Thursday, October 30, 2008

A day in the life...

Today Walter Reed was having a disaster planning episode which involved locking down the AFIP building so all of the collections staff went out to the warehouse. I was running a bit behind because yesterday a curator at the National Gallery of Art called to say that while the Gallery found something interesting while a conservator was cleaning Thomas Eakins' painting of the Museum's first curator John Hill Brinton. The partially-cleaned painting has what was thought to be a curtain in the upper left corner, but instead appears to be a flag or heraldic device. They had hoped it would be a medical one that I'd recognize, but I was in the dark... More research to follow, but the painting should look great when it's finished in a few months.

Up at the warehouse, Kathleen and I inventoried boxes of early 20th century journals that the AFIP library had transferred to us years ago, and then helped restack Neuroanatomical's Yakovlev Collection's library. Kathleen also had been editing a finding aid of the James Moore Ball Ophthalmic Museum collection which is a very large group of material on eyes and vision from the turn of the 19th century. I had to leave early to go to another building to get my warehouse ID card renewed and then popped back into the museum to update location in our database. Look for the Ball finding aid to show up on our main website soon.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Kolff-Brigham artificial kidney

I also scanned and uploaded this booklet, which took about one-millionth of the time the Gillette book did. You can see this one at the Internet Archive too.

The project from the dark side

is finally done. What an extended, painful experience, getting the Gillette Receipt book photographed, photoshopped (oh, about 3 times) and pdf'ed. It's awaiting your viewing pleasure on the Internet Archive. Let's just say it was a learning experience.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Museum CLOSED on Thurs, October 30th

Walter Reed is conducting a training exercise in and around the Museum so it's closed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Another forensics exhibit

Well, this one is a few years off, but today I received the Fall 2008 issue of Memorial News, the newsletter from the National Law Enforcement Memorial. When the National Law Enforcement Museum opens in 2011, it will feature an interactive forensics exhibit, thanks to a generous donation by Target. "The Target Forensics Lab will feature six stations - fingerprinting, trace analysis, blood spatter analysis, DNA, toxicology, and firearms toolmarks and impressions - plus materials on forensic accounting, entomology, and a realistic medical examiner's office. Museum visitors will be able to 'take the case,' choosing one of four real crimes featured in the Museum, collecting evidence and analyzing it in the lab before identifying a suspect."

The museum will be in the 400 block of E Street NW, very near the Memorial at Judiciary Square.

October 26: Halloween activities at Museum

Halloween Activities at the NMHM!

When: Saturday, October 25, 2008 (see times below for specific activities)

What: Pasta skeleton craft activity for ages 5-12 (11 a.m.-2 p.m.) and scavenger hunt (10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.)--prizes while they last!

Museum featured in Washington Post

The Post ran a nice bit in their pre-Halloween edition of the Weekend section yesterday, with author Amy Orndorff saying "Have you ever played that Halloween game where you're blindfolded and told to stick your hands in bowls that contain eyeballs (peeled grapes), tongues (pickles) and teeth (uncooked popcorn)? It might not be convincing, but the idea -- being close to things that were once inside a person -- is downright creepy. That is the same shiver-inducing, stomach-churning sensation that one feels while walking through the National Museum of Health and Medicine.... So skip the pickles this Halloween, and check out the real thing."

I can't say I've ever played that game, nor felt that about the Museum in over two decades, but read "A Gory Way to Learn About Your Health" and stop by the Museum.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Virtual museums

We came across a 2006 article from the NY Times yesterday that I thought vastly interesting, about how 75% of all visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art never cross the threshold. My first thought was "the admission fee!" but as you'll see, I misinterpreted this statement. I'm so used to free admission to great museums in Washington that I was taken aback on my first visit to the Met, seeing it was going to cost me $20 to get in. Worth it, of course, but a bit of culture shock (good pun, no?).

No, what the article meant was the Met has, as of 2006, 15 million visitors a year to its website, a huge number compared to the 4.5 million people who pay 20 bucks a pop. I understand the $20 is a suggested amount but, as one who works in a museum and has something of an understanding of what makes it go, I feel pretty guilty strolling in free.

It's this same kind of attempt to raise awareness of our museum that drives Mike and me and other staff to post samples of our stuff to our Flickr accounts (and hope, wish, hope for a Commons account), to the Internet Archive and to this blog. We have pretty cool things, just like the Met, that we want to share with everyone. No sense hiding our light under a basket, is there? We'd love to have the same kind of presence the Met has, and to see the same kind of numbers hitting our sites.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Another couple of days in the life of the assistant...

For a week that started out with a holiday, it's already been a long one. I started both days by performing quality assurance on boxes of images that have been scanned and on the metadata related to them, all of which have been uploaded to an online database. This involves sampling the box at 1% and comparing the info and image online to the item in the box. This is a very good time for the iPod. However, most of the action has centered on something called a charette. I'd never heard the word before a few weeks ago so I looked it up: it's defined as an "intense design exercise."

As I'm sure we've told you before, the museum is being relocated when the Walter Reed Army Medical Center closes in a few years. We're being sent just a mile or three up the road in Maryland and we're having a new museum built. Sounds great, doesn't it? Lemme tell ya, even as a bystander not having any importance to the project, it's a lot of work. Which brings us to the charette.

Yesterday and today, representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers, some Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission people, other Army people with interest in the process, the architects, some other people never identified to me, and museum staff in varying numbers, met for some scrutiny as to what we do and in what amount of space. Under BRAC law, we can't have a larger building than what we currently occupy even though most of us are overwhelmingly crowded. However, the designers are listening and noting, and we have high hopes that with professional design assistance, the space we'll occupy will be more functional and efficient even if no larger. So yesterday most of the collections staff were called in to talk about our space and give a general overview of how it's allocated.

Today we were asked to be more specific so collections staff met again and most of the day was spent poring over schematics of the building and creating a spreadsheet that spelled out how much space in each area is used for collections storage, researcher, processing, and office space (to give you an idea of how crowded we are, my "office" space is about 15 square feet and Mike's is not much more), and common storage areas for materials like empty boxes. There's a certain amount of overlap in a couple of areas, such as one largish room functioning as a combination of storage, processing, researcher, registrar, and office space for three different collections, so it took us a while to parse that kind of thing out.

The committee also wants to know what our anticipated growth is for the next several years. This information is probably the hardest of all to come up with. It's not like the spigot opens and closes with regularity, and that we control the flow. Some years in the archives we might accumulate another 10 linear feet of material. A middle amount might be 250 feet. A few years back we got 3000 bankers' boxes added to our collection. Yes, 3000. And for about the last six months of this year, just off the top of my head, I could come up with about 130 feet of material that came in in about 6-8 donations/accumulations. Finally, this 130 feet does not include the 22 cubic feet of video tapes that were delivered on Tuesday. We anticipate exponential growth over the next few years but have no real way to predict just how exponential it will be, unless "a lot" is an acceptable measurement.

Still haven't finished that "receipt" book but I have plans to do so tonight after the treadmill.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

AFIP Director's Message: The Joint Pathology Center A New Beginning

This is Dr. Mullick's message from the new AFIP Letter.

AFIP Director's Message: The Joint Pathology Center A New Beginning

As most of you know, the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) directed the Department of Defense to establish a Joint Pathology Center (JPC) that would provide diagnostic pathology services; pathology training; pathology research; and would modernize and update AFIP's current Tissue Repository, as long as creating such a center would be consistent with the final recommendations of the 2005 Defense Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission. The Commission, as I'm sure you recall, had recommended disestablishment of the AFIP.

I can now report to you that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs has concluded that a Joint Pathology Center can indeed be established in DoD and still meet the requirements spelled out by both the BRAC Commission and the 2008 NDAA. I can further report that implementation plans are now being finalized to establish the Joint Pathology Center as part of the new Walter Reed National Military
Medical Center.

Can I tell you exactly what the JPC will look like in terms of personnel, money and space? No, I can't. Those issues are still being worked out and it will likely be another few months before the road ahead is paved with the level of clarity and direction that I know you all are seeking. But what I can tell with clarity and direction is that we all need to embrace this process as a new beginning - an opportunity to help build a Reference Center for pathology for the federal government that's not only finely tuned to meet the current needs of our service members and their families, but one that's flexible enough to incorporate the technologies and techniques that will characterize the future of pathology. This Pathology Reference Center should provide the "final diagnosis" in difficult cases. The education and training should provide a professional level type of expertise that achieves academic legitimization and a CME function that will provide solidification of pathology expertise; and research should be of the highest caliber. The Tissue Repository should be maintained and modernized by using the best talent to provide unique cases and is supported by the best and most modern techniques.

I fully understand that many of you are disappointed and frustrated by the disestablishment of the AFIP and the transition to a Joint Pathology Center. And as someone who has spent much of my professional career here, I can certainly understand this. All of us - regardless of when we began our work with the AFIP - instantly became rich with an inheritance bequeathed to us through decades upon decades of splendid service by others who had helped make the Institute a world leader in pathology consultation, education and research. Such an inheritance is difficult to let go of; but let go of it we must so that we can focus on transferring as much of that wealth as possible to the Joint Pathology Center.

Think about a pathology center that continues to maintain and modernize AFIP's Tissue Repository so that the Military Healthcare System can access its assets for clinical care, research and training.

Think about a pathology reference center that will be an independent professional entity that is centrally located so that it's better able to provide world-class subspecialty pathology care to service members, their families, and other federal agencies. And imagine such care employing the best interpretive technology, including immunohistochemical staining, telepathology services, and immunofluorescent technology.

Think about a pathology center that will include a molecular pathology laboratory that will provide state-of-the-art PCR and Fluorescent In Situ Hybridization (FISH) technology to directly support diagnostic services and other military treatment facilities - a laboratory that will focus on providing tumor marker and pharmacogenomic diagnostic studies.

Think about a pathology center that will provide opportunities for resident and fellow rotations for all pathology residencies with the Military Healthcare System, as well as a robust online Continuing Medical Education program for pathologists throughout the military.

Think about a pathology center that is enthusiastic about the future of pathology, such as the future I detailed in my previous message - a future that relies heavily on pathology informatics, large-scale experiments, development of new subspecialties, and personalized medicine tailored to the individual and his or her environment. Imagine all this and more and I'm sure you can envision the many possibilities the Joint Pathology Center could create.

Then think about this. Some of the most spirited minds in pathology exist right here in this Institute. And a spirited mind never stops within itself. It is always aspiring and going beyond itself. If it does not advance and press forward and stand at bay and clash, it is only half alive. Its pursuits are boundless; and its food is wonder, the chase, and the belief in a better tomorrow.

Let's harness this power, embrace a new beginning, and help build the best Joint Pathology Center possible as a reference center for pathology for the Federal Government.

The Smile Train

I've been lucky enough to be in a position to make some donations to The Smile Train. If you're not familiar with this organization, they have figured out a way to repair cleft lips and palates in children all over the world for as little as $250, and in as little as 45 minutes. For those of us used to American medicine, this is miraculous.

How do they do it?

They train medical teams in-country using virtual training software, thereby eliminating costly travel and training expenses. Since 1999, their administration and overhead, as a percentage of total expense, has averaged about 2%. Two percent!

The Smile Train trains staff in 75 of the world's poorest countries and since 2000 has repaired cleft lip and cleft palate in more than 355,500 children. They were recently in Iraq where the circumstances dictated taking in a mobile operating theater (essentially a tricked-out 18-wheeler), where 66 children were treated and 15 Iraqi surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses were trained.

This is a remarkable organization for what they do and how they go about it. They have received 501(c)(3) status from the IRS and certified charity status from the Better Business Bureau.

Note that this post is not an official or unofficial endorsement by the Department of Defense, the Army, the AFIP, the museum, or the archives. Just me.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Medical museum articles online

My colleagues Sam Alberti and Simon Chaplin have articles in the online journal museum & society This should be a good issue.

Special issue: Constructing Nature Behind the Glass edited by Samuel J. M.M. Alberti and Christopher Whitehead


Constructing nature behind the glass
Samuel J.M.M. Alberti

Repair work: surfacing the geographies of dead animals
Merle Patchett and Kate Foster

The matter and meaning of museum taxidermy
Rachel Poliquin

Nature dissected, or dissection naturalized? The case of John Hunter’s museum
Simon Chaplin

From natural history to science: display and the transformation of American museums of science and nature
Karen A. Rader and Victoria E. M. Cain

Rethinking the value of biological specimens: laboratories, museums and the Barcoding of Life Initiative
Rebecca Ellis

Book Reviews

Ken Arnold, Cabinets for the Curious: Looking Back at Early English Museums Paula Findlen

Conal McCarthy, Exhibiting Māori: A History of Colonial Cultures of Display Julia Adams

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.