My first digitization project was a collection of photographs from President Truman’s first inauguration. I scanned pictures of Truman’s family, Vice President Alben Barkley, the inaugural ball and parade, and the inauguration ceremony. Archivists must wear gloves when handling the photographs to prevent damaging them. After scanning, I began the process of entering the description of the photographs and putting them on the Harry S. Truman Library’s website. For each photograph, I wrote a brief title and recorded its size, color, and photographer. I also described each photograph’s content and identified any significant people, which sometimes required research. Once the descriptions were complete, the photographs were uploaded to the website.
I’ve also digitized hundreds of pages of documents in addition to these photographs, including State Department memos to President Truman regarding the Korean War and several of Harry Truman’s notebooks from his military training in World War I. Handling President Truman’s personal belongings has been one of the most exciting parts of my internship. I’ve also gained an appreciation for the art that goes into properly scanning frail and awkward documents.
Here are a few pages from one of Truman’s notebooks:
One aspect of my job as an archivist at the Truman Library and Museum has been record digitization. Although this can be a tedious and repetitive task, I find it as rewarding as processing collections and writing finding aids. As a researcher, I understand the value of having online access to photographs and documents. Researchers anywhere in the world can view records online, and many archives are digitizing their holdings. Digitized records can also be shared on social media to reach a broader audience.
For example, I scanned Margaret Truman’s diary from 1941 because the Truman Library wanted her December 7th and 8th entries to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Over the past two days, the Truman Library has shared the diary pages on their social media accounts and website. As of today, 275 people have liked or shared the diary pages on Facebook and 139 people have liked or retweeted them on Twitter. This is why I find digitization so valuable. Making history accessible is a large and rewarding part of what public historians do. I was able to connect over 400 people to an important part of our past simply by scanning two documents and putting them online. Digitization may not be the most exciting task, but it is certainly an important one filled with meaning.
By Kelly Hangauer
Back again with The Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan discussed in the last post. When I read through this information the first time, I marked ideas or “recommendations” made by the authors that caught my attention. I was struck by the fact that the Library of Congress has nearly “3.5 million recordings that embody more than 120 years of audio history.” What the authors suggest though, is that the digitized audio is not reaching enough researchers. In order to make these recordings more accessible, a centralized network is needed.
As an independent musician, I thought it was especially interesting how the Library of Congress recognized the realities of independent musicians today. The writers illustrate the fact that artists are tending to not copyright their music, and are oftentimes not manufacturing hard copies of the music. More and more, music is disseminated online through the channels of BandCamp, Soundcloud, and Spotify. The Library of Congress personnel who authored the National Recording Preservation Plan suggest that the Library of Congress should form working relationships with record labels and other music industries to ensure that engineers are recording music in such a way that it can be preserved. Considering the amount of music out there, a multilateral approach is needed.
Now, you may ask, how does one preserve audio? Well the answer is complex but essentially it entails creating a digital file from a record, reel-to-reel, tape, CD, or any other format of sound. The digitization process involves a set of best practices and standardizations one should adhere to in order that the digital file be as sturdy as possible. Once the archival digital file is created, upkeep from archivists is necessary to ensure its longevity.
If you are interested in learning more about this, go ahead and download The Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan.
By Kelly Hangauer
One of the readings I was responsible for during my internship was The Library of Congress National Recording Preservation Plan. This booklet, released in December 2012, sets forth an ambitious plan for preserving the audio heritage of the United States, and addresses many of the obstacles to this process. I found the reading to be very technical, but also quite interesting. Early on, the authors bring up the idea of a National Directory that would act as a central database for all recorded sounds. Having a centralized database like this would enable sound archives, like the Marr Sound Archives, to know which records and historical broadcasts have already been digitized by other institutions. Not only would this help to organize all of the audio information out there, but it would allow sound archivists to better prioritize the digitization of their collections. This is an especially important issue considering that many really old recordings are beginning to breakdown, and archives are often overwhelmed by large workloads and underfunding.
Also of interest is the way in which the book highlights the obstacles created by federal legislation. There is a federal copyright law that allows libraries and archives to copy audio recordings since 1972, but due to some strange nuances of the law, pre-1972 recordings are under a different copyright. Because of these issues, it is difficult to obtain permission to preserve pre-1972 recordings which happen to be the very ones that need it the most. Furthermore, these confusions make it more difficult to obtain funding for large preservation projects.
The meditation on this reading will continue in the next post.
By Kelly Hangauer
My name is Kelly Hangauer. I am a senior at UMKC and I will be graduating with a History B.A. and German Studies minor in May 2015. This semester I am embarking on an archiving internship that will focus on the John B. Gage collection. So you know, John Gage was the mayor of Kansas City from 1940-1946 and was a part of the reform movement that “cleaned up” local government after years of economic and political misrule under Tom Pendergast. Housed in the Marr Sound Archives, Gage’s collection of records, cassettes, and reel-to-reel tape will hopefully offer greater insight into this important time in Kansas City history.
The second I walked into the Marr Sound Archives, I knew I had made the right decision. Inconspicuously placed in the bottom floor of the Miller Nichols Library, the Marr Archives is a gold mine; its contents include hundreds of thousands of recordings of popular and obscure music, government programs, radio broadcasts, oral histories…the list goes on.
My first task was to organize, label, and systematize the random collection of records that were in John B. Gage’s box. Some of these records included glass disks that were beginning to weather, along with 6 and 10 inch records that were lacking identification. Using Excel, I set up an organizational process from which the records could be digitized. Numbers were assigned, descriptions were made, and fresh new sleeves were marked.
The mysterious records were then transformed into a digital format. Scott, the sound engineer, let me observe his process. His space is reminiscent of a recording studio and contains multiple types of reel-to-reel players and record players. After finding the appropriate stylus, Scott let the records roll as we discussed the sonic surprises he has encountered over the years.
Now that the collection is getting organized, the next step will be to listen.
By Autumn R. Neal
The main task in building the Edgar Snow Project website is combining the five sections that my class mates and I worked on individually in the spring semester. We each had our own exhibit consisting of a few years that we divided up and named based on significant changes in Snow’s life.
The first thing I had to do was make all five of our essays into one complete text. The challenges behind this have been that we all have different writing styles, different ideas about which information should be included, and different ways of presenting that information. My first step was to rewrite all the text so it sounded like one person wrote it as opposed to four. Obviously, there were quite a few areas where the original author did a better job than I could have. There were also some sentences that were worded so well I had to find a way to make the text flow but still honor what they wrote.
The next issue was the amount of writing we had. If I remember correctly each of us wrote 2000 words that were divided up between the main narrative, exhibit item descriptions, and other information attached to places on the map. Did I say that before? The website is an interactive map. It will show Edgar Snow’s life in terms of his movements around the globe. Each important stop will have a clickable dot that opens an item. The items will be photos, articles, letters, and excerpts from books or journals. I’ll write a post specifically about the items at a later date. Back to the main point, that’s almost 10,000 words. That is way too much text for one page. I had to reduce that number to 3000-4000 words. It was difficult choosing what to delete, keep, or try to incorporate into exhibit items. I guess we’ll see how well it worked in the next few weeks.
By Autumn R. Neal
In my last post, I talked about going through the letters and photos of the Edgar Snow Papers at the State Historical Society. After choosing the items I wanted to use, I had to digitize them and before this assignment I only knew how to use a basic scanner. Even though I had a lot to learn and got confused a few times, the process of digitizing the documents was entertaining, as least for me. I learned about archival standards such as the required scan resolution, file names, and the information that needed to be attached to each file. We also learned how to use Photoshop which, by the way is amazing. I had never used it before and now I have a hard time using other photo editors.
When I was scanning the newspaper articles I had chosen, I decided that the copy of the “Kansas City Boy Stowaway” article that I found wasn’t in very good shape and thought I would have to scrap it. The very helpful women at the Historical Society told me that it was on microfilm and I could request it to get a better copy. They ordered it for me from who knows where, emailed when it arrived, and helped me get the viewer set up. I looked through a month’s worth of newspapers from the 20s. In another class of mine, I am writing about advertisements from the 1970s and having that experience helps with the way I’m looking at my other paper. Even if you’re not doing research, looking at old microfilm would be a good way to entertain yourself while learning something at the same time.
By Autumn R. Neal
In one of my last posts I mentioned that the Edgar Snow Project is a map based exhibit and that each stop on the map has either a photo, document, or book excerpt. Like the text that I mentioned before, one of our assignments last semester was to find 12-15 exhibit items each for our sections. These could be letters, photos, journal entries, newspaper articles, or anything interesting that would add to the narrative. For this we went to the Missouri State Historical Society Research Center-Kansas City where the Edgar Snow Papers were held up until this summer (they are now at the LaBudde Special Collections). I spent quite a few hours there reading through boxes and boxes of letters and looking at a million photos. I had been interested in archival work before we started the project and this experience made me want to do it even more.
Going through the boxes of letters and photos was tedious but there are a lot of interesting things in there. Humor in the 20s and 30s was on a whole other level than it is now. Obviously there were also serious topics discussed so it was also an educating experience. It also made me very grateful that I have a surplus of patience and can read cursive. The letters in this photo are pretty clear but there were some that were difficult to read.
I didn’t really look at this part of the assignment as work though because I had such a good time doing it. I feel like these letters should be published as a book. Aside from the obvious political importance of Snow’s work, his writing would be interesting for anyone who likes to travel and wonders what it would have been like in the 20s.
By Autumn R. Neal
My last post was about the main text for the Edgar Snow Project website. There was one aspect of it that I didn’t address last time that is pretty important, the two books I used as references. In 1958, Snow published his memoir, Journey to the Beginning. If you haven’t read this book I highly recommend it. It flows well and is so captivating that instead of scanning for information I would catch myself reading chapter after chapter. I’m also pretty sure that Snow embellished some stories but, hey, all authors do that right? It’s what makes journalism so interesting. The only issue is that the memoir is not in order and Snow didn’t write dates to go along with his stories. In the process of rewriting, I was trying to figure out how to order certain events and the book may have made that harder.
I bought this used copy from Amazon that had the original sales receipt from Liberty Book Club, New York City. It sold for $3.86.
The second book I used is a biography on Snow by John Hamilton. This book was really helpful because it covered facts that Snow did not address in his memoir, such as his early life, as well as events that occurred after Journey to the Beginning. Hamilton’s book sometimes focuses on topics that weren’t relevant for this project. It was challenging trying to combine the information from the entertaining memoir and the serious biography into an accessible but professional narrative. I think that the site text is unique though because of the mixture of information from these two books and the information gathered from the archives.
By Autumn R. Neal
Hi! My name is Autumn Neal and I’m in my last semester as a History undergrad. My concentration is Antiquity but I’m also very interested in the history of Kansas City. This semester I’m working on a website that we are calling the Edgar Snow Project. I’ll share the link here once it’s all done. This is a website that three other students and I started work on in our Digital History course this past spring. The focus is on a journalist from Kansas City who was vital to our knowledge of Communist China as well as the communication between the U.S. and China in the 70s. The site will be shown to attendees of the Edgar Snow Symposium here in Kansas City that runs from October 16 – 18. There will be artists, educators, and government officials from both the U.S. and China in attendance. That’s kind of a lot of pressure…but a good pressure. I’m excited about it.
The plan is to write weekly about the process of building the website and the challenges I’m sure I’ll face along the way. Let’s be honest, I’ve already run into quite a few. Since I’ve been working on this for a while, I’m sure that I’ll go back in time every couple of weeks and post about something from last semester. The process of digitizing photos and learning how to work with new tools was difficult but fun and I’d like to share my experiences with everyone.