One of the new projects in development in Digital Collections involves a collection of manuscripts and photographs from the South Carolina Council on Human Relations (SCCHR), held by the South Caroliniana Library. The project is made possible by the Council on Library and Information Resources’
The collection spans five decades, beginning in 1934 before the Civil Rights Era (1955-1969), and it amasses 1,700 folders and 32 boxes. Included in the papers are correspondence, financial records, meeting minutes, open letters, radio scripts, reports, and more all concerning the Council’s involvement in civil rights activities. These papers will not only reveal hidden figures ushering in progress, but also broaden the definition of civil rights.
Since we are under an ordinance to work remotely, I can only share with you a few examples of the content found in this collection. Pictured below are some of the first correspondence and documents kept.
Digitizing natural history collections is quickly becoming a specialty of ours, over at the Digital Collections department at the University of South Carolina Libraries. We’ve partnered with McKissick Museum for the past few years on their nationally grant-funded digitization project entitled ‘Historic Southern Naturalists’ (HSN); many thanks to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for the grant. This digital project has been highly collaborative and has produced a useful and beautiful web portal from which to access myriad museum collections of fossils, rocks, dried botanicals, and minerals, as well as the library’s collection of early naturalist manuscripts.
Since the HSN digital collaboration yielded such great results in providing museum and library users with fantastic historical resources, we’re excited to be back at the beginning of a new natural history digital collection.
In 2019, UofSC officially established the Mark Catesby Centre, a collective of scientists, librarians, curators, rare book experts, and naturalists, with invested personnel spread across the United States and the United Kingdom. The Catesby Centre’s work revolves around researching and promoting the ever-important findings and illustrative records of Mark Catesby, a naturalist who came to study biology in the Carolinas, Florida, and the Bahamas almost three centuries ago. Catesby’s seminal work predates that of Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus by 29 years, with Catesby’s first edition of natural history findings published in 1729. Linnaeus would not release his now-famous biological classification system until 1758. The entirety of Catesby’s work in his multivolume set “The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands” was published over the course of 18 years, beginning in May of 1729 and ending in July of 1747.
Digitizing these rare and sometimes delicate natural history items requires specialty scanners and camera equipment, fully trained staff, and a great deal of time and patience. We strive to ensure that the color balance and tone distribution captured with our digitization equipment is as true to the physical, original item as possible. Calibrating and staging a single shot or scan can take up to 30 minutes, or the process could involve multiple scans of the same item in order to get the digital facsimile just right. In our department, this attention to detail often captures the iridescence and depth of the pigments used to hand color illustrations, as well as the texture of paper and the organic signs of age that rare books exhibit. Our staff, often graduates of the School of Library and Information Science here at UofSC, take great pride in producing such detailed work, as digital collections like these provide researchers with the next best thing to seeing a rare item in person; seeing it anywhere in the world at any time, online.
Last year alone, we digitized and helped to format metadata (data that describes the digitized items online) for about 12,000 items for the Historic Southern Naturalists digital collection, and we scanned a little over 2,500 pages and prints from our Catesby rare books. In creating yet another stunning natural history digital collection for students, scholars, and historians to peruse, we hope to create a diverse wealth of natural history primary resources online.
My name is Stephanie Gilbert and I am one of the new Digital Assistants here at Digital Collections. Perhaps some of you have heard of Hayes Mizell. For several years, Mizell was a prominent Civil Rights Activist. He served as director of the South Carolina Community Relations Program of the American Friends Service Committee from 1966-1982, and in one of his speeches likened his role to that of a “professional advocate”. Mizell traveled all over the U.S. delivering speeches in support of school integration and educational improvements for students from low-income families. His collection includes personal images of himself and his associates as well as letters, programs, and copies of his many speeches.
So, what exactly is my role when digitizing this collection? As the digital assistant, the first step is always scanning. I ensure that each item is clearly scanned, edited, and stored in the proper format. Next, I create metadata that is entered into an excel spreadsheet which will then be run through a series of programs to polish the data. It then gets loaded online through ContentDM which makes it public so that researchers have full access to the materials. Though this process is lengthy and detail heavy, it ensures that another format of the materials exist, so the documents are preserved physically and digitally.
New job + new skill set = amazing! I am thoroughly enjoying my time here at Digital Collections. I have found it quite refreshing to meet new people and learn more about a different area of information science. The environment is quiet, peaceful, and filled with friendly people who are a pleasure to work with and learn from. I am also enjoying the Mizell Collection. I find that I always become fond of whatever collection I work on. I tend to form an emotional connection through physically handling documents, and the items in this collection to me serve as the physical embodiment of Mizell’s influence in the community. It is so easy to form an attachment when you think of his work in this way. It is also eye-opening to preserve items digitally as opposed to physically rehousing with folders and boxes. I look forward to what else my future spent with Digital Collections and the Hayes Mizell Collection will hold!
New year, new goals. We’re planning several internal projects of note, with a few grants and lots of ongoing collections work thrown into the mix. Primarily, we’re starting a collection-wide metadata assessment for all 261 of our current collections. This assessment will take approximately 4 months with one full-time librarian and two part-time professional staff dividing the work. Once the assessment is complete, we will prioritize ‘worst first’ and begin the oversized task of remedying metadata mistakes, unicode/machine readable transliteration problems, ADA accessibility issues, and Dublin Core mapping mishaps. Human error runs through the work that is cataloging and metadata entries, and we’re not immune! This planned overhaul will most likely take upward of two years with current staffing levels.
Finally, we’re bringing the tenets of UX and UI to our work here in the department. Looking at digital exhibitions and digital humanities tools, we’re assessing what works best with our digital collections needs, staff skill sets, departmental budget, and time. We hope to offer a small suite of new DH options to our internal campus users, so aesthetically pleasing and fully functional web interfaces for our external users are created, with an eye towards what best suits the materials we’re presenting. Story Maps, Timeline, Scalar, and OxGarage are all under investigation for their potential uses with digital collections and exhibitions. At the end of spring, we hope to have some answers and a plan!
We’re invested in making our departmental process is clear and we enjoy using our blog to make everything we do as transparent and accessible as possible, for our readers, users, and colleagues outside of UofSC. Let us know if there’s something you’d like to hear about in the comments. Til next time!
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.
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.
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: https://digital.library.sc.edu/collections/john-c-calhoun-papers/
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.
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 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).
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.