Internet Archive Partners Lunch

Friday the 13th of May was the auspicious date of our visit to one of our partner organizations, the Internet Archive, just across Golden Gate Park in the Richmond District. The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library of millions of freely accessible books, movies, software, music, websites and more. Internet Archive graciously hosts a bi-weekly Partners Lunch, inviting anyone working in partnership with IA to tour the facility (a gorgeous re-purposed Christian Science church), meet staff in person, and participate in a lunchtime roundtable where IA folks and visitors share their projects’ progress, successes and failures. The whole UCSF Archives team, plus UCSF collections staff members Beatrice Mallek and David MacFarland, were in attendance.

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UCSF Archives and Special Collections staff with Internet Archive digitization staff.

We met with our IA liason Jesse Bell, who gave us a look into the progress of some of our projects ongoing at Internet Archive. Here Eliza Zhuang is using a specially designed scanning booth to digitize volumes of bound medical journals for the State Medical Journal project. The “scanner” actually uses two conventional DSLR cameras to simultaneously photograph the pages of the book, optimally positioned by the pedal-operated V-shaped glass plate shown here.

Eliza Zhuang scanning a medical journal from UCSF's collection.

Eliza Zhuang scanning a medical journal from UCSF’s collection.

After photography, the images undergo QA and metadata association before being uploaded to the Internet Archive, where they look like this.

IA’s lobby provides plenty of excitement. A prominently displayed monitor shows the digitization currently underway on a number of different systems. Below, David Uhlich watches as pages from the book scanner are photographed. Immediately behind the monitor is a film scanner that similarly feeds the live-view monitor. The lobby also houses a beautiful antique gramophone near a small listening station that includes an iPad loaded with digitized music and other recorded sound.

David Uhlich observes the progress of digitized images entering the system.

David Uhlich observes the progress of digitized images entering the system.

After lunch, we took a more in depth tour of IA’s facility. We saw an example of IA’s specially designed “portable” book scanner, which is basically a scaled-down version of the one used by IA staff. Approximately $10,000 will get you your own book scanning station, software, and support from IA for your own scanning projects. We also looked inside the refurbished church that, in addition to the pews, now houses some of IA’s servers and digitization equipment.

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Internet Archive servers occupy a niche.

Sculptures of miniature people inhabit the aisles.  Long-term IA staff are thanked for their service with a sculpture of their likeness; many depicted holding an item that reflects their interests or passions.

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Some of Internet Archive’s long-term staff immortalized in figurine form.

It was great to meet the IA team in person. Our partnership with IA continues to provide new opportunities to preserve and make accessible our material. We look forward to exciting projects in the future!

Cable Car Day

January 17th is Cable Car Day! This occasion marks the day Andrew Smith Hallidie received the first patent for cable car railways in 1871. Legend has it that Hallidie was inspired to create the cable car after witnessing horses struggle to pull carriages up San Francisco’s steep hills.

Photograph of a San Francisco cable car. From UCSF MediCal yearbook, 1968

San Francisco cable car. From UCSF MediCal yearbook, 1968

Hallidie first tested the cable car in San Francisco in 1873.  Hallidie partnered with Clay Street Hill Railroad that year and by September the company offered public service in San Francisco.

Photograph of a San Francisco cable car. From UCSF MediCal yearbook, 1968

San Francisco cable car. From UCSF MediCal yearbook, 1968

Cable car companies faced competition from electric streetcars throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Streetcars, which run on steel rails and are connected to overhead wires, were cheaper to build and maintain than cable cars, which run on steel rails and are propelled by an underground cable.

Streetcar in front of the UC Affiliated Colleges (later UCSF), circa 1910. Photograph collection.

Streetcar in front of the UC Affiliated Colleges (later UCSF), circa 1910. From photograph collection.

San Francisco cable car. From UCSF MediCal yearbook, 1968

San Francisco cable car. From UCSF MediCal yearbook, 1968

By the mid-20th century, San Francisco was considering completely eliminating cable car lines. Concerned citizens protested the proposal and, thanks to their efforts, the cable cars were saved.Today, San Francisco’s cable cars are protected as a National Historic Landmark. You can still ride on a San Francisco cable car; visit SFMTA’s website for tickets and more information.

 

“A Winter Wonderland”

When recently asked whether the archives had any pictures of snow in San Francisco, one of my colleagues mentioned that she had seen a folder that mentioned snow in our photograph collection. We were able to track it down pretty quickly, and sure enough, the title of the folder was: “San Francisco—Some Snow, 1930s.” Quickly thumbing through the prints, I found this breathtaking photograph of the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, with snow on the Marin Headlands in the background.

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It is fairly rare that I answer a reference question so quickly—and with such stunning results. But had I really? Trying to determine an approximate date for the image, I looked up the dates for the major snow storms in San Francisco (which was easy, considering there were only four during the 20th century) and cross-referenced it with the construction of the bridge. The only snow storm in San Francisco during the 1930s was on December 11, 1932—almost a full month before construction began on the bridge on January 5, 1933.

Disappointed, but also a little intrigued, I looked at some of the other “snow” images in the folder. This one, which appears to be of the Marin Headlands as well, with the city in the foreground, had the following caption on back: “Looking North: When the cold wind doth blow, we sell this for a snow picture. Infrared.”

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The mystery was solved when I took a peek at the verso of another “snow” picture. This one was taken with a telescopic lens from the Dean’s office of the UCSF School of Dentistry, and showed downtown San Francisco with the Berkeley Hills in the background. The image was dated March 8, 1934.

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A scan and transcription of the anonymous photographer’s description of how he or she was able to turn the Bay Area into a winter wonderland at the beginning of March is below. Evidently the infrared plates used in taking the image turned the “bright green grassy slopes of early spring” into what appeared to be snowy peaks. Unfortunately, this meant that we didn’t have any photographs of snow readily available, but at least it made for a fun little search.

"University of California Medical Center Campus, San Francisco. A telescopic view of San Francisco and the Univ. of California at Berkeley 12 miles away taken from the dean's offices in the College of Dentistry. This photograph was taken March 8th 1934 after 5pm with infrared plates.The wite patches on the hills which resemble snow are the bright green grassy slopes of early spring."

“University of California Medical Center Campus, San Francisco. A telescopic view of San Francisco and the Univ. of California at Berkeley 12 miles away taken from the dean’s offices in the College of Dentistry. This photograph was taken March 8th 1934 after 5pm with infrared plates.The white patches on the hills which resemble snow are the bright green grassy slopes of early spring.”