Thursday, March 1, 2012
The Human Studies Film Archives is one of the Smithsonian’s most significant collections for the Institution’s Valuing World Cultures grand challenge. This ‘challenge’ is a call to action as one of four overarching priorities set by the Smithsonian to guide its work. As we at the HSFA strive to do our work — preserving and providing access to film and video that documents the global diversity of cultural expression — we come up against a different kind of challenge: that of “discoverability.” It is no longer sufficient for archives to prepare and make available collections but, rather, they must now actively promote these collections. The web, a revolutionary — and unanticipated tool — for archival access, has changed how archives must perceive themselves. And, there is now so much information on the web, how does an archives become visible to potential users?
From our limited experience in using these new tools to promote HSFA’s collections, we have learned that effective and efficient use of media-sharing sites and social media is not only necessary for discoverability but that it could also be an advocacy tool for sustainability of archives and cultural heritage collections. Throughout this year we will experiment with discoverability and the archives. Being novices we invite others — both novices and voices of experience — to share their thoughts and experiences with both effective and disappointing efforts in discoverability. Now the first story in this series:
Serving on my ninth jury trial in Washington DC this past November I learned that one of my fellow jurors grew up in Hawaii. Always taking every opening as an opportunity to promote the HSFA, I mentioned that we had footage of “Hawaiian cowboys.” He enthusiastically responded that they must be the Paniolo cowboys of the Parker ranch on the Big Island. Suddenly we both had discovered something! Effective promotion, maybe, but not efficient.
It just so happens that this footage is some of our favorite and is part of a longer intriguing amateur film shot in Hawaii, ca. 1937. There is already a short video clip attached to the SIRIS record, so we decided to post a longer video clip of the Paniolo cowboys on HSFA’s YouTube channel and to upload the entire 20 minute film to the Internet Archive (our first posting to this wide-ranging and fascinating site). We will announce this news via NMNH’s Twitter account and Facebook page and on NAA and HSFA’s Facebook page.
But, even so, how does a user DISCOVER that this video is online? Will use statistics during the year provide any clues? Should we consider additional media-sharing sites such as Vimeo? Can we link to the Wikipedia entry on Paniolo cowboys? How do we find and then link to other websites or blogs? Can we mass together an army of “invisible” volunteers to assist the process of discoverability? Where and how do we find them? What are your thoughts?
Short clip of the Paniolo cowboys on SIRIS
Longer clip of the Paniolo cowboys on YouTube
Complete film, Charles Boys’ Footage of Hawaii, ca. 1937, on Internet Archive
The silent color amateur 16mm film was shot by a medical doctor, Charles Boys. Interestingly there is another amateur film shot in Hawaii in the late 1920s on Internet Archive, but the two films are very different from each other demonstrating that, as is commonly believed, amateur films are not replicas of each other but are, in fact, unique views as individual as their creators.
We look forward to your comments.
Pam Wintle, Human Studies Film Archives