The past couple of months in the web-development world have been spent building a foundation for a method of presenting digitized book-like things on the Smithsonian Libraries website. This has been an interesting time creating a home for the history, art, and culture part of our scanned collections.
–This post was contributed by Kimberly Lesley, American Art and Portrait Gallery Library intern, summer 2012.
This summer I had the opportunity to work on two projects at the Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library: evaluating titles from the print reference section and selecting public domain titles for digitization. The majority of time was spent on the former, evaluating once heavily relied upon indexes and reference titles against databases and open access online resources. As I paged through volumes of reference titles I was grateful for the vast amounts of information available online with a few keywords and a couple clicks. Continue reading
The National Museum of American History (NMAH) Library initiated a summer weeding project that will create a better meeting space for researchers to use reference materials and work collaboratively. As the Reference Intern, I was responsible for reviewing the reference collection and identifying any materials that were duplicate copies, under-used by patrons, or have been made available online for free. By weeding these items from our collection, we could eventually re-arrange the way the books are stored to make the room a functional workspace.
While reviewing the NMAH Library reference collection, I found the U. S. Patent Office documents most difficult to locate online. I was able to find a few of the other reference materials using online digital libraries such as Internet Archive.org, HathiTrust.org, WorldCat.org and Google Books.com. However, I constantly ran into the issue of materials being scattered across multiple digital library databases. In cases like this, I would find that for a series that spans over four years:
- Year 1849 could be found on Google Books
- Year 1850 could be found on Hathi Trust
- A digital copy of 1851 is not made available online
- Year 1852 can be found on Internet Archive
It was my concern that the inconsistency in location, format, and usability of materials would become an obstacle in our transition from physical material to online material. With each of the four volumes being scattered across the web, a library patron would have to flip back and forth between differently formatted resources to get the information they needed. When information is dispersed in that way it becomes difficult to navigate, or (as I mentioned in my example) some of the information could be missing completely.
With these issues in mind, I asked my supervisor if it was possible to have some parts of the NMAH Library reference collection digitally scanned and made available online. That way, we would have a complete online collection that is presented consistently, and all in one location.
After doing a little research, I discovered SIL’s existing account with Internet Archive.org and proposed that we have our U. S. Patent Office documents scanned and added to the online collection.
After two weeks of going through the necessary channels, the proposal was approved and the real fun began. I packed 210 books into 21 boxes and sent them to our book scanning lab.
In an effort to create a better physical library space for our patrons, we will continue to make contributions to the online collection.
—LaShawntay M. Tinker
No, not the rupee! We mean Indian Notes, a recent entry into the Libraries’ digital collection through the History, Art, and Culture (HAC) digitization project. Available through the Smithsonian Collection at the Internet Archive, access Indian Notes here. Lynne Altstatt, Librarian at the Vine Deloria, Jr. Library at the National Museum of the American Indian, selected this title for digitization because of the impact increased access will have for researchers of Native American culture. She adds, “Indian Notes was a quarterly serial publication designed to present the activities of the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation (MAI) and to present preliminary results of those activities. Volumes 1-7 were published by the MAI between 1924 and 1930. Publication of this serial resumed in 1972 and ended again in 1978 producing volumes 8-12. Two indexes for this serial publication were compiled by Museum staff, the first for volumes 1-7 and the second for volumes 8-12. In addition to this serial publication, the MAI also published a monographic series which is named Indian Notes and Monographs. The similarity in these names often leads to problems in finding materials. At the NMAI it is frequently remarked that it would have been wonderful if Heye could have used more imagination in the naming of his publications.”
From a technical perspective, this title is interesting in two ways: it illustrates a bit of museum history while highlighting the principal challenge often faced when digitizing collections — copyright clearance.
Indian Notes was published after 1923, the date which renders books exempt from copyright law. So, why were we able to scan this title and not others? Indian Notes was published by the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation. The basis for the collections at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) began with George Gustav Heye of the Museum of the American Indian (MAI). Gustav Heye is responsible for the acquisition of tens of thousands of objects during the early 1900’s and onward. Heye is somewhat notoriously known as a voracious collector of everything native in the Western Hemisphere. Lynn Altstatt further explains, "while it is said that the only reason Heye had a museum is that he was a avid collector and wanted to own the objects, the MAI was run in a scholarly fashion on a par with other major museums of the period." More information about the collection history at NMAI is available here.
Through the Heye Foundation, the MAI published Indian Notes starting in 1924 and, as mentioned above, in fits and starts, until 1978. In 1989 when the MAI’s collections were transferred to the the National Museum of the American Indian, so were the publication rights that were previously under the purview of the Heye Foundation. Consequently, the History, Art, and Culture digitization project through the Smithsonian Libraries is able (and excited) to digitize selections published by the Heye Foundation!
As you may already know, the Libraries has been busy digitizing scientific legacy literature as part of the global partnership that makes up the Biodiversity Heritage Library for some time now — the BHL recently published its 90,500th volume! But as you may not have yet noticed, the Libraries has also begun scanning select titles from our History, Art, and Culture collections as well.
The Libraries scans roughly 150 History, Art, and Culture titles each month, and those scans are freely available from the Smithsonian Collection at the Internet Archive. At press time, the collection holds 3,838 items!
And yet, as we recently learned, the Libraries’ total collection now reaches over 1.7 million items. And unfortunately, we can’t scan everything; there are technical and legal considerations that prohibit digitizing the entire collection en masse. That said, the “scannable pool” is nonetheless overwhelmingly substantial. So, how do we decide what to scan to ensure that the Libraries gets the most bang for each digitization buck? The ample resources at our disposal guide the way: the combined knowledge and skill of the branch librarians alongside the digital services department’s finesse with 1’s and 0’s.
Selection is a two-pronged approach. First, branch librarians make first run picks based on their intimate knowledge of the collections and user needs. For example, according to Janet Stanley from the National Museum of African Art Library, “George Basden’s Among the Ibos of Nigeria (1921) is a classic of African ethnographic research, written by a Church Missionary Society after nearly two decades of living amongst the Igbo of eastern Nigeria.” Its addition into the digital collection is particularly beneficial because, “contrary to the popular view that missionaries were unsympathetic observers of traditional African religion and customs, those like Basden recorded a wealth of detail and insight into Igbo society that would otherwise have been lost. The rare photographs offer an irreplaceable archive.”
As branch librarians make selections based on their knowledge of the collection, we also cross reference our holdings against OCLC’s data. We’re looking for pre-1923 items in our collections that are also held by 10 or fewer libraries (in this hemisphere). If a title is scarce, at least it’s online, thereby reinforcing the project’s central of goal of increased access to knowledge as we work towards building the digital Smithsonian.
Stay tuned for monthly news and highlights from the History, Art, and Culture front!