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.
One collection I’ve been fortunate to help process and write the finding aid for was donated by the Center for the Study of the Korean War in Independence, Missouri. Whenever I’m not working on a specific project, I work on this massive 250+ box collection. My task has been to examine the contents of each folder and create folder titles.
After the initial survey, the curator will review the collection again and discard anything he or she determines to be of little value to researchers. In this collection, for instance, there were many webpage documents on the Korean War that originated from unreliable websites. There were also materials unrelated to the Korean War, such as articles about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These types of materials will likely be disposed of during the next processing phase in order to make the collection more manageable and relevant to researchers. Most of what I’ve worked with has been very interesting, however. I’ve read many letters and diaries from Korean War veterans, Korean War propaganda, and other wartime materials. I’ve been working as diligently as possible to help get this collection processed and make it available to the public.