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Collections Vol 3 N2

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"Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals" is a multi-disciplinary peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the discussion of all aspects of handling, preserving, researching, and organizing collections. Curators, archivists, collections managers, preparators, registrars, educators, students, and others contribute.

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9 Articles

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Artifact, Archive, or Both?

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This edition of Collections deals specifically with archival collections.The compilation of essays discuss the importance of archives in museums in particular (their role and importance) and in society in general. In many cases, as shown by the authors, archival collections can provide the backbone to the overall museum or institutional collection. The essays also address concerns and issues within archival collections, primarily how archives are classified, processed, and how the information archives contain can be disseminated to researchers and the general public. Finally the essays address the uniqueness of archives in both museums and society and the importance archives play in both realms.

Most museums have some sort of archives as a part of their larger holdings. While museum collections are comprised predominately of three dimensional objects and in many cases there is a higher emphasis placed on the preservation of three dimensional artifacts, archives are no less important as a part of a museum’s collection. In fact, without historic archival documentation, the three dimensional artifact collection is potentially not as strong.

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Opinion

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Kiersten F. Latham

Emporia State University, formerly of Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center

Have you seen the movie, “National Treasure”? If you can get past the silly plot and the terrible mishandling of the document, there is an enticing question lurking underneath the surface. Why does Nicholas Cage risk his life for a piece of paper (or, more correctly, parchment)? Well, we all know the answer—it’s THE Declaration of Independence! But, there are copies of it everywhere, are there not? We know what it says, so what more do we need it for? What is it about that document that makes it so special? Can other documents, even not-so-famous types, inspire such awe?

As a museum professional, and an object-oriented person, I often wonder if others share some of my thoughts about archives and manuscript collections. I have repeatedly been charged with caring for collections that contain both three-dimensional and two-dimensional materials, although my training and experience is mainly in object curation. To me, some (most) archives are more than just information. In a world that is moving away from “real” things to one filled with digital files, I am concerned about the loss of the physicality of these collections. I am especially concerned about the loss of respect and understanding surrounding places that hold the “real” things. Objects that are obvious retainers of meaning, such as the Declaration of Independence, require little argument to convince anyone of their importance. But what about collections that are not so obviously valuable? Do they inspire meaningful reflection? How do we know what material could hold such connections and does it need to be of national importance to ascribe it such symbolic value? This essay is an exploration about the meaning of archives, and specifically experience associated with, and unique to, archival material.

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Archives or Museum—Does it Matter?

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Sian Everitt

Keeper of Archives, UCE Birmingham Institute of Art and Design Archives, Margaret Street, Birmingham, United Kingdom, B3 3BX. Email: sian.everitt@uce.ac. uk.

AbstractThis paper presents the recent experience of UCE Birmingham Institute of Art and Design Archives in documenting and managing its diverse collections. The collections range in size from under 50 to over 40,000 items and cover the fields of art and design education, museology and public art. By their nature, these collections contain a richness and diversity of materials including bibliographic and photographic materials, paper records, artworks and artefacts. The challenge has been not so much that the collections are cross-domain, as between the domains, falling in the gaps. The paper evaluates the differences in collection management philosophies and practices between museums and archives in the United Kingdom. It describes the decisions faced by UCE Birmingham Institute of Art and Design Archives in negotiating a path through these complexities.

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Smithsonian Institution—Museum and Institutional Archive Programs

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Alan L. Bain

Archivist, Director, Technical Services Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Email: baina@si.edu

Abstract"The Smithsonian Institution Archives is responsible for the Smithsonian’s records of enduring value. Though the Institution was aware of the need to keep certain records permanently (dating back to 1852) and an archivist was first assigned the task of maintaining records and special collections in 1891, the first modern archives program did not begin until 1967. From its very beginning the Smithsonian collected persona papers and special collections and this trend has been continued by the Smithsonian Archives.

The Smithsonian Institution is a diverse and complex mixture of museums, research centers, educational programs, administrative and other support units. At the end of 2005 its major components consisted of thirteen museums located on the National Mall, other locations around the Washington metropolitan region and New York City; a zoological park; eight research centers located in such diverse locations as Cambridge, Massachusetts; Tucson, Arizona; and the Panama Canal Zone; and ten education and outreach offices and programs.

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The Archives Center at the National Museum of American History: Connecting Archival Materials and Artifacts

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John A. Fleckner

Senior Archivist, Archives Center, MRC 601, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, P.O. Box 37012, Washington, DC 20013–7012. Email: flecknerj@si.edu

Abstract"The Archives Center at the National Museum of American History holds more some 12,500 cubic feet of personal papers, business records, photographs, recordings and other archival materials. Some of these collections are related only indirectly to the Museum’s research and exhibition agendas and its artifact collections; others have much more direct connections. The photographs, documents, and records acquired along with individual artifacts together constitute a richer, more evocative, and more meaningful body of historical documentation.

In the first half century after its establishment in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution focused its efforts on the natural sciences and ethnology. But, even in these years, objects of the American past, among them relics, heirlooms, and artifacts of industrial progress, began to find their way into the shelves and cabinets of “The National Museum” along with specimens collected from the natural world and from native peoples. In January, 1964, the Smithsonian opened a massive new building, the Museum of History and Technology (MHT), to house and to display these historical collections (Lubar and Kendrick 2001, 12). It was, “a vast and intriguing hodgepodge of national relics and international collections of decorative arts, historical scientific instruments, and technical objects. Some of them were of iconic significance—the John Bull locomotive and the Star Spangled Banner. Others were everyday objects” (Fleckner and Stephens 1996, 23).

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The Long Shadow: Legacy Collections in the National Air and Space Museum

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Paul Silbermann

Museum Specialist (History), Archives Division, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, P.O. Box 37012, National Air and Space Museum, Archives Division, Rm.3100 MRC 322, Washington DC 20013–7012. Email: silbermannp@si.edu

AbstractThe Archives Division of the National Air and Space Museum maintains a number of document collections created by the Museum before the establishment of the Division. Because of their size and utility, these legacy collections continue to influence the operations of the Archives. The heavy use of information technology has allowed the NASM Archives to expand these legacy collections in a virtual sense, by adding information to genre databases while maintaining the actual documents within their fonds.

Despite its name, the Archives Division of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) is not the archives of NASM. It does not maintain the records of the Museum, nor is it involved in records management activities. Because NASM is part of the Smithsonian Institution, its records are appraised, scheduled, maintained, and processed by the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA). Active records remain in the custody of the various creating offices until transferred to SIA or otherwise handled in accordance with SIA-created retention schedules and never enter the purview of the Archives Division. Instead the Archives Division is a curatorial unit, collecting and maintaining documentary materials that fall within the Museum’s collecting policy in the same manner that the Aeronautics Department collects and maintains the aircraft and “flight materials” collections and the Space History Department collects and maintains the spacecraft collection and other space-related objects.

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Videodisc to Virtual: The National Air and Space Museum Archives Division Image Database System

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Melissa A. N. Keiser

Chief Photo Archivist, Archives Division, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, PO Box 37012, National Air and Space Museum Room 3100 MRC 322, Washington, DC 20013–7012. email: keiserm@si.edu.

Abstract The Archives Division of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) holds one of the largest collections of photography at the Smithsonian Institution, and its holdings are used extensively by both the museum staff and the public. Over the last twenty years, the NASM Archives has slowly but steadily increased its usage of information technology to manage photography. The Archives’ image database has metamor-phosized from a small list of negative numbers into a large relational database system which draws on all aspects of photo archives operations: access, collections management, rights management, and order fulfillment. This period saw the rise and fall of videodisc technology, and the ongoing shift to digital image management. Over time, the NASM Archives’ image operations have had a positive effect on the unit’s relationships with NASM curators and its perceived value within the Museum as a whole.

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Visualism and the Authentification of the Object: Reflections on the Eliot Elisofon Collection at the National Museum of African Art

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Amy J. Staples

Archivist, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, P.O. Box 37012, NMAfA—MRC 708, Washington, DC 20013, Email: staplesam@si.edu.

Abstract Photographic resources are well known within museum contexts. However, these images are rarely considered in terms of how they enhance the historical value of museum objects, construct aesthetic and ethnographic meanings, and interpret museum collection practices. This paper examines the multi-media collections of Eliot Elisofon, an internationally known photographer and filmmaker who traveled in Africa from 1943–1972. The Elisofon collection at the National Museum of African Art contains both photographic materials and three-dimensional objects created and collected in the course of Elisofon’s professional career. I explore the ways in which Elisofon’s images have been used to illustrate objects in situ, represent cultural contexts of use and meaning, and create multiple layers of authentication for the objects (i.e., artistic, documentary, ethnographic). Attention is also given to the importance of photography as a collection practice in and of itself.

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Carpe Diem: Getting Started on Newspaper Digitization

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John Herbert

Director, University of Utah Press, University of Utah, 606 Black Hawk Way, Salt Lake City, UT 84108. Email: john.herbert@utah.edu.

Abstract Historic newspaper digitization is rapidly expanding, yet for the digitization novice, the prospect of launching such a project can be daunting. It is, to say the least, a large and complex initiative to undertake. This paper creates a road map through this difficult maze. It describes the broader landscape, outlines organizational items, and discusses the pros and cons of selecting content and source materials, metadata, article segmentation, copyright, and other technical issues.

Author’s Note

While this document is meant to be a generic description on how to launch a digital newspaper project, it draws heavily on our experience at the Marriot Library, University of Utah. Our program, called Utah Digital Newspapers (UDN), has been one of the leaders in newspaper digitization in the U.S., especially in the public sector, for the past several years. We were awarded a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services in 2003, and in 2005 were one of six institutions awarded an NDNP Phase 1 grant from the NEH. We have grown our readership over 14 times during the past three years1 and continue to get fabulous ratings from our readers.2 One of our program goals is to share our knowledge, experience, and program model with others so that as many of these programs become active and established as possible. With that in mind, please read on.

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