learning goal check

(reflective report for school)

I thought this week since I only have about three weeks left I should reflect a little on how I am doing with my project and my learning goals for the summer. For one, I am realizing now that I was unrealistic in thinking I could complete the project this summer. It was never the intention of my supervisor that I should finish however; I thought to myself I could get the main boxes scanned over the course of the summer. I started on the letter H. I am just now rounding the corner of the letter L. It sounds like I have not gotten far at all. But looking at the numbers, I have scanned over 1770 photos into the database. Sadly, I am never going to see the final steps of the project personally at SIA. The refining of the metadata, the linking of the actual photo file to the database entry and the launch of the database into SIRIS, the Smithsonian Institute database on-line where it would be searchable by the user will take place long after I am back at school or even out in the work force. I am just starting to realize the massive amount of time and resources it takes to make a project like this get off the ground and to finally see it completed.

My supervisor took time to explain to me this week about the SIRIS protocol and what the collection will need to go through still after the scanning is done. She was very interested in using flickr as a resource to help identify people we know little or nothing about in the Science Service photos. The Smithsonian Institute and the Library of Congress have both already utilized flickr to not only give better access to their users but to tap into their users’ information. It is amazing to me the network of resources outside of an institution that are available if we only have the tools to use them. I will be interested to see if flickr or a site like it will be used with my collection in the future. This fit well into one of my learning goals for the summer which was to understand how a digitization project comes together from start to finish, what an institution needs to know or learn to make a project of this magnitude a worth-while endeavor that will ultimately help the user of an archives to better access and understand a collection. What I find interesting in this case, with the Science Service photos, is we have a lot of blanks. Photos with only initials and a last name or, worst-case scenario, simply a last name. No university, no area of science to go off on. I have googled many and come up with full names for few. It is another project in itself and one that digitization of the photos could help complete if SIA decides to go the ‘flickr route.’

Along with the start to finish of a digitization project, I have learned a lot about processing collections: when to toss, when to keep, when a finding aid is “good enough” to work for the moment. Something the classroom and the real world have both agreed on whole heartedly is there is never enough time, people, or money to do everything you want to do with a collection and its finding aid. Sometimes, one simply has to say that it is as good as it is going to get for the moment and move on. A perfectionist would die a slow and painful death in the archives. You are perpetually leaving everything half done with the idea that some day you will come back and finish that finding aid to perfection, list other collections that link to it in the archives and elsewhere, come back and digitize everything. In reality, the collections I put back on the shelf today at Fullerton will probably never be returned to – they will live with a simple listing of folders and a brief summary of where the papers come from and what they may pertain to during the dates listed. A user could use them easily, true, but we could do better…if we had time.

So, my learning goals are there. I feel I have gleaned a lot from my digitization project as well as the time I have spent processing collections. I learned patience certainly but from discussing the big picture, I see that it is hard work and lives you often with the feeling that if you only had a little more time, it could be done that much better. It is a problem found in many lines of work. However, I often find myself wondering, as I work on a collection, which will use it next and what can I add to a finding aid to help them in their scavenger hunt. So I add a few lines to a summary, a few lines after a folder name to say something interesting I have found in my perusal of the collection over a few hours of processing. It is not much but the user is something SI has made me very aware of and I feel that one of my lessons, even if it was not in my learning goals or even something my supervisor has pointed out to me, is that the user is always there in the back of my mind and I am working to make the user’s quest in the archives go that much smoother. If it takes me five extra minutes at my computer, in the end, I think it is worth it.

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