We are well on our way to updating our virtual exhibits website. We have installed a new version of Omeka, the software used to run the website, customized the theme for the site, and are in the final stages of testing before we transition all of our content.
You have an opportunity to help us out with this! The archives recently hosted a silent auction fund-raiser and many of the items remain unsold. As a way to test the new website, we are hosting an online sale of the remaining items.
Check out the sale here and let us know what you think of the new site and if you come across any bugs. Many of the changes are on the back end organization, but you will notice that the new site is organized more like the EDA website and navigating exhibits (the sale categories in this case) is slightly different.
We want to make clear that we are not selling items from collections. All items are either prints from made from our collections or were donated expressly for sale. The sale will run from November 2 - December 10 and the virtual exhibits content will not be transferred to the new site until after that date, sometime in mid-January.
We have been putting off adding new exhibits to our current page until after we make the transition so look for new virtual exhibits in January!
When the Archives transitioned to our beautiful new website, you may have noticed that the online exhibits page remained the same. This is because the exhibits page is actually a separate website that uses Omeka, an open source software developed for museums, archives, libraries, and scholars to share their collections. We use it to organize our digital content and create virtual exhibits. We are in the process of upgrading this software and earlier this month Emily, Chris, and I had the privilege of attending a symposium at UC Santa Cruz to learn about new tools and possibilities for projects that Omeka can support.
Librarians at UC Santa Cruz have been huge innovators for Omeka since they used it to create the Grateful Dead Archive Online. Over a two-year period with the help of a programmer, they were able to customize the Omeka software to create an online presence for this unique collection and provide access to fans and researchers around the world. Since then, UCSC faculty have started using Omeka for teaching and research and we got to hear about several projects currently in the works.
History Professor Elaine Sullivan explained how using Omeka to create metadata for digital objects and then online exhibits helped teach her students to work collaboratively and write for public audiences. By taking a chosen topic beyond a “five paragraph essay,” Sullivan’s students are able to view the cultural artifacts in new ways and better understand their context.
History Professor Alan Christy presented The Gail Project, a research project inspired by a collection of photographs taken by U.S. Army Capt. Charles Gail in 1952 while stationed in Okinawa, Japan. The photos, depicting a landscape and way of life that vanished shortly thereafter, have sparked an international dialogue about the post-World War II occupation of Okinawa and the ongoing relationship between Okinawa and the United States. Christy and his students want to use Omeka both to display the photos, and to create a place where people of different generations, cultures, and languages can come together and share their stories and memories. One challenge they face is the inability to use Japanese characters within Omeka. A proposed solution is to develop an audio commentary function that would not only collect oral histories and reactions, but also help to document the Okinawan language, now considered endangered.
Digital Initiatives team members Jess Waggoner and Ned Henry presented the Omeka Curator Dashboard project, a suite of plugins developed for Omeka, the necessity for which grew out of the Grateful Dead Archive Online project. The plugins provide functions ranging from the importation of content from various social media and digital asset management sites to the ability to track changes made to an item within Omeka. Henry also spoke on the community of Omeka developers and how to access them, but more importantly how to support them so that they can provide the best working results.
While the first two presentations were very inspiring and motivating, the Omeka Curator Dashboard holds the most relevance for the use of Omeka at the Archives. Once we can upgrade our software, we will be able to use these plugins to streamline our process for describing materials and build more engaging and interactive exhibits.
We are also planning to develop some virtual archives for specific collections and subjects. This fall we will be working with Architecture History Associate Professor Andy Shanken on an exhibit of the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939) and the Panama Pacific International Exposition (1915), which will be accompanied by a website showcasing our Fairs & Expositions Collection. I am also working on processing the Oakland & Imada Collection, which presents a great opportunity for a virtual archives of Joseph Eichler materials.
We ended the workshop with breakout sessions and I attended one called “If Only I Could…” I think many of us in the room were still new enough to Omeka and digital asset management that we weren’t sure what to rely on Omeka for versus other available services. The consensus at the end of the session was that we needed to create an Omeka users group to keep the conversation going about how we are using Omeka and what the software can and should do.
Overall, the symposium was eye-opening. It was wonderful to connect with other users and potential users to discuss Digital Humanities projects and I am so excited about the world of possibilities that has been presented to us. Now we just need to get started!
UPDATE: The virtual exhibit is up and can be accessed here.
With Halloween behind us, the holiday season is in full swing. Christmas albums are already infiltrating the airwaves, the weather is cooling and our thoughts are turning towards Thanksgiving and all the delicious fall flavors that will grace the table.
One of the many traditions observed at this time of year is the sending of holiday greeting cards and letters. Though you may not have known, you should not be surprised to learn that many architects and landscape architects design their own stationary and personal greeting cards. At the Archives, we have quite a collection of holiday cards that designers created and sent to clients, colleagues, and friends. We will be posting a virtual exhibit on our website closer to the end of the year, but here are a few to get your creative juices flowing and get you into the holiday spirit.
From Robert Royston to Edith and Brian Heath
The Archives has recently acquired the SMWM collection. In 1985, architect Cathy Simon founded SMWM, an architecture, planning, and urban design firm based in San Francisco and New York. Karen Alschuler joined the firm in 1991 as an Urban Design Principal. The firm’s award-winning portfolio consists of educational projects including work for the University of California Berkeley, Davis, and Santa Cruz campuses, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Bard College; public projects including the San Francisco Ferry Building and Main Library; master plans for Stanford, Harvard, Brown, and NYU; and urban planning projects for San Francisco’s Hunter’s Point district, Boston’s Central Artery, and the Transbay Redevelopment in San Francisco. In 2008, SMWM joined the San Francisco office of Perkins + Will.
In January 2013, Waverly and I met with donors Cathy Simon and Karen Alschuler to discuss the process of physical acquisition. They estimated having 3000 items in storage, some of which were cataloged, but a large portion of which were not. Our primary concern was how much was worthy of permanent retention and would we have the space for it?
That February, we began the physical review and transfer of records. This turned out to be quite the undertaking. Together with Cathy and Karen, EDA staff reviewed 5000 items over the course of 15 months. The term ‘items’ includes cartons containing paper records (personal, office and project), photographs, slides, CDs and floppy disks, and material samples; as well as presentation boards, framed works, rolled drawings, and models of all sizes.
On the morning of day one, Waverly and I met Cathy and Karen at their secure records storage facility to start the process, none of us knowing quite what we were getting into. They had asked for 150 items to be pulled from storage. Over the course of the day, we carefully sifted through boxes, separating items and folders going to the Archives from those to be destroyed. Cathy and Karen posed many questions about the kinds of records the Archives considered worthy of preservation, and we asked them to identify significant projects and important records unique to their design process. At the end of the day, we had only made it through about 130 items, the Archives keeping about a third of what we had seen.
We continued to meet about once a month to go through a batch of assorted items. Cathy and Karen quickly realized the size and scope of their stored materials and became much more ruthless in their decision-making. By the end of the process, we had put together a team of 6-8 people enlisting everyone from the Archives that we could, as well as the Perkins + Will office manager.
We would begin the day by doing a quick survey of materials, weeding out boxes labeled with unwanted projects, record types, and materials. Then we would each start on a pallet. By this time we had figured out what to look for and we knew to ask whether records from unfamiliar projects were worth keeping. On one of our last days we reached a personal best and got through over 900 items, taking about the same number as we had on our first day, demonstrating just how much we had all learned about the appraisal process.
The SMWM collection presents a great opportunity for us as it contains a significant amount of born digital records. This has motivated Collection Archivist Emily Vigor, who recently completed her Digital Archives Specialist certificate, to move forward in creating a digital processing plan for the Archives. The Archives is moving into the digital age! And we need to if we are to keep up with today’s design firms.