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Apr 5 / Christine Illichmann

Alternative Spring Break 2018 – Maryland State Archives

Today’s post is written by SIS student Erin Zimmerman. Erin was a 2018 Alternative Spring Break Participant and spent the week at the Maryland State Archives.

Erin Zimmerman

Erin Zimmerman stands in front of the Maryland State Archives building.

My Alternative Spring Break assignment took me to the Maryland State Archives Imaging Services Department.  Having only touched on the topic of digitization in my coursework, I was very interested in seeing it put into practice.  I had participated over a decade ago in a project digitizing student records at the local university.  That experience had given me some idea as to what might be involved – feeding boxes of paper into a multi-feed scanner and looking at the results for imperfections.  Of course, I had romantic notions of handling brittle yellowed paper and preserving the handwritten documents for everyone to see, but as state archives are more of the official record keepers for the state, I wasn’t holding my breath.

I must admit that my week-long experience was better than I could have imagined.  We were given the opportunity to spend the week sampling several different job responsibilities and pieces of equipment.  We began by digitizing card catalog cards and marriage licenses from the 1950s.  This process was as I had envisioned – multi-feed scanners, checking the images for problems, renaming files, and uploading to the server.  I worked with 2 different scanners and picked up a lot of ideas for how to troubleshoot scanner issues.   We also went to a webinar with the staff and sat in on a lively conversation about quarantine procedures for newly acquired born-digital materials and the pros and cons of developing all software in-house as opposed to going with other vendors. Later, we got to use the Scan Master book scanner, which was roughly the size of a ping-pong table.  There we scanned a series of ledgers, a book, and even some letters from the special collections department.

We then spent some time with microfilm.  We saw how it was digitized, but spend more time looking at the resulting images of newspapers from the 60s and a series of cards from agency responsible for movie censorship, checking them for quality and adjusting the auto framing as needed.  We also saw how all the plats, land development maps, for the state of Maryland are processed and scanned.  Finally, we did some checked a collection of old photographs that had been digitized for contrast and added metadata to the images.  I suppose one of the most interesting aspect of the trip for me was my new respect for microfilm.  I had sort of categorized it as an outdated medium and given no thought to digitizing it.  Also, after a discussion in which one staff member referred to it as “the true archival medium”, have given it some thought and am inclined to agree.

Overall, we covered so much more than I thought possible in a week.  It was an amazing overview of all the different ways items can be digitized and all the work that goes into the process, so they can be made available and easily located by the public.  Everyone we worked with was very knowledgeable about their responsibilities and equipment.  They were also very welcoming and happy to share their experience with us.  This was an amazing way to spend my spring break.