Addressing the Challenge of Preserving Born Digital Design Records

In a recent blog post, digital archivist Mark Matienzo wrote about the efforts being made at Yale to preserve the increasing volume of digital records being acquired by Manuscripts and Archives, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and other units of the University Library.  One type of born digital record that is particularly challenging to preserve is the architectural drawing and other design documents created by architecture firms.  In recent years, architects have increasingly abandoned the process of designing on paper, and instead have used software programs such as CAD (Computer-aided design) and now BIM (Building Information Modeling) to generate drawings and complex models that are made up of a series of multi-layered and interconnected computer files—files that can be difficult to recover due to their varied formats and the continually-changing nature of the proprietary software packages.  Given the realities of contemporary architectural practice, how can repositories who collect design records promise to preserve and provide access to these born digital materials?

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Yale University Art Gallery elevation, by Egerton Swartwout, 1929

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Architectural drawing #1, by Gwathmey Siegel and Associates, circa 1968/2010

I recently attended a two-day conference in London, England, “Archiving the Digital: Current Efforts to Preserve Design Records,” which aimed to address this question. Jointly sponsored by the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Victoria and Albert Museum, the conference brought together archivists, curators, preservationists, and records managers from across Europe and North America to discuss what steps firms and institutions have taken thus far to preserve digital design records and what further steps should be considered, from emulation of proprietary software programs to migration of data to common file formats.  What the conference revealed is that resolution of this issue will require—as Mark pointed out in his blog post—a great deal of collaboration among archivists, architects, technology experts, and others.  Although much discussion is still needed, the conference was a positive step forward, an opportunity to contemplate the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital revolution within the design community, and to begin formulating a preservation strategy ensuring the survival and accessibility of these records well into the future.

What Do Judy Schiff and Cindy Crawford Have In Common?

Cindy Crawford (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cindy_Crawford).

Cindy Crawford (source: Wikipedia).

Judith Schiff (source: http://news.yale.edu/videos/archivist-judith-schiff-centuries-elm-and-ivy)

Judith Schiff (source: Yale Daily News)

Find out tonight on The Learning Channel’s Who Do You Think You Are? genealogy series this evening, Tuesday, August 27th, at 9 PM Eastern time. Our esteemed Manuscripts and Archives colleague Judy Schiff, in her position as Chief Research Archivist in the Yale University Library and New Haven’s official historian, helps Crawford trace her lineage back to the idealistic Puritan reformer Thomas Trowbridge. Read more about this in Joe Amarante’s article in yesterday’s New Haven RegisterIt is always amazing to see the links and ties that connect people to New Haven through its nearly four centuries of existence!

Session with Gilder Lehrman Institute Teacher Seminar

Historian David Blight and teacher seminar participants analyze a December 1826 estate inventory of slaves held by a Mr. Robinson, late of Lexington, Virginia.

I had the pleasure of spending several hours last Tuesday afternoon with 25 teachers attending David Blight’s Slave Narratives in American Literature summer teacher seminar,  sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, & Abolition at Yale University. They worked intensively with documents relating to slavery and abolition in the collections of Manuscripts and Archives, and also saw two first editions of slave narratives from the collections of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

One of the great benefits I get out of working with students and others using our collections is that I learn so much about the materials and how people think about using them. One pedagogical example from this past Tuesday’s teacher session that really stuck with me came in the short presentations, given by teachers working in pairs, about how they might use a specific document with their classes (mostly middle and high school).

We have two fascinating letters in the Norse Family Papers written in 1836 to James Nourse (1805-1854) by his sister (the first dated 10 February and the second 21 September). We don’t have James’s letters intervening letter(s) to her in the collection. In the first letter from his sister (identified only by the first initial R.) she sympathizes with his views on temperance, but absolutely disagrees with his ardent abolitionist sentiments, warning him not to try and proselytize her and to avoid the topic in discussions with other family members. By the second letter James has obviously unleashed significant tension within the family over his views and his sister writes what is basically an “I told you so” letter to him. The Nourse family resided in the Washington, D.C., area, while James served as a minister in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.

One of the teachers who presented on these two letters was eager to do a “write what’s missing” exercise with her students. She would work with them as a group to read and understand the two letters from his sister to James, especially in the context of abolitionism during the time, and then ask her students to write the letter from James to his sister that came between her two letters. This seems like a great exercise, and one that I think would also work well with first-year university students. I hope I get to work with a Yale faculty member willing to try it out sometime!

Nourse Family Papers (MS 1390) Box 1 folder 8, 1836 Feb 10 side 1, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.

Nourse Family Papers (MS 1390) Box 1 folder 8, 1836 Feb 10 side 2, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library

Nourse Family Papers (MS 1390) Box 1 folder 8, 1836 Sep 21 side 1, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library

Nourse Family Papers (MS 1390) Box 1 folder 8, 1836 Sep 21 side 2, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library

Documentary Filming Over the Weekend

Manuscripts and Archives played host on Saturday to Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (’73 B.A.) and Howard University Vice President and General Counsel and former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke (’71 B.A.). These two Yale alumni were joined by a crew from Ark Media filming the sixth and final episode of the forthcoming PBS documentary series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, for which Professor Gates is serving as host. The episode filmed in Manuscripts and Archives features Gates interviewing Schmoke about his participation as a Yale undergraduate in the 1970 events surrounding the May Day strike and New Haven Black Panther trials. The rich collections in Manuscripts and Archives documenting the May Day strike served as memory stimulation for these gentlemen as they reminisced about their experiences as Yalies during the Civil Rights era. Tune into your local PBS station in October-November 2013 to see what promises to be, at least judging from the interview for episode six to which I was privileged to listen, a fascinating and worthwhile documentary.

Opening of the Lindbergh Family Papers

On Thursday afternoon, April 4, 2013, Manuscripts and Archives and the Yale University Library hosted an event marking the formal opening of the Charles Augustus Lindbergh Papers (MS 325), Anne Morrow Lindbergh Papers (MS 829), and the Lindbergh Picture Collection (MS 235B). Speakers for the program were Dorothy Cochrane, Curator, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Aeronautics Division; Reeve Lindbergh, Author and daughter of Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh; Edward Trippe, Chairman, Pan Am Historical Foundation, and son of Juan Trippe; and Jenifer Van Vleck, Assistant Professor, American History and American Studies, Yale University. The event was attended as well by several members of the Lindbergh, Trippe, and Sikorsky families, including Reeve Lindbergh’s brother, Land.