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.