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Thursday, October 6, 2011

SCURLOCK REHOUSING UPDATE: 186,940 NEGATIVES AND STILL COUNTING

Since this Collections Blog began, several articles about the Scurlock Studio Records in the
Archives Center have appeared.  We've written about some of the imagery from this Washington 
studio, operated by an African American family from 1911 to 1994, and its personal
significance to the authors.  What we haven't done is to emphasize actual collection processing activity over the years.  Vanessa Broussard-Simmons is the Archives Center's processing coordinator, and in the last several years she and the interns and volunteers she has supervised have made amazing progress in rehousing negatives and capturing information from original studio envelopes, as well as from markings on the edges of the negatives themselves.  A number of internships have been dedicated to the Scurlock negative rehousing project, and Vanessa has compiled the following list of these interns, as well as other interns and volunteers who have provided significant assistance in recent years:

Kim Bassett
Nancy Beardsley
Eric Behm
Griffin Brown
William Callahan
Kendra Ciccone
Lydia Chiro
Brooke Christensen
Amber Covington
Darren Cunningham
Rachel Dean
Lori Dodson
Kelly Donahue
Kianna Duncan
David Feinstein
Adrian Florido
Christine Friis
Elizabeth Garber
Josiah Gould
Matt Gross
Helena Iles
David Johnson
Anne Jones
Millie Keen
Beatrice Kelly
Deborah Khuanghlawn
Kathy Kinakin
Stacey Kniatt
Brett Miller
Nancy Mulry
Erin Molloy
Laura McLester
Lucy Nicholas
Rita O’Hara
Chandra Powell
Audrey Spainhower
Marian Tatum-Webb
Allyssa Tidwell
Ramona Williamson
Rebecca Wolff


If we have missed anyone, we promise to rectify that in the near future!  Shown above is intern Brett Miller, who worked with the Scurlock negatives and other photographic collections in 2011.  Behind him is Vanessa Broussard-Simmons.  The names above represent the third and largest major phase of the negative rehousing project.  Vanessa tells me that she can account for a total of 186,940 negatives rehoused--and there are others as yet uncounted.  This figure is for the current, third phase only, and does not include the second and first phase totals.
 

The very first phase occurred in the 1990s, soon after the collection was acquired.  At that time our priority was to rehouse, freeze, and catalog into SIRIS important negatives which were damaged or beginning to deteriorate.  These negatives were not scanned at first, but a few years later digital images were linked to their respective SIRIS records. This is why such a large percentage of the negatives shown online display the characteristic channeling and other familiar evidence of deteriorating acetate negatives.  We felt that we were racing the clock to save these images.  The first SIRIS cataloger for Scurlock negatives was Jason Goodnite from Appalachian State University.  He was followed by Tom Eisinger, and I contributed a number of records as well.

The very important second phase of the negative project followed the Archives Center's receipt of a "Saving America's Treasures" grant.  These funds enabled us to hire an energetic project coordinator, Jessica Branco, who designed the rehousing project, implemented the "Portrait of a City" Scurlock web site, and introduced innovations to put the work on track efficiently.  She was followed by Fay Winkle as project manager.  After Fay's departure, La'Tasha Banks continued scanning and rehousing negatives.  Many other persons have assisted with other aspects of the collection, and they will be honored and thanked for their contributions in due course.  I am an inveterate listmaker!  Suffice it to say that work with this collection has been a far larger group effort than I could ever have imagined.

I think it's important during Archives Month to point out that the assistance of so many people with this negative project has been necessary due to the item-level approach we have taken.  Initially, this was a natural result of our desire to preserve individual endangered negatives and catalog them.  Then we decided to rehouse all the negatives, endangered or not, building on our experience with cataloging and scanning "problem" items.  Although the majority of the rehoused negatives are not being scanned or fully cataloged in SIRIS, information is being recorded in Excel spread sheets for individual negatives, and there is an implication that many more will be scanned ultimately.  This suggests how the digital revolution is helping to transform attitudes toward photographic archives.  Where the archival group-level approach to photographs has long been traditional, the need to record metadata for image scans is tantamount to item-level cataloging.  Some archivists are concerned about this radical transformation, and caution balance between the group-level and item-level approaches to image collections. 

David Haberstich, Curator of Photography
Archives Center, National Museum of American History      

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