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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pack it up!

The National Air and Space Museum’s Archives Division houses collections that span the history of flight from ancient times to the present day and include a wide range of visual and textual materials – over 12,000 cubic feet of documents, including over 900 individual collections, 2 million photographs, 9.5 million feet of motion picture film, 3,500 hours of video, and over 2 million technical drawings.

Where do we get all of this collection material? Due to fiscal constraints, the Archives Division cannot purchase material, but instead must rely on donations from the generous public. Thankfully, our donors are very generous and keep me, the Acquisition Archivist, very busy.
Whether the donation is a single photograph or a 200 cubic foot collection, the procedures for archival acquisition are the same. After a donor contacts the Archives Division and offers to donate the material, we must determine if the National Air and Space Museum is the proper repository for the collection. In some cases, the donor can send us a scan of the image for review, or a list of what he or she would like to donate.

In many cases, however, an archivist must travel to conduct an onsite survey of the collection. Over the past 21 years I have been in countless attics, basements, closets, and barns, surveying and packing aviation and space archival material for transfer to the national collection. I have made trips across the country, from reviewing and packing the Krafft Ehricke Collection in sunny San Diego, to packing the George Henry Miller Collection in a middle of a February snow storm in upstate New York.

One of the latest collections donated to the Archives, was the Howard Levy Photography Collection. Levy was an American aviation photographer, whose work spanned from 1936 until 2009. We were extremely pleased when Mr. Levy’s family contacted us and offered his material to the national collection, and four of our archivists took a daytrip to survey the collection. Based on the survey, we estimated that the collection consisted of over 200 cubic feet of aviation photographs and related documentation that would be a valuable resource for our curators and public researchers

After the Museum’s Collection Committee approved the acquisition and the donor signed off on the Deed of Gift, allowing for the widest possible use of these valuable images, a team of four archivists travelled to the site and spent four long days sorting and carefully packing the collection into boxes. As the material was packed, a basic listing of what was placed in each box was created.

The collection was then loaded for transfer. As we were transporting the collection in August, we had to be particularly careful about keeping the photographic material at a constant temperature and humidity during the move. To that end, we separated out the series of negatives and transported them in my car, where we could more easily control the temperature. The rest of the collection was carefully packed to ensure the best airflow in the Museum’s box truck. After we returned to our off-site storage location in Suitland, Maryland, we transferred the boxes to our humidity and temperature controlled storage box and the collection was cataloged.

We are proud that donors trust us to house their valuable collections and we are pleased to make the material available to aviation researchers around the world.

Patricia Williams
Supervisory and Acquisition Archivist
National Air and Space Museum Archives

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