE (Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.) that operates within NEDCC’s audio preservation center. Physicist Carl Haber won the MacArthur Genius Award for inventing this process in which cameras photograph the grooves in fragile or decayed sound recordings. Then, using software that knits those digital images together, the IRENE creates an unblemished image file and reconstructs the sound recording by converting the images into an audio file.

Julie Martin, Marketing and Public Relations Manager, explains the functioning of IRENE.

Haber’s IRENE is revolutionizing audio preservation. Sound recordings on older formats, such as wax cylinders or lacquer discs, are too delicate to be played back with traditional equipment. Without the non-invasion method of preservation that IRENE provides, unique voices, such as Alexander Graham Bell, and early obscure recordings of artists, like Woody Guthrie, would be lost forever. You can read more about NEDCC’s work with IRENE on their blog or listen to some digitized recordings NPR.

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Maryrose Grossman, Patty Brutomesso, Corinne Bermon, Lauren Prescott, Laura Kintz, Connor Anderson, Paige Kinder, Marilyn Morgan (professor), Dorothy Clark, and Rebecca Carpenter at NEDCC.

Our archives class walked away from the NEDCC fascinated by the different facets of preservation work and intrigued by the use of modern science to preserve our history.

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