For the past eight months or so I have been in charge of a collection of glass plate photography in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s image archives. The time has been taken up with re-housing, cataloging, and scanning of the images into a database. Though I cannot imagine who in their right mind would do research on Charles Blickensderfer of Denver, Colorado, I find the implications behind the entire process fascinating.
Archives represent a paradox to the ethical codes of the archiving world. These institutions have been stuck somewhere between library and museum as places to preserve and house, but also as information treasure-troves. The Society of American Archivists (SAA) code of ethics echoes the ALA’s in the importance of service and equal access. These ideals sometimes do not, or cannot be upheld. Some collections are far too fragile or sensitive to individuals’ privay to allow access to them. In many Native American archives, access to materials and objects are restricted to members of the specific tribe. Another reason for restricted access has nothing to do with what the materials are, but the shear numbers of objects that may be in a collection. There is, however, an increasing interest what what such institutions have to offer. They can no longer rely on places such as museums and universities for fundings. Archives have an obligation to get there stuff out there.
Though the Blickensderfer collection of plates is not very informative, it is accessible to anyone. Every slide has a number and an image put into a database for easy access. The database also plays a role in organizing the images on the computer for future projects, e.g. an online catalog of the archive’s collection. This sort of technology allows the fragile plates to be viewed and used outside of the museum. The implications of this extend to any other collection in the archive, or any archive. Many of these projects have be developed.
I have posted a few links of examples:
The online archive of Einstein’s manuscripts: http://www.alberteinstein.info/
The Palomar Digital Sky Survey image archive:http://archive.stsci.edu/dss/
The Rocky Mountain Online Archive: http://rmoa.unm.edu/
Posted by: Lucie Brothers