Hello. My name is Jessie Christian. Today I will be presenting an overview of a digital project I managed at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art —digitizing a collection of circus tradecards
I will begin with a brief description of the Circus Museum’s Tibbals collection and my role as the Tibbals Digital Collection Manager.I will then discuss the stages of the digitization process as exhibited by the tradecard project.
The Circus Museum at the Ringling has a wonderful collection of circus costumes, props and historic wagons. In early 2000, Howard Tibbals, a circus model builder and collector from Tennessee was looking for a museum to house his miniature circus. When he decided on the Ringling he also donated the funds to build a new building to display his model. The Tibbals Learning Center opened in 2006. Howard also agreed to donate his collection of circus materials to the Museum as a promised gift. This collection is one of the most comprehensive circus collections in the world.It was actually Howard’s idea to digitize the objects—both to assist him and researchers. The first collection to be digitized—the posters, was done on-site in Howard’s home in Tennessee. This and the next two collections, the photographs and design drawings, were outsourced to a company from Utah, Back Stage Library Works.
Although previous projects had been outsourced, we had the resources to complete a digitization project in-house. I was excited about handling the entire process, from appraisal to preservation, and was confident we could create an excellent product.Going through the stages of digitization and experiencing the challenges ourselves, we would learn more about what we wanted from the program, as well as how to set realistic goals and expectations for long term success.
By 2008 there were nearly 13,000 digital assets. My position was created to control, organize, and manage the collection and ongoing projects.I quickly saw the need to establish goals and lay out a path toward more developed digital initiatives.I created a 5 year plan that encompasses digitization, asset management, and web access. I have shared this plan with various departments to ensure that what’s happening with the Tibbals collection correlates with other museum-wide projects. The tradecard digitization is included in the top section for fiscal year 2008-09, along with 2 other digitization projects. A preservation project to transfer images on DVD to a network server backed up on optical disc was also ongoing. And four web –related projects. * This document is designed to emphasize the inter-relationship between creation, management and access. You can’t create a dynamic web presence without thoughtful digitization. Just like successful digitization can continue for only so long without having proper management processes in place.
This graph illustrates all digitization activity between 2002-2009. You can see the imbalance in the total number of digital files (in blue) compared to the number available online (red). At the end of the fiscal year in 2008, there is a large spike in the # of objects available online ---something I made an effort to get done soon after I started . The images and information were ready…the records were just not added to the web interface yet. So, I worked with our IT department to get a computer script written so we could add all 9,791 records to the website in one batch. With nearly 25,00 total digital assets, the digital program was moving along quite well. I was happy that with a decreased backlog and 5 yr plan in place, we could focus our efforts on providing greater access to these unique materials.
The Assistant Curator had told me about a collection of Howard’s that sounded really cool—the tradecards.Tradecards became popular in the 1800s as a form of business advertising. Typically, on the front of the card is an illustration and on the back is descriptive text promoting a good or service. Circuses created tradecards to market a particular show or highlight a new act. Circus imagery was also used by a range of industry types because it was such a beloved part of popular culture. Like using Barnum’s elephant Jumbo to illustrate the strength of Smith’s Suspenders.
So, why digitize the tradecards? For one, the turn around time from digital capture to making assets available to the public online would be relatively short. Second, the information needed to create a complete object record is often inherent in the item -- vs. the need to do external research. For example, with the postcard collection I am digitizing now, I have to do a bit of research in order to identify people, places, or events shown on the postcard. The 5 year plan helped shift focus from the program being a numbers game to providing for the public. Circus historians had requested access to the tradecards for articles and publication, so there was proven interest. Rather than continue to scan select tradecards on a per request basis, we wanted to tap into that interest and digitize the entire collection.
My first step was to establish intellectual control of the physical objects.Howard has a pretty detailed inventory of his collection, basically organized into groups, subgroups and categories. Each collection is arranged in a similar way. Because these objects are not yet Museum collections, just promised gifts, we have kept the original order, with minimal changesThe 2D objects in Howard’s collection are under the Archives Dept, so we generate a collection description and container list in line with professional pratice.
The 3D material is under the Museum’s Registration Dept. We work with them to ensure that the total collection is following museum standards. Object #s, as related to collections management are a central issue.Every item in the Tibbals collection is given an ht#Ht=Howard Tibbals5=representing the collection, in this case 5=tradecards - which was physically written on the object -and which the digital file was saved asThen, because most of the objects have a status of Promised Gift, the Registrar assigned a TR#TR=temporary receipt, year, lot #, and item #-officially referred to in the official log -and was the # shown on the webUltimately, in the future, as each object became part of the Museum collection, the object would be given a 3rd #So, prior to digitizing the tradecards, I consulted all involved to see if we couldn’t make all Tibbals Collection objects simply ht. We worked to then convert old TR records to their ht#. So far, this has proven to be a good decision and has helped collection management on multiple levels.
I created a digitization workflow based on standards and Best Practices from other libraries and archives, including the National Archives and Library of Congress. Each card, front and back, was scanned on Epson scanner at 600 dpi I revised some outdated standards for creating derivative files and just created a file fit for PowerPoints or screen viewing, which is the primary uses of Museum staff The archival master files, uncompressed TIFs, were saved to a network server for long term preservation
This is the an object record in the Museum-wide collections management system, called TMS (which stands for “The Museum System”)TMS was not developed to be an Archival program. It doesn’t handle hierarchy or massive data entry very well. TMS isn’t exactly user friendly either. However, this is the information center of the Museum and processing Tibbals collections at the item level so they can be made available in TMS provides a certain respect and accessibility.
Cataloging for all previously digitized Tibbals collections had been done directly into a Microsoft Access database. I continued this data entry workflow which saved a lot of time and increased the accuracy of data entry.I recorded 10 fields of information in a standardized schema, Dublin Core.The Subject field was derived from: - Library of Congress Subject Headings - Vocabulary list compiled from subjects Mr. Tibbals referred to in his own organization/ inventory of all of his circus collections
But, we still needed to get the information into TMS.In the past, the Ringling paid Gallery Systems, creators of TMS, $1.00 per record to load the information for us. Such transactions resulted in costs of over $30,000. I decided to look for a way to save this continual cost.Together with the IT department, we sponsored a graduate intern to teach us how to upload the information from Access to TMS.We worked with a wonderful student to develop SQL scripts to do exactly what we had previously been paying Gallery Systems to do. I believe working with IT on this project is what has led to successes in other projects involving Collections and IT—they learned more about our needs and I’ve learned to translate curator-speak for the IT guys.By adding this information to TMS, the tradecards are now accessible to all staff and ensures preservation of the object record in the central system.Now we can enter records fast and efficiently on both ends.
The online portal of TMS is called eMuseumOnce an object record is complete in TMS, it can be made available on the Museum websiteAll 900 tradecards were digitized and made available online to the public in just over a year. Compared to the digitization of the a collection of 550 photographs which took nearly 6 years from beginning to end.By providing public access through the museum website, the digital lifecycle was essentially complete. But, one of the best things about digital collections is the ability to expand and share information in multiple ways.
While digitizing the tradecards, I was researching how to present another digital collection online. A collection of 1100 heralds, we outsourced digitization of. One element that was added to the heralds is OCR, optical character recognition.Basically, OCR software processes an image into machine-readable text. What was once just an image become a searchable word document. eMuseum doesn’t handle OCR, so we needed an alternative.
The Ringling Museum is part of FSU, so I starting looking into ways they present their collections online. I learned FSU was sharing them via a state-wide collaborative run by the Florida Center for Library Automation, called PALMM.I quickly contacted FCLA and we have since added our first set of heralds to the database.With varied collections including …. From libraries, archives, and museums around the state, the Ringling collections are being exposed to a larger audience then ever before. Without the funds, infrastructure, or staff necessary to sustain a robust digital library, participating in PALMM is a sustainable way to provide access to our collections, reach new audiences, and be an active participant in a great local resource
Many of the tradecards have a generous amount of text, so adding OCR would definitely increase accessibility.Circus researchers will have the vocabulary necessary to discover the collection, but by adding OCR, and thus more points of access, the possibility of a exposure to broader research audience is greater.I spoke with a librarian at Harvard’s business library. She told me their Victorian tradecard collection is one of their most popular digital collections. The tradecards attract researchers in marketing, advertising, history, sociology, and even medical history. It is our hope that by adding the tradecards to PALMM and adding full-text search, this collection can find a diverse audience too.The OCR on the heralds was manually edited at a cost of $29,000. Plans for the future are to purchase OCR software for $1300, process the tradecards in house and them to the new PALMM site.
I seedigitization of the tradecards as a good illustration of the typical digital project
Jessie Christian<br />TRADECARDS<br />Digitization of a Circus Ephemera Collection<br />Erie Lithograph, no date<br />Tibbals Digital Collection, ht5000193 <br />
Describe<br />Identifier ht5000428<br />Title Tootsie Circus: Bears<br />Creator The Sweets Co. of America Inc.<br />Date no date<br />Coverage American<br />Format 2.36 x 2.87 in. <br />DescriptionRecto: “Tootsie Circus”; two brown bears one on red ball , other drinking from a bottle; Verso: “The Bears. How they love to eat. Whether it’s berries, ant eggs, or a luscious Coconut Tootsie Roll, they never say ‘No thank you.’”<br />Subject Trained Animals; Bears; Tootsie Rolls<br />Language English<br />Rights The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Tibbals Collection<br />