Born-Digital Archival Description

We know that, if you’re not an archivist, the intricacies of archival descriptive standards and finding aid creation might quickly make your eyes glaze over. However these descriptive standards are pretty important to our work, and to the usability of the materials we collect, so we want to take a moment to share an archival description project that some archives staff have been working on. It may seem mundane, but we think it’s a pretty big deal.

If you’re a regular archives user you probably know that most of the information about our collections is recorded in a finding aid — a document which provides contextual information about the collection and gives a list of all the things inside. We describe collections this way — in aggregate rather than individually like books or journal articles — because it’s important to maintain the context of an archival collection. A chain of letters or emails, for example, are best understood when they are viewed alongside all the other pieces of the chain. Not only would it be impossibly labor intensive to individually catalog each letter or each email, but it would also end up being an impediment to actually accessing and understanding each individual piece. The meaning of each item in a collection relies completely on its context.

When we are describing collections and making finding aids here in the archives, we often refer back to standardized guidelines which the archival field has produced to define the rules about how to describe something. In our case, this is usually a document called “Describing Archives: A Content Standard”, also known as DACS. DACS does contain some guidance about describing digital archival materials, but for many born-digital materials (laptops, smart phones, magnetic disks, and the files they contain), DACS lacks the information and specificity we need as processing archivists.

To help try to address this problem, Charlie Macquarie (our digital archivist) has been working for the past year with the other digital archivists in the UC System — Annalise Berdini at UC San Diego, Shira Peltzman at UCLA, and Kate Tasker at UC Berkeley — to come up with a set of detailed instructions for describing these materials. This team started by examining existing practices used in finding-aid creation at 35 different archival institutions, and from these examples and from professional experience drafted a detailed set of rules. They solicited and received feedback from archivists and librarians across the UC System in 3 different rounds of review, and received approval to publish and establish these guidelines as a UC-wide standard for describing born-digital archival material.

Now that these guidelines are published, anyone can view them and provide feedback. The most up-to date version of the guidelines is available on GitHub as a repository, and a static version of the guidelines (if you don’t want to navigate a GitHub page) can be viewed as a pdf file inside that repository. As computing, processing, and describing practices evolve these rules will necessarily have to change accordingly, so the document should be considered a living one. If you’re interested in the ins and outs of archival description, please feel free to provide feedback (or submit a pull request) if it strikes you!

Now that this UC-wide guideline exists to help inform our own institutional practice here at UCSF, we hope to be able to start adding information about born-digital collections to our finding aids more frequently. Keep an eye out for new description of digital archival materials coming down the pike!

Finally a special thanks is in order to David Uhlich, Kelsi Evans, David Krah, and Polina Ilieva who all reviewed and provided important feedback to the guidelines in the initial review phases.

 

World AIDS Day: Digitizing The Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic   

On World AIDS Day we’re checking in on our NEH grant project to digitize large portions of our AIDS History Project collections.  For more information on the scope of the project see our previous post here. These collections illustrate for us the wide ranging impacts that AIDS has had on the Bay Area, and this project will allow us to share the stories of people with AIDS, the community groups galvanized to support them, and the researchers doggedly pursuing treatments and a cure here at UCSF.

Archivists at UCSF, San Francisco Public Library and the GLBT Historical Society have been reviewing collections, packing them up, and routing them through UCSF to the digitization lab at UC Merced.

Heather Wagner has been busily testing procedures, training students and coordinating workflows to move collection materials through digitization station. Papers, posters, diaries and other materials are run through high-speed sheet feed scanners, shot from overhead or on a cradle with a DSLR and carefully arranged lighting, or scanned on a flatbed scanner.

Scanning a poster from UCSF’s AIDS History Project Ephemera Collection at UC Merced.

We’ve digitized examples of materials requiring all these methods, look for full collections online at Calisphere.org in the coming weeks. here’s some examples from UCSF’s collections:

Bobbi Campbell was a nurse on staff at UCSF and was diagnosed with Kaposi’s Sarcoma in 1981.His diary is a vivid account of his personal life and activism as the “KS Poster Boy”. MSS 96-33 Bobbi Campbell Diary, page 39

 

A fundraising predecessor to today’s AIDS/Lifecycle . The Shanti Project provided one-on-one emotional and peer support for patients. “AIDS Bike-a-thon … Cycle for Shanti”, MSS 2000-31 AIDS History Project Ephemera Collecion

ACT-UP San Francisco Four Days in Washington DC, 1988. ACT-UP San Francisco Records, MSS 98-47

SFGH 1930s Photograph Collection on Calisphere

This is a guest post by Griffin Burgess, ZSFG Archivist.

The Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital Archives has its first collection available as part of UCSF’s digital collections on Calisphere!

The collection consists of over 100 digitized images scanned from 3 x 5 cellulose acetate negatives that date from the 1930s. The images document the exteriors of the hospital buildings as well as interior rooms, hallways, equipment, and staff.

The ZSFG campus looked very different in the 1930s than it does today. These images capture the arrangement and layout of the buildings as they originally were when the campus was completed in 1915 (with the additions of buildings 80 and 90, which were completed in 1938).

Buildings 1, 9, 10, 20, 30, 40, 80, 90, and 100, all of which are still standing today, are represented in the photographs. Notably, the large fire escapes that the four “finger wards” have along their north sides today are missing in the images; they were added in the 1950s.

The collection also includes images of the original administration building and the infectious diseases/tuberculosis building, which were demolished prior to the construction of building 5 in 1976. The TB building housed the chest clinic, where patients were treated for TB for up to five years.

Other images document the interior of the hospital, including images of kitchen facilities, waiting rooms, and patient rooms with various types of equipment, such as medicine bottles, IV stands, and even an iron lung.

In the 1930s, San Francisco had several emergency hospitals throughout the city. The collection includes images of the exteriors of some of these, including Alemany Emergency Hospital, Harbor Emergency Hospital, Central Emergency, and Park Emergency Hospital (which still stands today at the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park).

More ZSFG Archives collections will be added to Calisphere as they are processed.