IMLS Project Update: That’s a wrap!

Contributed by: Tess Amram, IMLS Project Archivist

I want to wrap up by extending my thanks to IMLS for the grant that made this project possible. Overall, I’m incredibly proud of the work I did here at PAFA, and there are so many images that I can’t wait to send to people to discuss, once everything is up and running online. (That old adage that ‘everyone has a twin’ is more true than I thought – I’ve lost count of how many double takes I’ve done, thinking the subject of a painting from over a hundred years ago was actually a friend of mine now. Also, there are so many adorable dogs the world deserves to see.)

Even aside from all the technical (that is, marketable) skills I’ve learned, working with these materials has been an object lesson in how small the world can be – for example, the first time I saw the painting “Three Friends,” by Joseph Rodefer DeCamp, was not in installation photographs from the 1912 Annual Exhibition, but hanging in the main library of my alma mater six years ago, dourly watching over thousands of undergrads going about their academic lives. It’s little things like that that were, for me, the most exciting part – those moments of connection between Back Then, and Now.


“Three Friends,” by Joseph Rodefer DeCamp

IMLS Project Update: Lessons Learned (Cataloging and Metadata)

Contributed by: Tess Amram, IMLS Project Archivist

The cataloging and metadata assignation portion of this project was the facet most relevant to my immediate career goals – I’m aiming for a career in cataloging, and I applied for this job in large part because it would expose me to cataloging standards I hadn’t yet had a chance to work with (i.e. standards for materials other than books). I hadn’t had much cause to use the Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus before now, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to expose myself to controlled vocabulary outside of the Library of Congress Subject Headings (although I wish I had dived into Getty a bit earlier in the process – it would have saved me a lot of nitpicking at the end!).

One of the downsides of cataloging when you love it, I’ve found, is that it’s often difficult to know when to stop. There are a handful of photographs that I was unable to identify, both of gallery installations and of individual works, and it was very, very easy to slip into a Detective Mode Spiral and devote altogether more time than was wise trying to figure it out. Given the fact that most of the artwork depicted in the photographs is of ‘lost art’, it’s entirely possible that I wouldn’t have been able to identify a particular piece no matter what, but for a completionist like me, admitting defeat is quite frustrating.

IMLS Project Update: Lessons Learned (Digitization)

Contributed by: Tess Amram, IMLS Project Archivist

So many lessons learned from this project about digitization! I came into it a complete novice to the practice, and over 3500 images later, I think I’ve got a handle on the basics, at least. I’d only ever used a scanner for text-based documents and the occasional photograph, but I’d never had to scan to archival standards before, so the training I got at the beginning of the project was vital. Understanding the choice of color profiles and dpi to scan with, and Hoang’s explanations of debates among archivists on the topic, definitely helped me get a grasp on what the end result should look like, and what it would be used for.

If I could go back and start it all over again, I would definitely, definitely make sure the scanner was as calibrated as it could be before I got started. The main issue I ran into while digitizing was that of color – although the bulk of the images are black and white, the photographs are very old and most have gone yellow or red with age, whereas the scanner was producing images with a distinct green tinge. This was relatively easy to correct, by adjusting histograms before scanning, or doing a bit of a touch-up in Photoshop afterwards if necessary, but color correction took up a lot of valuable scanning time.