Amanda Fulcher Vasquez
Daughters of the American Revolution
In 2015 the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) celebrated the 125th anniversary of their founding. NSDAR is a women’s volunteer service organization that focuses on education, patriotism, and history. During their anniversary year, many projects were completed that involved telling the story of NSDAR throughout the years from multiple perspectives. For the NSDAR Archives, this meant an increased use of our resources, specifically our photograph collection.
As one of two archivists at the NSDAR Archives, I must confess that I am not a lone arranger. However, I am familiar with the struggles of lone arrangers. I know that working in a small repository means that you need to be a “jack of all trades” archivist. We juggle multiple priorities, and use our limited resources to find creative solutions for the many issues that we encounter. In the years prior to NSDAR’s 125th Anniversary, our small team was able to keep up with the manageable interest in photographs from our collection that needed to be digitized in order to improve access and aid in preservation. As a result, we took a “digitize on demand” approach, digitizing items as they were requested and storing the images in shared electronic reference files that were organizing by subject matter.
As my time as an archivist at NSDAR progressed, the demand for access to digitized photographs increased exponentially. In a brief period, I went from regular correspondence with members who did not have email addresses to members needing large quantities of images emailed to them. Many technological changes have occurred in the 13 years I have worked for NSDAR, and I began feeling challenged at work as many new projects involved mastering these technological advances. The archives profession has been impacted by many of these changes as well. All of this led me to enroll in Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) courses in 2012.
This brings us to NSDAR’s 125th anniversary in 2015 which resulted in an intense need for digital images by NSDAR’s Public Relations Department. Specifically, this department needed digitized images from our photograph collection to create content for promotional videos, website, and other outreach ventures that would tell the story of the NSDAR.
With limited resources and time, we needed a solution. A veteran NSDAR Public Relations employee went through a photograph collection that consisted of 70 boxes to select photographs for digitization. This employee was an ideal candidate to select photographs for two reasons. First, she was familiar with the history of NSDAR as well as the popular and frequently used images. Additionally she was the driving force behind the content created for NSDAR’s 125th. This made her an ideal person to select photographs to be digitized.
The results were a win-win for everyone. Sharing resources helped create shared success. Using institutional knowledge and expertise, the Public Relations Department employee who selected photographs for digitization did a great job. Together we determined that it was not necessary to digitize this collection 100%. This was because of limited resources and the subject matter of the photographs. As a small repository, it was great to team up with another department to achieve the goal of making key images more accessible by combining man power and resources. The Public Relations Department even helped with some of the scanning.
The DAS education made us more adept at facing this digitizing challenge. We were able to implement a better system for organizing the images produced from this digitization project. This was accomplished by making simple changes, such as having both a high resolution master copy and a low resolution access copy of digitized images. Each file was named for its location within the archives, rather than by their subject matter. Shortcuts to the access copy images were created in our shared electronic reference files, as to not overload the system with too many copies of the same image and avoid confusion.
Not only did this project allow us to properly organize our digitized images, we were also able to improve searchability. We placed low resolution copies of the images in our collections management database. This aided in our search functions and access; as well as preservation as we will not need to retrieve these photographs to view them. Our software was recently upgraded to include a public search function, and in-house researchers can now search and view these images.
The Public Relations Department’s needs were met; the outreach content they created for the 125th anniversary was wildly successful. However in helping them reach their goals, many of our own outreach goals were met. The promotional content they created for NSDAR’s 125th anniversary showcased events recorded in the NSDAR Archives, thus increasing our exposure and bringing awareness to our department. In 2015 digitized items were frequently posted on NSDAR social media. The NSDAR Facebook page began featuring a #ThrowBackThursday post. I wrote a guest blog post on the NSDAR President General’s blog explaining what it meant to be an archivist at NSDAR and detailing exciting projects that were in the works. The archives’ outreach partnership with the Public Relations Department has continued past the 125th project year and has now become a routine cooperation. A recent example of this is a Facebook Live post we promoted on October 5, 2016 for #Askanarchivist Day.
As a result of this positive partnership, the Public Relations Department has become an advocate for the archives program within our institution. Our 2016 goals include revitalizing some of our foundational policies and among them our records management policy. The Public Relations Department has volunteered to be the first department to go through this process and serve as an example for other departments.
My takeaway from this small scale digitization project is to look inside your institution for resources and collaborators. If you share goals with other departments, why not share resources and accomplish more together?