Accessibility Through Technology: Processing the Paul Henderson Photograph Collection


Published on

On October 6, 2012, I had the opportunity to speak at the Humanities & Technology Conference at Bowie State University in Bowie, Maryland about my work with the Paul Henderson Photograph Collection. The collection consists of over 6,000 large format negatives and a few hundred prints of Civil Rights Era Baltimore. Most of the photos depict unidentified people so the main goal of the project was to make the collection available for public use (research) as well as create positive images of each negative under a tight budget in order to begin the identification process. After processing was complete, I had the opportunity to curate an exhibition of Henderson's work as well as plan an accompanying program about Maryland's role in the struggle for civil rights. The video at the end of the presentation was something I created for the Henderson Photographs blog (

Published in: Education
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Accessibility Through Technology: Processing the Paul Henderson Photograph Collection

  1. 1. Accessibility Through TechnologyProcessing the Paul Henderson Photograph Collection Humanities & Technology Association Conference, Bowie State University, October 6, 2012Jennifer A. Ferretti, former Curator of Photographs & Digitization Coordinator, Maryland Historical Society
  2. 2. The Collection in 2009-2010
  3. 3. The Collection in 2009-2010!   The collection sat in storage (unprocessed) since MdHS received it from the Baltimore City Life Museum (BCLM) in 1998-1999.!   BCLM wrote a brief description of the collection, stating that there were about 2,000-3,000 negatives total.!   Some photographs were published despite the collection’s unprocessed status.!   Important African Americans were included in this collection, such as Pearl Bailey and Thurgood Marshall, but little else was known about what was in the collection.
  4. 4. The Collection in 2010!   A Deed of Gift (DOG) did not accompany the collection.!   The 4x5 inch negatives in the collection were boxed and sleeved in archival materials!   Very little description written on the sleeves (e.g., “Man posing for picture”)!   There was no collection number associated with any of the photographs besides the prints which were called the “Cornish-Henderson gift”!   Who was “Cornish” and what was their relationship to Henderson?
  5. 5. The Collection in 2010: Sense of Immediacy!   Acetate negatives deteriorate at an alarming rate if they are not cared for properly!   The collection was scattered in an unprocessed collection holding pen!   I made the processing of the collection a priority based on the sensitivity of the materials, the fact that some images had already been published, and content!   Moved all boxes to my office
  6. 6. Processing: The Starting Point!   Director of Publications and Library Services, Pat Anderson, offered her Historic Preservation class for one semester (Spring 2010) to help with any project I may need assistance with!   Henderson was my immediate thought due to the size of the collection!   How do you orchestrate and manage students processing the collection?
  7. 7. Initial Processing Goals:!   Assign a unique identification number to each individual photograph!   Describe each negative to the best of our ability!   Create an item-level inventory list!   Make the collection available for public use!   Digitize some of the photographs that are predicted to be the most popular or highly sought after
  8. 8. Working With Student Volunteers!   The total number of students varied throughout the semester but was never less than 10 total.!   How would I keep the class of 10 organized?!   How would I instruct them to record the information needed to create the item-level inventory?!   Handling of the photographs was a concern.
  9. 9. Working With Student Volunteers: The Numbering System!   The new numbering system for Henderson came before everything else.!   There were nine “crates” (Hollinger file boxes) with smaller 4x5 inch boxes inside.!   I wanted the numbering system to allow staff to easily identify where the original negative belongs.
  10. 10. Working With Student Volunteers: The Numbering System!   HEN would be the identifier since the collection did not have an accession number. (H as an identifier was already taken by the Hambleton Print Collection.)!   The box number would reflect the identifier: HEN . Crate Number (e.g., 01) . Box Within Crate - Negative Number (###):!   HEN.01.05-001 = Henderson Collection, Crate 1, Box 5, negative number 1.!   Digital file name: hen_01_05-001.tif
  11. 11. Working With Student Volunteers: The Plan!   Each person received a box I had pre-numbered!   The students worked in the library at large tables so they had plenty of work space!   The first day consisted of training on how to hold the photos and how to remove/replace them in their sleeves!   The students wore gloves at all times during the processing sessions. They removed each negative from its sleeve, placed the negative down on the clean, archival mats I provided, erased and re-numbered each sleeve using pencils I provided (Ticonderoga Dixon), and reinserted each negative in to the sleeve.
  12. 12. Working With Student Volunteers: The Plan! MdHS did not have enough computers for every student.!   The only way we could record the information each student was collecting was to have everyone fill out a survey form.!   The form, called the Henderson Collection Descriptive Worksheet, would require each student to fill in their name, date, Box Number/Date of box (if provided) and size of the box (all boxes were 4x5 inches).!   One column would require the HEN number and the second column of the worksheet left room for a description.
  13. 13. Henderson Collection Descriptive Worksheet
  14. 14. Working With Student Volunteers: The Plan!   Tags were made for each worksheet. At the end of every session, each student would tell me whether or not they completely described and re-numbered the box they were working on. If they finished, I would staple the tag and check off the DESCRIBED box.!   One student could not attend the regular session. Because of his schedule, he was the perfect person to physically enter the handwritten descriptions into the Excel spreadsheet.
  15. 15. Working With Student Volunteers: The Plan!   Once the student entered a handwritten worksheet into the Excel spreadsheet, the tag received another check: ENTERED.!   The third section on the tag that needed to be checked required quality control from me. Once each worksheet (box) received three checks, it was considered finished.
  16. 16. Working With Student Volunteers
  17. 17. Working With Student Volunteers
  18. 18. Working With Student Volunteers
  19. 19. Working With Student Volunteers
  20. 20. Working With Student Volunteers
  21. 21. Working With Student Volunteers
  22. 22. Towson University Student Presentation!   The Towson students had to research and present on a topic they came across in Henderson’s photographs and research Henderson himself.!   At this point, we begin learning more about Paul Henderson, but we are still left with many questions.!   For example, we still do not know how or why the Baltimore City Life Museum acquired the collection.
  23. 23. Towson University Student Presentation
  24. 24. Towson University Student Presentation
  25. 25. Towson University Student Presentation
  26. 26. Accessibility Issues
  27. 27. Accessibility Issues!   I needed to find an alternative to the way MdHS Library provided access to negatives!   Allowing patrons to view original acetate negatives (that may be deteriorating) did not benefit the materials or the patrons!   Negatives are inherently difficult to see. How would I solve this problem?!   This collection is mostly unidentified portraits. How would we ever begin identifying the people pictured if they are in negative form?
  28. 28. Accessibility Through Technology! MdHS was digitizing to NARA Digital Guidelines standards. Scanning low resolution images was not an option.!   Scanning each negative at master file size and embedding metadata would take an incredible amount of staff time.!   I had to think of a cost-effective way to make negatives positive in order to allow the collection to meet it’s full potential to researchers.
  29. 29. Digital SLRCamera +Light table orlight box +
  30. 30. Reference Photographs!   Each negatives was photographed on a light table, one box at a time.!   Order was maintained by working in small increments. After each box was photographed, the images were renamed.!   The digital images were brought into Photoshop, inverted to appear as positives, and sized at 150 DPI at 10 inches at the longest length.!   Once an entire crate was photographed, the images were printed (each with their item ID). Each page has been sleeved in plastic and placed into binders, which are available in the library.
  31. 31. Henderson Reference Binder
  32. 32. Accessibility Issues: This photograph was labeled as “School faculty”
  33. 33. Esther McCready, Thurgood Marshall, Donald Gaines Murray, Parren Mitchell & others after April 14, 1950 Md. Court of Appeals ruled in McCready’s favor.
  34. 34. Esther McCready Wins Case: McCready was denied admission to the University ofMaryland School of Nursing solely because of the color of her skin. McCready sued theuniversity for admission based on the argument that she was not provided “equalprotection under the law” and forced to pursue her education out-of-state.
  35. 35. Promoting the Collection!   Processing goals were well underway to being achieved!   How valuable is a collection if no one knows it exists at your repository?!   How could I begin promoting the collection without it impacting my day-to-day workload in excess?
  36. 36. MdHS Photographs Tumblr
  37. 37. Promoting the Collection!   The MdHS Photographs Tumblr began on February 1, 2011. For the entire first month, I only posted Paul Henderson photographs in order to promote the newly processed collection.!   As of October 1, 2012, I have 26,698 followers on Tumblr. It has been Spotlighted along with the New York Public Library, LIFE Magazine, and other archives on the Tumblr site.!   In September 2011, I received word that I would be able to promote the Henderson Collection in a completely new way.
  38. 38. One of the Most PopularPhotographs on the MdHS Tumblr Pearl Bailey in her dressing room, ca. 1942.
  39. 39. Seen & Heard: Maryland’s Civil Rights Era inPhotographs (program) and Paul Henderson:Baltimore’s Civil Rights Era in Photographs, ca. 1940-1960 (exhibit)!   News of the program and exhibition approval led me to not only research Paul Henderson more thoroughly, but to begin thinking about how to make his photographs even more accessible using technology!   The joint event of a program and exhibit opening gave me the opportunity to promote the collection further by informing the media as well as the public (through Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, fliers, emails)!   The turnout for the program and exhibit opening was over 200 people
  40. 40. Paul Henderson (1899-1988) !   Born in Springfield, TN !   Graduated from the school for Professional Photography (Gary, IN) !   Photographer for a Roanoke, Virginia newspaper before moving to Baltimore in 1930. !   Afro-American newspaper called him their “First Photographer” !   Married school teacher (turned principal) Elizabeth Johnson
  41. 41. Technology and Historical Research!   Creating reference photographs was the first step toward better accessibility for the collection!   In anticipation of the exhibit opening and as an accompanying web component, I created the Paul Henderson Photographs blog:!   The photographs blog contains unidentified photographs along with an online form for anyone who may know who is pictured or where the photograph was taken!   Online form: formkey=dFFILS1xT3ZzT0hScGE4YnlrLUNEdnc6MQ!   I’m aware of the fact that people who may be able to help identify people in Henderson’s photographs might not be comfortable with using the Internet to fill out forms and search through photographs, so with that in mind, I also created a paper form available in the MdHS Library. Keeping your audience in mind is extremely important.
  42. 42. Technology and Historical Research
  43. 43. Technology and Historical Research: The Exhibition!   Anyone can create a blog to accompany an exhibit. But how do you get museum visitors to go to your blog?!   The intro panel of the Henderson exhibition asks visitors to use their smartphones to scan the QR (Quick Response) codes or go to the site address!   A few of the exhibit labels contain QR codes and lead visitors to a site that contains more photographs of the same topic
  44. 44. Technology and Historical Research: The Exhibition
  45. 45. Technology and Historical Research: The Exhibition
  46. 46. Technology and Historical Research: The Exhibition
  47. 47. Technology and Historical Research: The Exhibition
  48. 48. Technology and Historical Research: The Exhibition
  49. 49. Technology and Historical Research: Online Component
  50. 50. Technology and HistoricalResearch: Online Component
  51. 51. Technology and HistoricalResearch: Online Component
  52. 52. Technology and HistoricalResearch: Online Component
  53. 53. Technology and Historical Research: MdHS Collections Online (Records and Images)
  54. 54. Publicity
  55. 55. Publicity
  56. 56. Publicity
  57. 57. Publicity
  58. 58. Publicity
  59. 59. Publicity
  60. 60. Further Details Emerge !   The Deed of Gift was located !   I met with the Cornish family, who were the handled Paul’s estate after his death !   Met with Mr. Simeon Booker, first black reporter for The Washington Post to discuss what it was like working with Paul at the Afro !   Paul almost died in 1966 but lived on until 1988. No photographs after ca. 1962-1965
  61. 61. Who Is Using the Henderson Collection?!   Directly after the Seen & Heard panel discussion and exhibit opening, several people visited the MdHS museum and library specifically to view the Henderson Collection!   Number of visitors were high immediately after publicity and now the MdHS receives, on average, about two researchers per month requesting the Henderson Collection!   The numbers may increase once I have completed the inventory list redo project and as more digital images are uploaded to the Collections Online database!   Large groups who lived in Baltimore during the time of Henderson’s photographs have scheduled a time to go to MdHS to help with identification
  62. 62. Future of the Project!   Inventory list redo project!   Additional images added to the Collections Online database!   As more people are identified, more information is added!   No end date scheduled for exhibition. Blog will live on regardless of when the photographs are removed from the gallery.
  63. 63. Thank you! Special thanks to Katy Hayes, Dr. George Sochan, HTA, Bowie State University jenny.ferretti@gmail.comWomen watching television, Maryland State Teachers College at Bowie [Bowie StateUniversity]. Paul Henderson, 1953. HEN.00.B2-232