Friday, October 3, 2008

Hours and hours and hours in the life of the peon archivist

Mike occasionally writes about A Day in the Life of a [chief] Archivist and I thought I'd chime in with what it's like if you're not the lead dog, so to speak.

We got a request for a scan of a "receipt" book that belonged to Horace Gillette. It's a hand-written, late-19th century book of recipes for a variety of things from pharmaceuticals to lamp black. I know this because I've looked at of this.....blessed least 6 times now. All 120 pages.

It's a small book, about 4" x 5.25" with hand-marbled paper on the cover and bound after the fact; that is, after the "receipts" were written, by being sewn through the top edges of the pages with twine or something similar. What I'm getting at here is because of its age and the way it's bound I can't slap the thing on a scanner, but had to photograph Since then, I've sent every.sing - oh, you know what I mean - through Photoshop and have had the hardest time keeping the color consistent from page to page. I'm sure there are PS users out there who could whip this out in no time, but I'm not one of them. In the process I compressed the files too much and now they're so soft they're pretty much unreadable. Time to start over.

I've brought the original shots home to work on on my own time because I figured it was my ineptitude that caused the first batch to fail and I'd already spent two days on it at work. My next try of the first half-dozen pages resulted in more of the same problems with color consistency, so now I'm trying yet again by opening them in Camera RAW format which gives me greater control. I sure hope it works because I'm pretty darned sick of this book by now. When I finish it (and I will!!) I'll post a link to it so you can see this albatross for yourselves.


rachel said...

This might be a silly question, but what happens to the photos after the person who has requested them has received them? Are they available electronically anywhere? (It seems a shame to go through all that work for only one use of the material.)

I've been working on transcribing 18th century letters for a research project, and I've worked with both digital photographs and (terrible) photocopies of primary sources. I've often wondered about the person doing that labor - thanks for sharing!

Kathleen Stocker said...

We upload them to the Internet Archive ( where they're freely available. You can search for everything we've uploaded so far by going to the site and then searching on Otis Historical Archives. Everything is available in PDF. If you haven't been there and browsed around, you're in for a treat.
Thanks for asking. This is what makes all the work worthwhile.

Kathleen Stocker said...

I should qualify that by saying that documents (books, pamphlets, maps, etc.) are uploaded there. Our photos are often uploaded to our Flickr accounts, of which we have four, and hope to soon be part of the Flickr commons. That will allow us to post thousands of images from our collections.

Mike Rhode said...

I did directly tell Kathleen to do it at work, but she insisted on working on it at home this weekend.

It will be a thing of beauty when she's done though.

Kathleen Stocker said...

Yes, he did, but I have so much to do at work already and, considering the amount of time I've spent on it at home so far, I'm glad I brought it home to finish.

rachel said...

I think it's fantastic that you're making these documents freely available! And I have seen the Flickr pages - some really amazing images. Thanks!

Maggie said...

Thank you for doing this. :)

Kathleen Stocker said...

Wow, thank you both for your comments! We really appreciate it.