Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Milestone in the digital library

Sister Cecilia Louise Moore, CSJ, Mount President,
tests a communications satellite hookup for the 39th
Eucharistic Congress under way in Bogota, Colombia.
FOR ONE PROJECT OR ANOTHER, WE'VE NOW SCANNED several hundred historic photos, a few of which we've occasionally shared in this little blog.

Today, with about two dozen newly uploaded images, we've passed the 100 mark, including this gem showing Sister Cecilia Louise Moore, CSJ, trying out some brand-new satellite broadcast technology.

These pictures are searchable in our online repository, (opens in same window), and it's worth exploring the interface to learn the search options. There's a lot of hyperlinked data so you can see related photos.

A hundred photos do not a repository make. (At the Los Angeles Times, where we did a stint in the digital archives, there were a million). These things are time-consuming to build because we have to be so careful with the descriptive material, known as metadata.

Nevertheless, it's gratifying to see this thing grow. A hundred down... thousands and thousands to go!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Future archivists

I HAD THE PLEASURE OF HOSTING some of the student members of the Society of American Archivists last week during the Mount's spring break. (I'm in the front in red.) It's always gratifying to meet and greet other people who get excited by old books and yellowed folders full of mysterious documents.

It was even more fun for me because the group included a number of former students from my Preservation Management course, which I teach at the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science. It's an online program and I'd never laid eyes on them, nor they on each other. There was a lot of pent-up socializing to do.

We archivists work to keep the stuff that other people don't want -- until they do. Then they want it in a form they can use, often digital, and they want it quickly. That means being able to find it on short notice. Shrinking budgets and unstructured digital media make it challenging work at times, so it's nice to see that a few bright, passionate people like my visitors are willing to devote their careers to keeping history.

The Chalon Campus held up its end of the bargain with warm blue skies and views to forever -- and interesting archives, I might add. We're not USC or UCLA but we have a pretty impressive history of our own, and I was reminded yet again of what a privilege it is to work among these venerable old books, yellowed folders and mysterious documents.

Photo by Pat Williams of MSMC.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Detective work

SPEAKING OF SISTER MAGDALEN COUGHLIN (previous post), I came across this rare photo of her in the traditional habit. As president she was continually photographed, but always in an ordinary suit or dress with a small, filmy veil.

Trying to date the photograph (no information on the back, of course) I noticed that the sister in the center is wearing a button. I enlarged the scan enough to see that it's a campaign button for Eugene McCarthy, who ran for President in 1968.

The woman with the flowers talking to Sister Magdalen looked familiar. Given the way the sisters are beaming I had a hunch it might be the candidate's wife. I did some image research on the Web and I'm pretty sure it's Abigail McCarthy. If I were going to really go out on a limb here, I'd guess that it was sometime before the June primary.

Prominent Catholics in public life frequently made their way to the Mount when they were in town, so perhaps Mrs. McCarthy had given a talk at the College. Or maybe Sister Magdalen, a respected U.S. history scholar, had attended a campaign event with sisters and students in tow. In any case, I can't close the book quite yet on this mystery photo.

The perilous life of pictures

ANTICIPATING THE INAUGURATION next week of Dr. Ann McElaney-Johnson, our 12th president, I've been assembling historic photos from the inaugurations of Nos. 9, 10 and 11: Sister Magdalen Coughlin (1976), Sister Karen Kennelly (1990) and Dr. Jacqueline Powers Doud (2000).

Before Sister Magdalen's, inaugurations must have been quiet handoffs among the CSJs, because there are absolutely no photos to be found. I found several of Sisters Magdalen and Karen but I came up empty for Dr. Doud. Uh-oh, I thought... they're digital. I don't receive digital photos in the archives and have no easy way to keep them if I did.

After a fruitless search of hard disks in the PR office, I was starting to get thoroughly depressed when I walked over to a stack of old binders I knew had negatives and contact sheets from PR in the '90s. Miracle! Eight sheets of jewel-like color slides - not labeled, of course, but easy to squint at and identify. I had 20 digitized at DVD Your Memories in Culver City and will add them to the display.

I chatted with the DVD-YM technician about the period of transition we're in between fully paper and fully digital photography. It makes archives a major challenge. The former are fragile, but the latter disappear if you're not paying attention.

My colleague Pia Orense and I now know that PR has digital photography almost exclusively after 2001. That means these slides of Dr. Doud's inaugural on Oct. 17, 2000, are among the very last of the physical images in the College.

We have a lot of work ahead if we're going to keep them around through three more inaugurals.