B. Wade's Blog

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

After sitting in traffic for 2 hours last night trying to get to class before deciding to head home and considering it was 2 and 2 ½ hours the last two times, I decided to hang it up for the semester. I both work and live in Maryland and I didn’t realize how hard it would be, especially once daylight savings time hit. I wanted to let everyone know that I really enjoyed the experience and I have definitely learned some useful tools. My co-workers and I have actually been auditing the class and were instructed to report back to NARA on its applicability to our work. I think all three of us will have no problem doing that and in some ways the knowledge learned in class could expand our current duties, but with our current workload the chances are slim. I came up with a couple of project ideas, which I write about below and I actually started to develop a web site, which I give the link too.

The first project idea is for work, but with various standards and rules that our on-line content must meet, my involvement would probably be limited to just proposing the idea. The Archives has numerous on-line exhibits (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/) and I believe most of them are done in collaboration with contractors, but we do have a web program staff and an exhibits staff to oversea such projects. I’ve already talked about my idea in a past blog, but I think that mapping technology would be excellent tool for an on-line exhibit. The Archives is currently working on an exhibit, which is currently entitled “Digital Vaults”. The company hired to create the exhibit is Second Story (www.secondstory.com), who has created a number of exhibit web sites for various companies and institutions. They created a site for National Geographic entitled “Exploring the Chesapeake Bay Then and Now” (http://nationalgeographic.com/chesapeake/). The site is Flash-based and allows visitors to explore the bay virtually through the use of a map interface. I would propose using our large collection of aerial views of the United States taken by the Army Air Corps in the 1920’s through WWII. My idea is to create a web site which utilizes mapping technology by allowing visitors to view recent satellite images of a particular area and enable them to click on a marker to see how the area looked 60 to 80 years ago. I actually fooled around with mapbuilder.net to show some of my colleagues the possibilities. Cost would probably be the biggest issue. I was curious about the price of the Digital Vaults project and the price is a staggering $300,000. I did find out that this does not come out of the Archives budget. It is funded by the Foundation for the National Archives, which is directed by individuals in the private sector who raise money to support outreach projects and programs.

I’ve already started to work on my second idea, which is pretty much just a personal site using images from my unit. It is loosely based on the select lists that we created many years ago in hard copy form that have now been digitized and can be found at http://www.archives.gov/research/formats/photographs-dc.html . They are basically publications, which feature select images from a particular subject. Titles include “Pictures of World War II”, “Pictures of the Civil War”, and “Photographs of the American West, 1881-1912”. My web site utilizes the above mentioned Army Air Corps photographs to create a similar type of select list. It’s like a catalog of images. The address for my site is www.bwade-project.com .

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I guess the dicussion last night really got me thinking, because this is my second blog and it isn't even noon yet. I have more thoughts from the class last night about the great issues brought up by my colleague Tom Jenkins. Great thoughts, which really got me thinking. Can we really be bias and free of historical interpretaion, if we are deciding what gets digitized and goes up on the web. Historians could find information on our web site and come to conclusions, not realizing that there is information in our holdings that will counter their argument. I don't think this will be a huge issue in Still Pictures, but it could cause great debate in the Textual units. The provenance issue is also very intriguing. I'll be thinking about it for a while. The Archives organizes its records based on two principles, provenance and original order, but I don’t know if our digitizing efforts would compromise either. When a digitized record is attached to an item level description in our Archival Research Catalog (ARC), it is not being mixed with records of another agency or office, so I’m not sure if any provenance is lost. The record is still accredited to its creator and ARC provides a link to the series and record group that the record came from. Also, the digitized image is not the record copy. The record copy is still in its original order in a box on a shelf somewhere, so I don’t know if that is lost. Hopefully researchers will understand this when looking at images on the web. Of course, I said hopefully. Now, on-line exhibits could have records from various records groups and series, but I don’t believe the target audience for on-line exhibits is our typical researcher, like a historian or lawyer, so would provenance and original order be an issue? Furthermore, if cited properly, all items in exhibits should refer back to the record group and series that the record comes from. Now, born digital images that appear on our web site, will not have any problems with provenance and original order, because the entire series will be up. Actually, in some cases, scanning projects that go up on the web could include an entire series. Man, I better get back to work, before head explodes.

On the trip home after class, I started thinking about the 9/11 photographs shown to a fellow classmate during a tour of the Still Picture unit at the National Archives. I haven't worked on any of our FEMA accessions, so it through me off, but after thinking about it, I don't believe our FEMA records goes up to 2001. I would have to check, but I believe we have at least one unprocessed accession that goes up to 1999. The digital files shown on the tour would have been the Index to the FEMA headquarters digital photographic files, which has thumbnails and browser size images attached and is available on-line. Our Electronic Records unit also has custody of the FEMA headquarters digital photographic files series. Both of the files go through 2001 and I believe up to 2004. I believe I heard that FEMA has recently sent over there 2005 digital files. The prints shown on the tour were probably the prints we made from the digital index to test their quality just in case researchers wanted to make prints themselves without ordering reproductions from our vendors. Now there is the possibility that you could find prints or negs in our possession that are duplicated in the digital files. The digital files are a combination of both born digital images and images scanned from film-based originals. I believe that FEMA didn’t start to keep digital files until the late 1990’s. The film-based originals would be the official record copy and would come to Still Picture unit. Plus, I believe only certain images were selected for scanning, so we wouldn’t want to remove items from their print or neg. series just because they were scanned. Now the born digital images would be considered the record copy for those images. Besides for the above reason, when it comes to the issue of NARA keeping both prints/negatives and digital images, which are duplicates of each other, it really comes down to preservation, reproduction, and reference issues. We kn0w what the record copy is, but would it be beneficial to have other copies in different media types. We are really just opening the door to these issues.

On another note, someone asked in class about the proper transfer media for electronic records to the Archives. I actually thought you were able to transfer using CDs, so I did some research when I arrived at work this morning. I looked at the transfer requirements for digital photographic records which refered me to the section in the Code of Federal Regulations for the transfer of electronic records. According the CFR, agencies my tranfer records on open reel magnetic tape, magnetic tape cartridge, CD-ROM, and File Transfer Protocol (FTP) , so it looks like it is possible to transfer using CDs. I actually looked and the the last FEMA transfer came in on 6 DVDs.

Monday, October 30, 2006

This past week’s reading really dealt with issues my institution is dealing with for a while now. Over the past decade the National Archives has been trying to find ways to provide access to its vast holdings through the web. You can find many digitized records throughout the Archives web site. Many items were digitized in the late 1990’s during the Electronic Access Project (EAP), which included upwards of 125,000 records. These items were scanned for access and not for preservation purposes. Even though the Archives has its own Digital Imaging Lab, which undertakes scanning projects, this large scale project was undertaken in collaboration with a contractor. Over time other digital items have been added to ARC. One example is when the permanent Public Vaults exhibit opened at Archives I. I believe that most or all of the records in the exhibit were digitized and placed in ARC. In addition, digital versions of live exhibits can be found at the Archives on-line exhibit hall.

Besides for the creation of the digital images during EAP, the “Guidelines for Digitizing Archival Materials for Electronic Access” were created by the lab and later revised in the 2004 “Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Archival Materials for Electronic Access”. These guidelines set internal NARA standards for digitizing archival records and the creation of production master image files. The standards not only address creating digital surrogates for facilitating access, but also reproduction, which is considered a form of preservation. This can be important for frequently requested records that can be damaged if frequently handled. In the future, it seems that digitization will be the only option for our Special Media Preservation Laboratory. There has been an on-going project to duplicate several high risk negative series on film. The lab has already informed us that Kodak is no longer producing the film used in the project and that future projects will be done will high resolution digital cameras.

Another topic from this week is preserving digital history. One method is to constantly migrate to new formats, but NARA is currently attempting to build the Electronic Records Archives (ERA). The goal of the system is to provide access to all types of electronic records via the Internet – by anyone, anywhere, at anytime – across time and technology. ERA would evolve over time and not be dependent on the programs that created a particular record or allowed it to be accessed. The Lockheed Martin Corporation was awarded the contract to design ERA. The Archives currently has a system called AAD or Access to Archival Databases which provides online access over the Internet to a selection of NARA’s electronic records from archival databases. This system gives access to born electronic records and currently has an index to photographs from FEMA, which features born digital images.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I really want to make my project relative to the work I do at the National Archives. I am employed in the Still Picture unit, so I’ve decided to incorporate photographs. Even though it is only a slight percentage of our actual holdings (approx. 10 million photographs and 20,000 graphic images), you can find over 100,000 digitized images in our Archival Research Catalog (ARC), which uses a search screen and results page similar to most search engines. Recently, I’ve tried to think of different ways to present this information to the public and I believe mapping tools have great potential. We have a large collection of aerial views of the United States taken by the Army Air Corps in the 1920’s through WWII. My idea is to create a web site which utilizes mapping technology by allowing visitors to view recent satellite images of a particular area and enable them to click on a marker to see how the area looked 60 to 80 years ago. As first, I would probably have to concentrate my project on a specific area.

To demonstrate the possibilities of modern technology, I might create a web page using mapbuilder.net. I have access to a high end scanner, so digitizing the images won’t be a problem. My final project proposal will relay on a contractor to build the site. The Archives is currently working with a company called Second Story (www.secondstory.com) to create a new online exhibit, so they could be consulted considering they have done a similar project in the past. They produced a site for National Geographic entitled “Exploring the Chesapeake Bay Then and Now” (http://nationalgeographic.com/chesapeake/). The site is Flash-based and allows visitors to explore the bay virtually through the use of a map interface.

As a government institution, you could say the funding would come from the good old taxpayers, but I believe we have partnered with private companies in the past on similar projects, so that is always a possibility. Creating online exhibits and collection databases are not part of my job description, so I don’t know if any of this would actually happen unless those offices wanted to collaborate or wanted online project ideas.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Associated Press article “Historic Websites”, explains how different historic sites and museums are using technology to reach a wider audience through online slideshows, exhibits, and interactive tours. In addition, they are producing audio programs, which can be heard on portable players and through your computer. Not only does it look like institutions are building interactive dynamic sites for information access, but to attract more onsite visitors. A more attractive website might make a visit more appealing. Another thought I had was the financial implications that such websites can have. Not only could an excellent website have a lasting impression on the general public, but could do the same for those who support these institutions financially.

David Rumsey’s online map database is highlighted in Wade Roush’s article “From Lewis and Clark to Landsat”. Giving historians the ability to access and view these maps online not only gives them thousands of maps at there fingertips, but provides online tools, which creates a worthwhile viewing experience. Sites like these have great potential, especially if you can give the public access to these maps online without much loss of detail.

The other readings assigned for this week deal with using mapping technology and georeferencing. These articles, combined with last weeks class discussion might take my class project in a whole new direction. One of the examples given in the article “Combining Place, Time, and Topic: The Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative” is a map interface for retrieving news reports relating to cities in India, which is similar to an idea discussed with several classmates after class last week. Mapping technology has a great deal of potential in the history realm. Hopefully I can use this technology in my digital history project.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I could be wrong, but I don’t believe my institution currently supplies APIs. For researchers to search our databases they must access the information directly from our web site. Some of my colleagues have complained for sometime that we need to reach a wider audience by allowing outside search engines access to these databases. After reading Cohen’s blog, I can’t figure out a reason why we wouldn’t, unless cost is the determining factor. Maybe I just don’t know enough about our computer systems to understand the institutions concerns. Probably the real concern is that researchers might start to use the third-party source more and would as Cohen writes, “devalue the hard work and thoughtfulness put into the more public front end for a digital project.”

In my opinion, as a public institution concerned with providing access to records, we should do whatever it takes to make the information more accessible. Third-party development might provide a more proficient way of doing things. It most certainly would allow us to reach individuals who start their on-line research at search engines such as Google or Yahoo.

Monday, September 25, 2006

This week’s readings seemed centered on access issues and databases. There was definitely a great deal of technical jargon that was tough to grasp. As you read, Lyman and Varian’s report “How Much Information?” you can really get a sense of the incredible shift in the way information is now stored. At the National Archives, we are currently dealing with this shift. Over the last 10 years, our electronic holdings have grown 100 times fasters than traditional paper records. Along with preservation, access is of great concern, which will hopefully be solved with the creation of the Electronic Records Archives (ERA). The goal of ERA is to provide access to all types of electronic records via the Internet to anyone, anywhere, at any time. The system will not be dependent on a particular technology.

Currently, the National Archives’ Archival Research Catalog (ARC), which contains descriptions of our holdings, can only be searched through the Archives web site. Researchers searching through Google or Yahoo are not directed to ARC descriptions in their search results. This frustrates some of my colleagues and it was interesting to see Dempsey write about such systems in his article “The Three Stages of library search”. On a brighter note, the Archives and Google do have a partnership, which gives Google users access to historic videos from the Archive’s collection.