B. Wade's Blog

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.