Digitizing a sample of the John Caldwell Calhoun Papers

By Sarah Moore

I landed in digital collections by pure serendipity.  I entered the Public History program with a focus on historic preservation at the University of South Carolina. Receiving no funding from my department, I applied for a position in Digital Collections helping to digitize The Gamecock from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. Discovering my love for Library Science too late, I continue to work in Digital Collections hoping to build upon my interest in  how digital collections can be used for historical preservation. Over the last few months, I have worked on five different projects including digitizing a portion of the John Caldwell Calhoun papers.

A silked letter from J. C. Calhoun to his mother Floride Colhoun. Note the surname spelled differently.

In planning for the Teacher Workshops for Social Studies teachers, library organizers selected the John Caldwell Calhoun papers for use in the workshop. A controversial figure of history today, Calhoun was an active proponent of slavery and states’ rights during his political career. A native of South Carolina, Calhoun served in the United States House of Representatives, became the Secretary of War and became the Vice President of United States. Thus, it was easy to see why items from this collection were ideal for a workshop focused on helping social studies teachers utilize digital collections in their classroom.

This collection consists mainly of business and personal correspondence of John C. Calhoun from the South Caroliniana Library, little of which was digitized. For the workshop, a few letters were selected to be digitized. In selecting this letters, however, it was discovered that these letters were silked, in attempt to preserve the letters. Silking was a conservation technique used in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth centuries. In basic terms, this process consisted of adhering a thin piece of transparent silk to a document. The reasoning behind this process was to slow down the deterioration process of the paper (Barrow, 1942; McCarthy, 2016).

In digitizing the Calhoun papers for the Teacher’s Workshop, my initial thoughts were on time management for the project, in order to ensure that everything was accessible and usable for the workshop. Thus, my focus was on the project flow of this endeavor, scanning all the items and ensuring clear images, that any questions about the metadata edited, and everything loaded on the library depository, well before the deadline. Although it was interesting to see and work with letters that went through this early method of preservation, the fact that items in this collection were silked was not a part of my initial focus.

I started by scanning letters from the Calhoun collection on the Zeutschel, a large flat base scanner in the Digital Collections office. In looking at the first images of the scanned letters, I noted problems in seeing the handwriting in the images. Since the letters were going to be used in a workshop, and the fact that handwriting from the nineteenth century materials are in themselves hard to read, the clearest images were needed. Thus, I sought advice on getting more clear images. The library consulted a conservator to see what could be done about the silked documents while in the office, basic research was conducted into experiences from other libraries and archives in using silked materials.

A silked letter from J. C. Calhoun to his mother Floride Colhoun. Note the surname spelled differently.

One unexpected outcome of silked archival items it that the items become harder to read over time. The aluminum in the paste affected the acidity of the paper, resulting in ink dissolving and discoloration of the paper overall. It is possible that this what led to the discoloration in the documents. Further research also revealed that this process often used arsenic. While there was no evidence that these materials contained arsenic, I took precautions and wore gloves when handling the Calhoun papers (Information Resource Management Association, 2019; McCarthy, 2016).

While the problem with clarity of some of the images remained, I continued to scan the letters and began to create metadata in hopes some of the images could still be used in the Teachers Workshop. The last step was to add the images and metadata in to the library’s digital depository known as CONTENTdm, so the images would be accessible online through the Library’s website. Some of the more legible images were used in the teacher’s workshop. The fully digitized John Caldwell Calhoun collection can be found here: http://digital.library.sc.edu/collections/john-c-calhoun-papers/

Citations:

Barrow, W. J. Restoration Methods. (1942) The American Archivist. Page 152 Retrieved from http://www.americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.6.3.497248722g4584rr?code=SAME-site.

Information Resource Management Association USA. (2019). Digital Curation: Breakthrough in Research and Practice. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=lcxjDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA200&lpg=PA200&dq=arsenic+in+silking+archival+materials&source=bl&ots=ymV2dnhioj&sig=nzhC0NeX3EpyvjEGAzeaKA2nyAU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiwv5jFv-rdAhWC21MKHcwZDfAQ6AEwCXoECAIQAQ#v=onepage&q=arsenic%20in%20silking%20archival%20materials&f=false.

McCarthy, C. of YUL Conservation and Exhibition Services, Preservation Department, Yale University. (2016 October 11). “Arsenic and Old Paste: Using XRF to Assess Silked Documents” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://yulconservationandexhibitservices.wordpress.com/2016/10/.

 

WORLD WAR I: Centennial Selections from University of South Carolina Libraries

By Mae Howe

Red Cross Nurse’s Album, Irvin Dept. Special Collections

To commemorate the centennial of “America’s Forgotten War,” Digital Collections has teamed up with five of the University of South Carolina’s special libraries and McKissick Museum to create a digital exhibition that features compelling photos, papers, and publications from our Great War holdings. The exhibit includes over a thousand previously digitized materials, new archival selections, and recent acquisitions from Government Information and Maps, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, McKissick Museum, the Music Library, South Carolina Political Collections, and South Caroliniana Library.

WORLD WAR I: Centennial Selections from University of South Carolina Libraries” juxtaposes the experiences of individuals with the political climate; the home front in our beloved Palmetto State with the battlefront on foreign soil; America’s entry into the war with the Allies’ victory over the Axis Powers. In addition to liberty bond propaganda, anti-German cartoons, and patriotic sheet music, this retrospective includes the correspondence of an African-American Croix de Guerre recipient from South Carolina, the scrapbook of a Red Cross nurse serving in the main theatre of war, and the reaction of a soldier stationed in France when the “War to End All Wars” officially ceased.

Topical Sketches by Douglas G. Ward, Irvin Dept. Special Collections

This digital exhibition aligns with the United States World War I Centennial Commission’s aim to “raise awareness and give meaning to the events of a hundred years ago” and is accompanied by physical exhibits in both the Ernest F. Hollings Library and McKissick Museum. The Irvin Department of Special Collections will also host a talk by Dr. Janet Hudson, on November 14: Black Soldiers Mattered, Carolina’s Unheralded African American Soldiers of the Great War.”

The support of many persons and departments made this project possible, but special thanks goes to Mēgan Oliver, Digital Collections Librarian, for initiating and supervising the exhibition, Sarah Funk, Library Technology Services Web Manager, for designing and troubleshooting the website, and Mae Howe, Digital Collections Intern, for organizing and managing the project. This exhibition is the first of many, with future projects slated for spring, summer, and fall of 2019 on Civil Rights, Scottish Literature, and the Civil War in South Carolina. Please contact Digital Collections via digital1@mailbox.sc.edu with any questions or comments about our exhibition.

 

[Part III: William D. Workman, Jr. Photographs] Wrapping up!

By Chauna Carr

One of the reasons I enjoyed working on this project was the chance to work with Mēgan Oliver and the equipment and software used in Digital Collections. Mēgan knew how skeptical I was to start mid-project, but she was great at encouraging me to tackle any issues I came up against head on. She is a big part of the very open and warm atmosphere fostered within Digital Collections. She has a wealth of knowledge on all things digital, as well as on professional development and job hunting. She has become a great resource and acquaintance to have as I make my way into the professional industry.

Probably one of the best things about working in Digital Collections is Mēgan and Kate’s trust in their student’s abilities*. They not only give you confidence but encouragement that you have what it takes to complete your project (or else they would not have hired you in the first place). More often than not with projects like this, encouragement is hard to come by. It is nice to know that what you are doing is right and you are not just guessing and hoping it is good enough. Their communication is top notch.

Coming into the grant mid-project and not being fully knowledgeable of the entirety of the subject matter made completing the written tasks quite challenging to say the least. Those assignments (specifically those dealing with creating social media content) were probably the hardest for me to complete. I tended to overthink what kind of content would engage our digital audience and remain relevant to our project. Now that I have made it through this project I have more confidence in my ability to tackle problems that are unfamiliar. That is probably one of the best feelings to come away with, the confidence in my new found skills. It makes me that much more confident that I can find a position and work my way up, taking on more responsibility and tackling larger assignments as a go. It may seem like a small thing, but that confidence is everything. This project has been the perfect opportunity to exercise all of the skills I have learned the past two years, and a great experience to add to my resume overall.

Chauna is heading into her final semester for the Masters in Library and Information Science here at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. She is preparing her final portfolio of all her work done for the past two years, editing her resume, and on the hunt for jobs in the archival world. Her hope is to find an archival or library fellowship overseas to give her access to potential employment in England; a goal inspired by her recent month-long study abroad program in London. Her current interests rest in fashion archives, Oceanic, African and African-American art and art history. Her pursuits are quite varied and her experience is diverse. [We hope she finds a place to match her incredible skill set.]

*We did not pay Chauna to say nice things about her supervisors. She actually likes us!

 

Digi Highlight: Supervisory assistant meets American Revolution

By Alex Trim

I began working at Thomas Cooper Library as an undergrad. It wasn’t my intention to become a librarian; I was a history major who thought I would continue on that path and become a professor, even though the idea of teaching in front of a classroom full of students made me a little nauseous.  I love history, still hope to get my masters in one day, I just also happen to love working in libraries as well.

Alex Trim working on the Laurens papers

I started working in the Government Information and Maps Department. Not sure what that is? Neither was I before I started working there. The Government Information and Maps Department collects and provides access to federal government publications (not classified documents). I enjoyed working there, in large part because my boss, William Sudduth, gave me every opportunity to try new things. I started with re-shelving materials and worked my way up to the reference desk. I found being able to help others with and through the research process to be very rewarding. I enjoy doing research, I would have to with a degree in history and library science, so to be able to help students get started and feel a little more confident about doing their own research was something I could see myself doing professionally.

I continued to work in Government Information and Maps after I started graduate school. It was during my second semester that I began work on a digital collections project for Mr. Sudduth. He asked me to digitize Education Pamphlets for the department. I was little hesitant about working in Digital Collections at first because I was never what you would call particularly tech savvy, however my fears were unfounded. I loved what I was doing, and was thankfully able to continue doing it when Digital Collections hired me on as a part-time employee after I graduated. I like the idea of being able to make materials more accessible to students, and digital collections plays a key role in that process.

After being hired, I began work on the Historic Southern Naturalist Collection; a project focused on the papers of Thomas Cooper and Andrew Charles Moore. It was my job to digitize Moore’s papers. Andrew Charles Moore served as the President of the University of South Carolina for a brief period and the A. C. Moore Herbarium on campus is named for him. After completing this project, I took over the American Revolution in South Carolina Collection, which resides at the South Caroliniana Library.

The American Revolution in South Carolina Collection, which will be coming soon digitally, features papers from Henry Laurens, William Moultrie, Francis Marion, and Thomas Sumter, all of which were prominent figures from South Carolina during the American Revolution. When I took over the project, the Sumter and Marion papers had already been digitized and published, and the metadata for the Laurens papers had been mostly completed. I began work on finishing the metadata and adding in the transcripts for the Henry Laurens papers, which I am happy to say I completed just recently.

I will talk more about the American Revolution in South Carolina Collection and Henry Laurens in my next post!

[Part II: William D. Workman, Jr. Photographs] Reprocessing

Chauna working on the Workman project

As mentioned previously the reprocessing of the Workman photographs began last Fall (2017) with Mae Howe conducting the arrangement and reprocessing of the collection images. She rehoused all of the materials collection using proper storage resources for preservation sake, as well as adequately addressing all of the new changes and topics covered in each image in an updated finding aid. Mae worked diligently with the help of Laura Litwer (South Carolina Political Collections digital initiatives archivist) to create a finding aid that covered the extensive collection of images Workman kept. A challenge in itself due to the many duplicates the collection contains. Questions quickly arose as to how redundant the finding aid should be in this regard. The two agreed that to minimize redundancy an appendix should be made.

To further explain, the Workman photograph collection houses different size print images and different size negatives, mostly of those same images and of others that remained undeveloped by Workman. Mae not only had to identify the duplicates in a collection of over 3,000 images, but she also had to identify potential copyright violators, create item level metadata, and continually update the finding aid with the daily changes whenever she came across the two previously mentioned issues. She achieved these tasks that quite thoroughly with only minor mistakes that Chauna would later find and fix.

Chauna working on the Workman project

Chauna took over the project for Mae at the beginning of the summer, picking up where she left off digitizing negatives. Chauna was placed in a unique situation where she had to start in the middle of a large project and carry on the work of someone else. With a little help from Mae and her trusty blue binder filled with detailed notes, she was able to continue her initial work and complete the digitization and creation of metadata for the remaining Workman negatives.  It may not seem like much but starting where someone else has left off is a daunting task in itself. If you remember from this post, we had to take some time to get our bearings and review the progress completed up to this point.

NHPRC

Chauna quickly found her footing and was able to complete the remaining scans and add valuable information to the metadata where necessary. When processing images and creating metadata at the item level it takes some time to create item specific information. But, Chauna gladly accepted the challenge having done similar tasks in the past with South Carolina Political Collections. Now all that is left for her to do is upload the images to CONTENTdm, finalize the finding aid, and release the collection for public access online.

[Part I: William D. Workman, Jr. Photographs] Introduction & Behind the scenes

By Chauna Carr, Grant Assistant

At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, South Carolina Political Collections (SCPC) began their yearlong grant project with National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC). They were granted funding to rehouse and digitize William D. Workman’s entire photograph collection. The grant provided for an assistantship originally awarded to Mae Howe, a current graduate student at the University of South Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science. She carried the project through to the second stage where Chauna Carr, also a graduate student in UofSC’s SLIS program, picked it up and will see it through to the end. To read more about the launch of the project and the phases of reprocessing click here!

Chauna Carr, Grant Assistant

Chauna found her way to archiving through an undergraduate degree in History with minors in Classical Studies and Art History from Virginia Tech (VT). She knew she wanted to pursue archiving as well as library science from having worked at the VT main campus library throughout her entire undergraduate career (a total of five years). During that time, she also found herself volunteering at local institutions in town who needed help organizing their small collections. It was there she found her love of archiving. One could say it came from her deep-seated love for organization and bringing order to a chaotic space. The work at these small local institutions was just that. She was given the opportunity to reorganize entire libraries, update book databases, create inventories, rifle through boxes of old letters and closets full of costumes, and throughout that process learn about her hometown and neighboring areas and the past generations who lived there.

Upon finding great joy in archival processing (which she did not know she was doing until she came to UofSC), she began looking for masters programs that would give her not only the necessary education to become an archivist but also a varied enough background that she could venture into any arena in which an archivist could be found. Upon starting her degree, she quickly discovered that archiving crosses many fields. Corporate, political, medical, and commercial businesses all need an archivist in some capacity to handle their records, whether digital or otherwise. The name of the position may be different, but the job itself will still hold similar elements. Chauna initially looked at museum studies programs wanting to focus on archives in museums.

However, UofSC’s library science program appealed to her for its versatility. A student could essentially build their own program apart from the three required courses necessary to complete the degree. The university itself boasts an excellent history program as well as a museum management certificate both of which provide courses that she figured would make up an excellent and well-rounded masters program. Thus Chauna found herself applying to  her father’s alma mater. A fact that initially dissuaded her from applying, since his specialty in libraries is more data analysis and computer science, which does not appeal to her at all (at least not the data analysis part).

NHPRC

She was accepted in 2016 and immediately began searching for a part-time job to gain more hands-on experience to complement her degree. That is how she landed at SCPC. She has been there going on two years and three months now. In that time she has learned so much from the wonderful staff that works there including archival processing and arrangement, metadata, digitization practices, working a reference desk, handling patron requests and more. This grant project has been a great opportunity to exercise all the skills she has learned from SCPC thus far.

Our New Digi Blog

As we unveil our new university website and our new Digital Collections and Exhibitions website here at the University of South Carolina, we can’t help but blog about it!

Our new Qidenus Smart image capture machine

Digital Collections got started in 2004, and was created by a group of special collections curators and archivists.  We primarily serve the special collections units at the university: Irvin Department of Rare Books, South Carolina Political Collections, Government Documents, the South Caroliniana Library and Archives, the Music Library, and the Moving Image Research Center.  Our department also participates in nationally-held industry best practices regarding digitization, metadata creation, access, and digital preservation. We serve our South Carolina community as well, and partner with institutions across the state, to share resources and expertise.

Since 2004, over 250 collections (containing over half a million items) have been digitized and described using the content management system CONTENTdm (dm = digital management). During the last 14 years, over 75 staff and students have created these digital wonders, giving you open access to historic newspapers, published and unpublished manuscripts, photographs and negatives, university archives, sheet music, rare books, engravings and prints, oral histories, and political records. Not surprisingly, UofSC’s Digital Collections department was a founding member of Digital Public Library of America and the South Carolina Digital Library.

We’ll be using this blog as a way to show our work, like all your math teachers insisted on. Our department is under lock and key (not open to the public), but our methodology and progress needn’t be. We’ll have guest bloggers (Digi staff, interns, and students) describe their digitization process, cool things they found in the collections, and a nice cross-referenced link or two where you can find the original item we’ve digitized. We’ll also announce new changes to our workflows, exciting new equipment, grants, and collaborations here.

→ To keep up with our new collections subscribe to our blog or peruse our Facebook  and  Twitter. We’d love to hear from you, too. Email us with questions or conversation at digital1@mailbox.sc.edu