Friday, August 28, 2015

Preservation at Home - Digital Materials

This week I’d like to go over the issue that has been going through your minds for the past few years—“How am I ever going to manage this increasing amount of digital material?”  Perhaps you are an avid photographer in your spare time, or have an extensive music collection, in both cases you are probably dealing with a level of complexity and density previously unheard of in the analog world for mere individuals.  Have you ever had a drive crash and you’ve lost old college papers, images of friends and family or an expensive number of iTunes movies and music?  It’s like there was a small, strictly contained fire—it didn’t take everything, but it took a lot.  AS easy as it is to make these objects, it is the same level of easy to watch them disintegrate into a million 1’s and 0’s if not properly managed, and that will be the key word for you today – “manage.”  Because that is what this stuff takes.

Preserving digital materials in the professional world requires checksums, migrations, media analysis and format analysis.  The systems and tools developed to assist with these processes are multitude and each covers only a small slice of the overall pie, leaving archivists scrambling to find services or programs to fill in the blanks.  Today I am going to discuss what you can do at home to help preserve this insane glut of data we are all producing.

Optical media - unstable format for digital materials
Back it up! 
In 2008 I lost roughly 2 years of photographs taken with what was then my new DSLR—images of learning to use the camera, photos of my wife, our walks, vacations, etc.—all gone with a failed hard drive.  Recovering the data was not possible due to a number of factors and thus I was left with a substantial hole in my photographed existence.  All because I had neglected my regular back up process.  This is one unavoidable cost of managing your electronic existence—a 1 TB drive can cost between 80-100 USD depending on the design.  You can get slower ones that use the USB cable to power the drive, or ones that have a cable for power and one for transfer.  Back up frequently.  Use the installed program, or one that is offered by a vendor, or go it alone and painstakingly only add files to your back up that are new (my method, but I manage in detail).  Once you’ve started down this path you’ll begin to see the intense complexity that comes from having electronic assets, sure these things are easy to use, send, etc. but they take up mental space and require searching tools to find if you are in any way disorganized.

Keep things organized!
Digital material has a way of becoming quickly disorganized.  If you are focused on your own materials, or working with a family, please take a few minutes to discuss how to organize what you’ve already got.  I start with big categories and create additional sub-categories if needed.  For instance, our home drive has several top-level folders like “MOVIES,” “MUSIC,” and “DOCUMENTS.”  We add to those folders whenever we finish a project (like taxes), upload a cache of images (photos from a trip) or when I get several albums that need redundancy.  At these points I create a folder (for example, “St. Helens 2015”) and copy that to all 3 of my back up drives.  Yes, you heard correctly; I have 3.  One back up is great as long as you test it regularly and know how long it’s been running, etc.  Having multiple drives means that once one drops off, then you won’t be scrambling for a new one and there won’t be a high risk of actual data loss.  Keep things organized and like in the paper world, frequently get rid of that which you do not require.

Wait, what?  Yes, if you want those images you take today to be around for your kids or the alien overlords that will rule earth in the future, then for all sakes, please print your photos, favorite documents, etc.  Sure, you are adding a little more paper to the world, but have you ever heard of bit rot?  Even digital materials may break down randomly.  All it takes is for a single bit to flip in the header of a file and an image of a smiling baby turns into a nightmarish, Cthulhu dream of distorted proportions and non-Euclidian geometry.  So, go through your stock pile of random images and select some that mean something to you and go to a store and get them printed.  Pay extra for good or large prints.  Then take care of them according to the guidelines we discussed in the last post on Photographs and you are in business.  This could lead to some serious storage issues, so you’ll want to engage a de-cluttering model as you do this to ensure that a once normal proves of digital storage management doesn’t turn into an excuse to create an analog problem as well!

Passport drives, external drives and a flash/jump drive
Since digital materials are not tethered in any real way to the medium they are found on (DVDs, CDrs, flash drives, diskettes, etc.) you want to transfer the files from their hideously unstable carriers onto a hard drive (either internal or external) for safe keeping, and then proceed to regularly check for drive failure.  To quote Jeff Rothenburg, digital media (like Cds, DVds, etc. ) have a lifespan of "5 years to infinity, whichever comes first."

That’s all I am going to flood you with this week.  And thus also ends this short series of articles on personal preservation.  I am always willing to revive this series if there are other areas of preservation you want me to tackle (aerials anyone!  Maps, maybe?) feel free to send me an email and I’ll create a post on that topic!



Monday, August 24, 2015

Preservation at Home - Photographs

Last week I went over the nitty-gritty of preserving your precious, one-of-a-kind textual materials (err, papers, for non-archivists).  We discussed some ambient measures that can be taken to reduce, stop, or at least slow the progress of deterioration for paper documents and what the major concerns are when working with them (keep them upright if possible, flat and well-supported).  This week I am going to go over some tips for keeping those old photographs from turning into blank sheets of photo paper.

The three enclosures - Milar, polypropylene and an acid-free thumb cut sleeve

Photographs are tricky—they are composed of a chemical soup which may or may not contain various metals, plant dyes/inks and an emulsion layer which can be prone to getting sticky when it breaks down.  This is especially true for materials that were not properly developed.
As one of my mentors once said, if you want to truly preserve your photographs—scan them, then put the scanned copy in a frame and put your originals in a freezer pack.  This will halt the decay of chemical layers making up your photos.  An option, but one that will obviously be somewhat costly and then leaves you with a freezer full of photographs.  The first thing to do is stabilize the environment.  Much like my advice from last week, we need to get those photos into a box, and placed in an area of your domicile that experiences the least fluctuation in temperature and humidity.  This will keep them from warping, the inks from running and the emulsion from getting tacky.  Once you’ve found a suitable place then the next step is to evaluate any current issues—this means, are they 1) in a scrapbook with a glue backing, 2) a scrapbook with light adhesive and static bond sheets, 3) in a shoe box, or 4) taped to something . . . .  #’s 2 and 3 are your best starting point.  If you have photos in a shoe box, leave them there—perhaps add some cardboard (acid free) to ensure vertical stability and flatness, but other than that you are in a good place.  If you want to “go big” on this, you can purchase some polypropylene sleeves from an archival supply company to ensure your photos are well-encapsulated.  If you have a static-bond scrapbook, then life is not too bad—usually there will be little if any damage from the scrapbook, so just lift the sheets and slide the photos out, put them in a box and find the magic place in your home to keep them.  Feel free to spend as much as you want on archival supplies.  Outside of the polypropylene, you may want acid-free, thumb cut sleeves for the polypropylene enclosed photos.  Sounds like a lot, well, the reason for the additional sleeve is you can write on the sleeve (names, dates, locations) and not on the precious photograph.  If you have employed adhesives, whether they be glue or tape, then you, my friend, have your cut out for you.  You must remove the images from any contact with anything sticky.  Glues will slowly seep into the substrata of your photo and wreak havoc!  Tape tends to tear out precious parts of the image (content loss) when removed, so be judicious with your methods.  Use a hair dryer to re-activate the adhesive and liberate your photos from the tyranny of their sticky captors, then proceed to do as much preservation as you feel necessary to make sure no further damage occurs.

Archival shoe box, not for shoes
So keep those bad boys away from water, naturally and fire, of course—but also light.  UV light can destroy photos in a few short years depending on exposure levels.  Even a photo in the back of a dark hallway that receives 1-2 hours UV exposure per day will eventually turn into a freaky image of ghost friends and relatives as the definition fades like a bad rock & roll outro.  So keep those photons away from your photos and you should be doing great.

Move those photos to a dark stable place, and you’ve won the battle against degradation.  You may not win the war (long term, permanent conservation of your photos) , but don’t worry about that—no one will.

This should have been posted on Friday last week, but time got away from me again.  So, you can expect another post from this week dealing with digital materials. 

Till then,

Friday, August 21, 2015

Reference question of the week: Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital building history

We recently had a fun reference question from Steve Hunt at Corban University. The university is situated on the historic grounds of the former Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital in Salem, Oregon. They are converting the building below to a MAKER lab for students, and are seeking some of the history of the building in the process:
Courtesy of Steve Hunt, Corban University
The structure is one of the early buildings of the TB hospital, and consists of one three-story main barn and an adjoining smaller barn that university folks have always known as the "milk shed." 

We are fortunate to have the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital Collection here at HC&A, which is a relatively small but rich collection consisting of photographs from scrapbooks, hospital record books, and correspondence on the administration of the hospital and its assimilation into the University of Oregon Medical School in 1963. The hospital itself was housed on the grounds of the former Oregon Deaf Mute School, which was constructed in 1894 but abandoned shortly after because of its relative seclusion and difficulty of access. Seclusion and fresh country air, however, were exactly what the doctor ordered for TB patients in the Progressive Era, so the hospital moved in and started admitting patients in November 1910. For more information on the history of the sanatorium, I recommend checking out our 2005 exhibit, "Housing the Victims of the White Plague: The Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital."  

While I couldn't find images of the barn during its original use, I found some helpful supporting information that indicates some of its history. Searching through the images in the collection's scrapbook, I found an image of the hospital's dairy herd: 
TB Hospital dairy herd, ca. 1920s
Included in the sleeve with the photo was the following information: 
"In 1912 the engine room and dairy barn were constructed, and the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital maintained a large herd of dairy cows to supply the needs of the many patients on special diets, and the employees. At this time and for many years following the also maintained a farming project, which included raising of all garden supplies and feed for the dairy animals. The greenhouse was constructed in 1922."
When you think about tuberculosis treatment in the twentieth century (I know I do), the keeping of a dairy herd really fits in with the emphasis on occupational therapy and plenty of country air. TB patients often slept in open-air pavilions, such as the one below, also from Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital:

 I also found a report from May 11, 1938 by superintendent, Dr. G. C. Beninger, that notes, "The institution maintains a herd of sixty Guernsey cattle for its milk supply."
Report on TB Hospital, Dr. Beninger, 1938
 We've even got the breed of cattle they kept - incredible! (Maybe I am the only person who gets excited about historic livestock and domestic animal breeds... Shout out to my fellow heritage chicken fanciers!) So from this information, it seems likely that the old barn is the former dairy barn, built in 1912. Below we see the sanatorium grounds in 1913, just one year after the dairy barn was built. Rustic!
Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital, ca. 1913
It will be really fun to see how Corban University renovates the structure - it's always great to see historic buildings re-purposed rather than torn down. And if you have any further information on the Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital dairy herd, you know we'd love to hear from you! 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Personal preservation at home

Hello constant reader of our blog—today I am going to try something a little different.  Instead of discussing all of the great treasures we have come across in our routine work, I’d like to provide some advice and tips on preserving materials in your own home.

We are frequently asked (usually in hallways, offhandedly or as part of another conversation) what someone should do with their papers, photographs, objects of intense value at their homes.  Typically this is born from a need, such as doing some spring-cleaning, or moving, or re-locating a loved one who has accumulated substantial physical holdings.*  So today I’d like to go over some of the main points of preservation in that hopes that it helps you gain control over priceless family, or personal heritage and history.
Archival folder-so sturdy, so acid-free

Let’s start with a brief overview of what to do with all the paper.  Paper records are actually not the most common question we get asked about here.  But paper records can be very important for a wide-variety of reasons.  I’ve needed my physical birth certificate in order to get a social security card in order to get a passport—each one of those documents represents substantial time spent in a line in a federal facility (or in the case of the birth certificate, it represents one of the first, if not THE first formal documentation of someone’s exist within the legal framework of the US).  So not only is the information contained on those documents really critical—like, you need it do everything from vote, to get a job, to travel—but it can also be very special to return to these documents after many years purely for the nostalgic effect.  Other documents that could be ravaged by time include degrees, diplomas and certificates which are all physical examples of passing through a phase of life, graduating from one realm of experience to another or a change in station within the broader context of society.  And then there’s the records you keep for a while and then get rid of—let’s think about mainly receipts, pay stubs and bank transaction records.  The latter group of materials can usually be kept in a regular old file storage box and then shredded, hydro-pulped or burned after a specific time period.**
My two favorite words.

For the good stuff, we want to go the extra mile.  For those priceless documents representing accomplishment, government status or the purchase of a home you will want to store these documents in acid-free file folders, typically free of staples, paper-clips and rubber bands.  These files should be stored upright in a box and then kept in a place in your residence that experiences neither massive temperature fluctuations nor excessive humidity or dryness.  Temperature fluctuations can cause warping, expansion, and contraction at the pulp-level which leads to crinkling, breakage, and deformation.  A storage area that is too dry will reduce these documents to fragile sheets of desiccated fibers, which will crack and break at the mere thought of being handled by humans.  Whereas excessive humidity leads to de facto hydro-pulping in which the composite materials of the documents form a mush in the worst scenarios or leads to running inks, mold blooms, and other content loss in only moderate scenarios.  So what I tell people is that stabilization is the biggest thing you can do.  Once materials are stabilized in a stable environment then rust begins to slow down as well as other factors that lead to document destruction.  So if you cannot get all the fancy archival supplies, then first start with finding the most temperature neutral and humidity neutral areas in your home, the ones closest to 60 -70 degrees Fahrenheit with a 45-55 percent relative humidity, and find a way to store those critical papers there.

Medium-strength records carton

Cotton bond paper 25% cotton.  The higher cotton content the better.***
Once you have selected this space (make sure this is removed from direct exposure to heat/cooling vents, windows, pets and toddlers), then it is time to review potential preservation actions.  These can include shopping for acid-free and buffered document storage boxes via archival supplies vendors, purchasing 25%-100% cotton bond paper for interleaving, or just simply finding the sturdiest records boxes from your local office supply store.  Archival supplies can cost more money, but lead to stronger and better preservation over time.  Using cotton bond can be a great way of cheaply creating an environment where one document does not damage another.  For instance, that handwritten letter from Great-Grandpa, grandma, mom or estranged cousin sitting next to an article from a college newsletter could be potentially destructive.  As newsprint (and other cheap papers) degrade they release acid (ever had a soft cover novel where the inside cover is orange?  Yep, acid), over time the acid migrates to its neighbors giving them a lovely shade of orange coloring.  Placing sheets of cotton bond paper between these items reduces (and can completely halt) the migration of acid from one document to another.  Lastly, sturdy supplies from an office supply store usually have lower acid content and the rigid structure necessary to protect documents from being crushed, bent or made to do yoga while in storage, thus reducing the wrinkles and bends, which over time, become rips and tears.
I know I promised to discuss more types of media, but I’ll get to that next week.  There’s a lot to say about materials and after writing, what I felt to be the minimum needed to give you some guidance and direction, I now feel I would end up with a “tl:dr” post.  Anyhow, stay-tuned for another post in a week about photographs.  And if we are super lucky I’ll get into digital materials after that.

Stay frosty.

*Archival slang (yes, we have this) for “tons of stuff/junk” or in some cases “hoarding.”

**Please, please, please double-check your local (usually state) and the federal requirements (IRS) for keeping certain types of financial documents.  They can accumulate quickly and for a variety of reasons they need to be kept for as little as seven years in some cases and permanently in others.  This blog is not a substitution for records management advice.

***It just "looks" gray.  It's actually a very bright white.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Throwback to 1963: School of Nursing tests out new uniforms!

Being as it is #ThrowbackThursday and I'm deep in preparations for the Fall 2015 exhibit on the School of Nursing, I thought I would throw it back to 1963 and this special article in the April 1963 issue of University of Oregon Medical School's "What's Going On":
Original caption: "Researchers without a grant are (L. to R.): Senior Penny Kortge and Juniors Sandra Forrest and Patricia Reith. Penny and Sandra are testing two new nursing uniforms under consideration. Patricia is wearing the present style, copied in a drip dry fabric."
New student uniforms testing! You might be thinking this move is not newsworthy, but you would be WRONG, dear reader. Previous to the new drip-dry and wash and wear uniforms of the 1960s, nursing student uniforms required a great deal of care and preparation, both for the student and for the school. Through the 1950s, nursing students turned their uniforms in to the laundry service on Marquam Hill for proper washing and starching. Many of our alums mention the discomfort associate with the heavy starching of the old uniforms, including the unpleasant effects of the highly starched collar on a sunburned neck after a summer's day off swimming!

As you can imagine, any effort to modernize, streamline, and add comfort to the student uniform was big news for SON students. The "What's Going On" article highlights the intense testing and consideration of the new uniform process (a student uniform committee was involved). It also features the kind of winking, "Mad Men" sexism that pervaded gendered attitudes about the nursing profession in the mid-twentieth century (and beyond...). 

While updating nursing uniforms to accommodate the comfort of the wearer, rather than the starchy perceptions of the public, was certainly a welcome development, one can't help but be struck by the article's joking implication that this is the School of Nursing's version of research. 

I've transcribed the short article text so that you, dear reader, may get the full throwback article experience (including that pesky benevolent sexism):
"Smart new drip dry uniforms are on the docket for University of Oregon Nursing students, but don't discard your tattered old starch and iron model yet, ladies.
Nurses are not impulse buyers, at least where uniforms are involved. After eliminating all but three new stules of the dozens considered, the nursing faculty and student uniform committee are testing the new dresses under "rigidly controlled laboratory conditions," namely on the agile backs of the girls who will be wearing them.
The testers, one short, one medium, one tall, are the prettiest guinea pigs ever to take part in scientific investigation.
They will wear the dacron and cotton drip dries in "Pinfeather," a muted shade of beige-gray, for four weeks. Each student is keeping a diary on the wearability,washability and appearance of the new garb. Comments, good and bad, will be carefully recorded along with the models' findings. 
After the initial trial run through classrooms, wards, dormitories and laundromats, five other girls from various classes will take over the testing for another four weeks on five different models. When all the reports are evaluated, the new uniforms and their accompanying aprons will be ordered. 
Until then, be patient girls. You should have your handsome new dresses sometime next year."
...In conclusion, let's hear it for contemporary nursing researchers, advanced practice nursing, and gender-neutral scrubs!
Behold! The cover of the Summer 2015 "School of Nursing Connections" newsletter, featuring contemporary nursing instruction, scrubs, and a simulation lab "patient" at bottom left!