The Future of the Past: Digital Collections in the Age of Sharing


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Digital Commonwealth Annual Conference
Devens, Massachusetts
May 1, 2013

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  • Speaker notes for each slide are in the tab next to comments. Image credits with links to the sources are on slides 45-46.
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  • What kind of historical photographs do people enjoy looking at?
  • Photographs featuring historically significant people like Presidents are always of interest
  • But more recent celebrities like Rex Trailer, the longtime host of Boomtown, a popular Boston children's program with a Western theme, may attract more attention. This is Rex Trailer in the Fourth of July Parade in Wakefield in 2009. Rex Trailer died in 2013.
  • People like old pictures showing any sort of sports and activities, the more unusual, the better. Auto Polo definitely fits the bill.
  • This photograph is of an ordinary place -- a workingman's restaurant and a barbershop, taken during the Great Depression. It's filled with fascinating details -- there's a lot of social and cultural history in the menu and prices.
  • Every ordinary place is significant to everyone who lived in the neighborhood. Every small business is the story of people trying to make a living and support a family, including the founder, the owner(s) and everyone who ever worked here.
  • Photographs of workers are always interesting -- like the small businesses, work is about trying to support yourself or support a family. In the fullsize of this image, we can see the faces of many potentially recognizable people. Unfortunately, the only identifying information we have is the name and location of the factory, and no other context. Who took this picture? Why did they take it? Were these musical breaks a regular occurrence, or was this a special occasion or staged for the photograph?
  • This is not a historical photo, it's a recent photograph of a historical place
  • Here's a photo of the same historical house taken in 1929. Which restoration of this historical house was more appropriate?
  • This charming little building is now the home of the Danvers Art Association, but it was once the two-room Williams School, designed by Lester C. Crouch, the architect who also designed the magnificent Peabody Institute Library of Danvers. When posting a photo like this, it's a good idea to post information about previous names and uses for the building, so people working on local history and family history projects can discover them.
  • Just in time: I drove up Route 1 past this fascinating quarry structure every day for several years, and finally got around to stopping and taking a few pictures of it. I didn't realize that it was already closed and slated for demolition.
  • A library scene that looks like a painting by Hopper or perhaps the opening of a cinema noir mystery.
  • The books on the Internet Archive are searchable, but it can be hard to find great pictures like this embedded in the text. I take screenshots and post them on Flickr, linked to the book itself, to help local and family historians find pictures of buildings that are no longer standing.
  • Or people who are no longer standing. I liked the fact that the teachers in this picture are identified by name, and hope that "liberating" it from the book will make it easier for someone to find a picture of an ancestor.
  • There's a lot of detail in those 19th Century panoramic maps, and many of them are as much art as cartography. Here's a Beverly neighborhood which I think is quite an interesting picture.
  • This is the starting point for the logged-in Flickr member. The fact that it shows you new pictures from people you have designated your contacts was an early example of following friends that is one of the basic concepts in social media
  • This is the photo page on Flickr. You can see that there's a title and description, a date and time and map, statistics on how many view, comments and favorites this picture has gotten, links to share it on Facebook and Twitter, and sets and groups to help place it in context.
  • Groups are a way for users to share photographs that share a subject, theme, method or have something else in common. They are one of the social building blocks of community of Flickr. Any user can start and run their own group for (almost) any purpose. Some, like this one, are just collections of photographs, but others have active forums, and their own rules, customs, games, etc.
  • Flickr Commons is a project to engage the Flickr community in helping to describe library and museum collections by adding information through tags, comments, etc.
  • Here's an example of a news photograph for which the Library of Congress only had the notes written on the edge of the photograph.
  • Flickr members were quickly able to provide more information. This is an early example of crowdsourcing research.
  • This is a personal project of the Flickr user Phototrack123, who buys old family photographs and tries to track down more information about the subjects and locate descendants, returning the photograph to the family.
  • Boston Public Library on Instagram, a site that's similar to a stripped-down Flickr, aimed primarily at mobile users
  • Panoramio is a photosharing site owned by Google, and that is built for place-based pictures. Appropriate pictures from this site are selected for inclusion Google Earth
  • Google uses photographs from Panoramio for Google Maps, Google Places and other projects
  • Picture from the Swampscott Public Library on the NOBLE Digital Heritage, posted on NOBLE's Facebook page. This was one of a group of old pictures of libraries posted for National Library Week.
  • Posting a photo from Flickr directly to Twitter. In this example, we see three posts with links to articles and on Flickr image. Note the location symbol, which means that the images is geocoded.
  • Here's the image file viewed in Twitter. Note the location marker, and that the city and state are displayed. Geocoded images like this will show up on Twitter when users are using an app to search for nearby tweets. Local news organizations may do this.
  • This is a set of photographs from the NOBLE Digital Heritage site that include bicycles, posted to a Pinterest board for National Bike Month.
  • Wikimedia Commons is a repository of photographs for Wikipedia and related projects, and is a great place to post photographs (old or new) that are in the public domain or that you are willing to have others freely use.
  • Historypin is a site for sharing photographs by "pinning them" to a map and assigning them a true or approximate date. Images can be searched by place and date range (as in this search for images taken in Worcester between 1901 and 1948.
  • Here's one of the images found in the search, pinned by the Worcester Historical Museum.
  • When you pin an image to the map, you can optionally add it to Google Street View (if available.) Here's what the this process looks like -- in this image I have my photograph of the historic John Wise House in Essex overlaying the image of the house on Street View, zooming in and out and adjusting the size of my image to fit. In the toolbar I have a slider that fades the overlay in and out, which helps to get an exactly match.
  • Here's what the Historypin looks like on a phone or tablet. It can use the image's current location to display nearby images. When you select an image, you have an option to use the device's camera lens to superimpose the Historypin image on the current view. You can snap this as a picture and automatically post it as a "repin."
  • The Historical Marker Database has been around for years -- it's a huge collection of information about historical images, geocoded, transcribed and categorized.
  • Historical markers are history about history. They are interesting because they present information about a historical event, and because they show us what was considered worthy of a marker when they were erected (in this case, in 1930.) This one is unusual because it contains the equivalent of strikeover text -- the final phrase AND THE WHOLE FAMILY KILLED has been painted over.
  • Historical markers don't need to be just text, or to record just a single event. These historical markers are part of the heritage trail in a neighborhood of Washington, DC, one of a series of linked trails throughout the city. These markers give information about various events (large and small) that happened near the spot, and include a lot of old photographs and other images. The large image on the left shows singer Jimmy Dean appearing at a liquor store opening in 1952: “After World War II, Mount Pleasant enjoyed a brief heyday as a ‘hillbilly’ (country) music destination. Singer (and later sausage salesman) Jimmy Dean found fame hosting a local TV show, Town and Country Time, but Mount Pleasant knew him first as Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats, the house band at the Starlite Restaurant…." The marker on the right includes some information about a difficult period in the community, and the photos in the lower right show a car burning and a Police Officer addressing a crowd during riots in 1991.
  • Joe Manning has spent several years identifying children in Lewis Hine's child labor photographs, and doing research to find out what happened to the child in later years, and, if possible, to provide this information to the child's descendants, who usually are unaware that the photograph exists.
  • Photographer Carol Highsmith has made it her mission to photograph all fifty states and donate her "21st Century America Project" to the Library of Congress to be made available without copyright restriction.
  • Photographs on paper are can be last for centuries or be destroyed by fire, water, mold, and other hazards. Scanning preserves the image and makes it easier to share even if something happens to the original (as nearly happened to these old family Polaroids, damaged in a house fire.)
  • Photographs lose a lot of their meaning if we don't know who took them, where they were taken, who is in them, etc. That information may be never have been recorded, or it may have been written in an album or on an envelope containing the images, which is fine until the images become disconnected from that information. These are slides of my father's taken in the 1950s. They are no longer neatly arranged in trays, but their information is not lost because each slide had its metadata neatly recorded on the cardboard frame.
  • There's a digital way to do something similar -- you can embed metadata in the image file itself. Modern digital cameras often record a great deal of information in the image file, including the date and time, make and model of camera, settings used, and location and direction of the camera when the photograph was taken. You can use other programs to add titles, descriptions, credits, a copyright statement, tags and more to your images. This is a screenshot of a free program called Geosetter which is good for working on batches of photos using templates, but there are many options. Once the information is embedded in the image, other programs can read it, and may use it for different purposes. For example, I added metadata to these images and when I uploaded them to Flickr, it automatically used the information to create titles, tags, geocoding, etc. When I upload the image to my WordPress blog, it will read in the information, too. If you don't want to take the time to add metadata, you should at least check to make sure your workflow isn't removing the information the camera puts in. (Jeffrey' Friedl's EXIF Viewer is a handy tool to check things like this.)
  • The Future of the Past: Digital Collections in the Age of Sharing

    1. 1. The Future of the PastDigital Collections in the Age of SharingElizabeth ThomsenMay 1, 2013
    2. 2. What Kind of Pictures Do People Like?Pea shooting (Mrs Smith, Limehouse) John Topham,1933• People• Weather• Games and sports• Holidays• Transportation• Animals• Old technology• Occupations• Everyday life
    3. 3. Famous PeoplePresident Coolidge visits Lynn (Lynn Public Library)
    4. 4. Famous PeopleRex Trailer, Photo by Mark Sardella
    5. 5. Events and ActivitiesAuto Polo, Library of Congress on Flickr
    6. 6. Ordinary PlacesBerenice Abbott / WPA / New York Public Library on Flickr
    7. 7. Ordinary PlacesWeintraubs Deli, Elizabeth Thomsen on Flickr
    8. 8. Workers
    9. 9. Historical PlacesWhipple House, Elizabeth Thomsen on Flickr
    10. 10. Historical PlacesLeon Abdalian (1929) Boston Public Library on Flickr
    11. 11. This used to be a schoolDanvers Art Association, Elizabeth Thomsen on Flickr
    12. 12. Endangered placesRowe Quarry, Elizabeth Thomsen on Flickr
    13. 13. Circulation Desk, Beverly Public Library
    14. 14. Screenshot from Internet ArchiveElizabeth Thomsen on Flickr
    15. 15. Screenshot from Internet ArchiveElizabeth Thomsen on Flickr
    16. 16. Screenshots from panoramic mapsElizabeth Thomsen on Flickr
    17. 17. Logged in to Flickr
    18. 18. Photo Page on Flickr
    19. 19. Flickr Group
    20. 20. Bain CollectionLibrary of Congress on Flickr
    21. 21. Comments add information
    22. 22. Lucinda Cheney ScreenshotPhototrack123 on Flickr
    23. 23. Boston Public Library on Instagram
    24. 24. Panoramio
    25. 25. Panoramio on Google Maps
    26. 26. Facebook
    27. 27. Twitter
    28. 28. Twitter via Flickr
    29. 29. Pinterest
    30. 30. Wikimedia Commons
    31. 31. Historypin Search Results
    32. 32. Adding an Image to Streetview on Historypin
    33. 33. Historypin Mobile App
    34. 34. Historical Marker Database
    35. 35. John Rogers Homestead
    36. 36. Mount Pleasant Heritage TrailWashington, DC
    37. 37. Joe ManningLewis Hine Project
    38. 38. Photographer Carol Highsmith donatesover 100,000 photographs to Library of Congress
    39. 39. Preservation
    40. 40. Keeping It Together
    41. 41. Embedding Metadata (EXIF/IPTC)
    42. 42. Eudora Welty"A good snapshot keeps amoment from running away."
    43. 43. Image CreditsSlide 2: Knocker-up armed with a pea shooter John TophamSlide 3:Lynn August 1925. Pres. Calvin Coolidge in front of entrance to security trust building. Willow St. LynnPublic Library on NOBLE Digital HeritageSlide 4: Rex Trailer by Mark Sardella on FlickrSlide 5: Auto Polo Library of Congress on FlickrSlide 6: Blossom Restaurant Berenice Abbott (WPA) New York Public Library on FlickrSlide 7: Weintraubs Deli Elizabeth Thomsen on FlickrSlide 8: Little, A.E. and company. Shoe manufacturer. Stitching room personnel. 70 Blake St. LynnPublic Library on NOBLE Digital HeritageSlide 9: Whipple House, Elizabeth Thomsen on FlickrSlide 10: Whipple House , Leon Abdalian, Boston Public Library on FlickrSlide 11: Danvers Art Association Elizabeth Thomsen on FlickrSlide 12: Rowe Quarry ElizabethThomsen on FlickrSlide 13: Circulation Desk Beverly Public Library on NOBLE Digital HeritageSlide 14: Charles Baker & Co.s Works Elizabeth Thomsen on FlickrSlide 15: Holton High School Teachers Elizabeth Thomsen on FlickrSlide 16: Detail from Panoramic Map of Beverly Elizabeth Thomsen on Flickr
    44. 44. Slide 17-20: Flickr ScreenshotsSlide 21-22: Louis & Lola? Titanic Survivors Library of Congress on FlickrSlide 23: Lucinda Cheney Phototrack123 on FlickrSlide 24: Screenshot of Boston Public Library on InstagramSlide 25: Screenshot of "Your Photos" view of PanoramioSlide 26: Google Maps screenshot showing Panoramio imageSlide 27: Screenshot of photograph from NOBLE Digital Library on FacebookSlide 28-29: Screenshots of photo on TwitterSlide 30: Screenshot of Pinterest Board with photos from NOBLE Digital HeritageSlide 31: Screenshot of photograph on WikimediaSlide 32-35: Screenshots from HistorypinSlide 36: Screenshot of Historical Marker DatabaseSlide 37: John Rogers Homestead Elizabeth Thomsen on FlickrSlide 38: Mount Pleasant Historical Markers Elizabeth Thomsen on FlickrSlide 39: Screenshot of Mornings on Maple Street (Home of Joe Mannings Lewis Hine Project)SlideSlide 40: CBS Sunday Morning: Saving America for posterity at the Library of Congress (CarolHighsmith)Slide 41: Preservation: Scan and Copy Those Precious PhotographsSlide 42-43: Keeping it together: My Fathers Slides and screenshot of GeoSetterSlide 44: Eudora Welty Quote from Welty Commons
    45. 45. The EndElizabeth B. Thomsenet@noblenet.org