This post was written by Susan Aprill, Archivist at Kingston Public Library

One of the challenges and delights of describing Kingston’s historic photographs for the Digital Commonwealth lies in identifying places, figuring out what they are and what they’ve been called, then when I’m lucky, uncovering and disambiguating the hidden corners of the past. The Kingston Public Library’s Local History Room holds thousands of photographic images: prints of all sorts, lantern slides, glass and plastic negatives, tiny tintypes; you name it and I’d bet we’ve got one. Almost 13,000 are itemized in a Filemaker database that provides not only descriptive information about content and format, but also location, provenance, scan file management, use statistics and more. Staff and volunteers have been building this database (and its precursor spreadsheets) since 1998. Translating this gloriously rich and messy metadata into the strict form required by Digital Commonwealth has been a lesson in itself, but one of my favorite parts of the work is in the details: creating definitive subject headings for hyper-local subjects, and using them to identify otherwise under-documented photographs.

As an example of disambiguation, there’s a pond in Kingston, just west of the geographical center of town, which has had many names. Some are variations on a theme, others seem unrelated. On various maps dating from 1810 to 1903, it’s called Cosmo’s or Crosman’s; a 1795 map has something that definitely starts with C but is otherwise illegible. Manuscript and published sources give similar variations – Crosmus, Causton, Causaton’s or Crossman’s – as well as Carding Mill Pond, after a small woolen processing shop there in the early 19th century, and Fountain Head Pond, for the springs just to the west that fed the Kingston Aqueduct Company’s pipes around the same time. There’s no dispute that it’s all the same pond, but what exactly should it be called?

Near Crossmans Pond
Near Crossmans Pond

So, a little research project was in order. The Library of Congress subject headings and the Getty TGN are not (yet!) this granular. Scouring the database for transcriptions of annotated photos and poring through manuscript collections for place names, I compiled a list of possibilities. Turning then to search online, I found a Wikipedia entry, a 1920 state report on alewife fisheries, and a note in an 1841 genealogy that around 1730, James Tompson drowned in Kingston in Crossman’s Pond. In the end, I opted for simplicity by omitting the apostrophe, and created an entry to geonames.org for “Crossmans Pond” with all of the variations included. Finally, I added the geonames code to my local subject headings database – linked to the images database and to other collections – which also lists the known variations. Now the pond name has been fixed for use as a local authority, pinned to a map (virtually at least), and made ready for searching.

As I work through the photograph collections, item by item and heading by heading, I’m not only describing what the photos capture, but creating and enhancing a tool that makes everything in the Local History Room more searchable, findable, accessible. A second example of this kind of investigation produced a less tangible result, but much more satisfaction, because it exposed a connection not previously documented.

Some background: to create Digital Commonwealth-ready metadata, my process is to choose a set of scanned images to work on, then step through a series of layouts in the image database, each of which focuses on distilling a particular facet of the metadata: title, date, format, creator, subjects and notes. Each layout shows the image, and the process is iterative, so as I work through a given selection, I see each photograph several times. I look hard for clues that add to the typically scant captions. Do clothes or cars or advertising signs suggest a possible date? Have I seen that face or hat or hairdo or beard before? The photographs provoke as many questions as answers, and I always see things I think I’ve seen before. It’s like playing a complex variation on the card game Concentration.

In this case, I was working with about 140 photographs of people from the Emily Fuller Drew Collection (partially online at the Digital Commonwealth). Within this selection, there are series of related photos: specific events, scenes or groups of people in various combinations and poses. One set captured an outdoor meal, described minimally as “Drew family” and “clambake.”

At the table
At the table

It looks delightful, a shared meal outside on a long late summer afternoon, but unfortunately there’s no location given, and the views of the surrounding houses are partial and vague. The feast can only be placed in some anonymous backyard, probably in Kingston, but there’s no way to know for sure.

Clambake
Clambake

After working through the entire selection of a couple of times, something in the background of this photo caught my eye.

Harriet, Charity, Norma and Dorothy Drew
Harriet, Charity, Norma and Dorothy Drew

There’s a woodpile and rail fence that I knew I’d seen before, so I combed through the images again, until I found it.

Logging
Logging

The same woodpile and rails are in the background of this photo, one of a series that Emily Drew took of her father Charles Drew. After “retiring,” he harvested cedar in the Blackwater Swamp and took it by boat and homemade railway to the yard of his house on Summer Street.

Logging pram
Logging pram

Other records show exactly where Charles Drew lived, and just like that, the Drew family clambake landed squarely in his backyard. It’s a just speck of data, to be sure, but this small victory of connecting items in a collection and fixing something depicted in a century-old photograph in the exact right place is one of the greatest satisfactions of this kind of work.

This post was written by Patricia Feeley, BPL Collaborative Services Librarian from an interview she conducted with Louise Sandberg of the Lawrence Public Library.

>a href="https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:sf268p66b">"NRA" October 12, 1933. From the Lawrence Public Library Collection.
“NRA” October 12, 1933. From the Lawrence Public Library Collection.

Louise Sandberg of the Lawrence Public Library began working with archival materials the “minute I was hired,” so she recognized a great opportunity to expand the reach of her collection after attending a Digital Commonwealth presentation in Wakefield.  The library currently has 17 collections uploaded to the Digital Commonwealth website.

Among them, the Lawrence Public Library Collection includes over 700 photographs that were used as part of a Northeast Massachusetts Regional Library System digitization project.  The photos range from historical street scenes to Spanish-American War soldiers to parades honoring God and country, Independence Day and the National Recovery Administration!   In retrospect, Louise recommends breaking down collections of this size and diversity into smaller collections.

"Jack and the beanstalk,"  c. 1918. From the National Child Welfare Association Location.
“Jack and the beanstalk,”
c. 1918. From the National Child Welfare Association Location.

Most delightful of all the collections is the National Child Welfare Association Fairy Tale Pictures posters from the Home and School Series.  These wonderful watercolors were created by illustrator Elizabeth Tyler, who was born in Newton, Massachusetts.  The Lawrence Public Library has 11 of the 12 originally issued in the 1920’s.  Only Chicken Little is missing and, with Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Jack of beanstalk fame present, you don’t really miss her.

Louise Sandberg reports that she loves the final result: the images are sharp and the website presentation attractive.  She has 30 collections she’s hoping to add, including 19th century images of a cyclone that blew through Lawrence.  Scanning, she notes, allows the eye to see more, picking up on objects that fade into the background at first glance on the original.  And when the Digital Services team is ready, she has some large-scale, hand-drawn street plans and maps that she is eager to see online.  The process of putting collections on Digital Commonwealth has also made Louise think about what she can do and what she should do with the time she has.

Best of all, Louise is so pleased with the Digital Commonwealth; she has recommended us to other community organizations.  As she says, uploading collections, “only helps all of us” by making our materials available and accessible to a much wider audience than we can ever serve in person.

As the school year starts up again, now is a great time to dive into Digital Commonwealth’s wonderful historical collections! Check out the latest collection that have been added from some of our truly amazing members!

"Robert Swain Peabody scrapbook" c. 1876-1886. From Boston Architectural College Library.
“Robert Swain Peabody scrapbook” c. 1876-1886. From Boston Architectural College Library.

Boston Architectural College Library

Original works by Boston Architectural College Library – Working Materials Collection – 2 items

Boston Public Library

Along the Elevated: Photographs of the Orange Line – 304 items

Carte de Visite Collection – 16 items added to existing collection

Margaret Fuller Papers, 1837-1884 – 274 items

Ships Through the Ages – 14 items

Stereographs Collection – 28 items added to existing collection

Salem State University Archives and Special Collections

Historic Maps – 279 items

Truro Historical Society, Cobb Archive

Truro Massachusetts U.S. Coast Guard and Life Saving Service Collection – 6 items

 

"First Predominately Negro Ship Commissioned USS Mason" [1946] from the National Archives at Boston.
“First Predominately Negro Ship Commissioned USS Mason” [1946] from the National Archives at Boston.
This July brought us a lot of new collections, specifically from around the Boston area. Boston itself, Hingham, and Waltham are represented among the various collections we’ve added to the portal this past month. Check them out!

Boston Public Library

Anti-Slavery (Collection of Distinction) - 1000 items added to existing collection

Rufus W. Griswold Papers, 1834-1857 – 1277 items

Hingham Public Library

Hingham Photography During the Late Victorian Era — Hingham Public Library’s Glass Slide Collection – 296 items

National Archive at Boston

Photographs of the First Naval District - 1064 items

SAILS Library Network

Re-harvested Collections - 210 new items added

Waltham Public Library

Waltham Public Library Waltham Watch Company Materials – 74 items

 

Mr. E. H. Stetson will call on you," ca.1899-1949, from Weymouth Public Libraries, Tufts Library.
“Mr. E. H. Stetson will call on you,” ca.1899-1949, from Weymouth Public Libraries, Tufts Library.

This summer kicks off with some awesome new Massachusetts collections added to the Digital Commonwealth! Check them out:

Bentley University

Bentley University Historic Photograph Collection : 500 items

Boston Public Library

Anti-Slavery (Collection of Distinction) : 2993 items added to an existing collection

Grove Hall Memory Project : 75 items

Shakespeare (Collection of Distinction) : 1 item

Lawrence Public Library

15 new collections : 98 items

Perkins School for the Blind

Historic Stereographs : 29 items

Students with Deafblindness at the Perkins School for the Blind : 263 items

Philips Academy Andover

Abbot Academy Photographs : 529 items added to an existing collection

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Library

Harvested Collections: 234 new items

Weymouth Public Libraries, Tufts Library

Stetson Shoe Company Photographs : 26 items

WGBH

The Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council and WGBH Program Guides, 1949 – 1969 : 230 items

 

 

 

 

 

This month we added some great collections from several libraries, archives, and museums. Check out some of the new things you can now find in the Digital Commonwealth!

Lucy Vincent Beach from Harvard Forest Archives
Lucy Vincent Beach from Harvard Forest Archives

Harvard Forest Archives

Harvard Forest Martha’s Vineyard Collection – 169 items

Perkins School for the Blind

Anne Sullivan Photograph Collection – 34 items

Laura Bridgman Collection - 180 items

Perkins Postcards – 98 items

Photos of Helen Keller in the Middle East – 20 items

Springfield College Archives and Special Collections

Cliff Smith YMCA Postcard Collection – 4236 items

University of Massachusetts Lowell Libraries

21542 newly harvested items

USS Constitution Museum

War of 1812 Collection - 1 item added to existing collection

Wilbraham Public Library

Wilbraham Public Library Glass Plate Negatives Collection - 70 items added to existing collection

 

By Trish Cassisi

Pheasants (pair), carved by Russell Pratt Burr, ca. 1930-1955
Pheasants (pair), carved by Russell Pratt Burr, ca. 1930-1955.

When I attended the Digital Commonwealth conference in 2014, I was focused on digitizing our Yarmouth town reports dating back to the 1860’s, but, I began re-thinking that by the end of the conference. Tom Blake talked about digitizing items other than text-only resources and it encouraged me to go back to my library and look for something “out of the box” to digitize.

As it turned out, a carved bird collection that had been donated to the town in 1955 in memory of Ann Castonguay by her parents, needed to be relocated from a school in town.  The collection was placed in our West Yarmouth branch library, which was also donated to Yarmouth by Mr. and Mrs. Harold Castonguay.  The collection of 40 miniature painted birds was carved by the renowned bird carver Russell Pratt of Hingham.

Thinking this collection would be perfect, I sent in my request to the BPL and soon received a visit from the BPL team to assess the collection.  In June of 2015, they were packed up and transported to the BPL. By October, all the metadata (which sounds difficult, but it wasn’t) had been submitted and the carved birds were back at the West Yarmouth Library by the end of October.  By December, the collection went live on the website and the photographs are beautiful.

Mallard (pair), carved by Russell Pratt Burr, ca. 1930-1955.
Mallard (pair), carved by Russell Pratt Burr, ca. 1930-1955.

To celebrate the Castonguay carved bird collection, there will be birding programs throughout 2016, including a bird carving demonstration, a presentation from an Audubon Naturalist, and children’s bird related programming, too.  It was a very easy process and the BPL staff couldn’t have been more helpful.  Start looking at your collections for a unique digitization project; you will be thrilled with the end product.  Good luck!

Single illuminated initial cut from a 15th century antiphonal.  From the Boston Public Library's Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts Collection.
Single illuminated initial cut from a 15th century antiphonal. From the Boston Public Library’s Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts Collection.

Check out the cool new items added to Boston Public Library’s collections in Digital Commonwealth this past month!

Anti-Slavery Collection – 1000 new items

Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts – 2 new items

Thomas W. Nason (1889-1971). Prints and Drawings – 619 items

 

Dan Cohen, Steve Dalton, Richard Pearce-Moses, Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, and Nancy Heywood enjoying the Annual Conference. Photo credit: Molly Stothert-Maurer.
Dan Cohen, Steve Dalton, Richard Pearce-Moses, Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, and Nancy Heywood enjoying the Annual Conference. Photo credit: Molly Stothert-Maurer.

On April 5 the Digital Commonwealth held its 10th annual conference and 10th anniversary celebration at the Hogan Center at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester MA.  It was the largest conference in years and afterwards over 90 people joined us to commemorate the anniversary.

Thanks to the hard work of the conference committee and our excellent speakers and sessions, we had nearly 200 people at this year’s conference — the best attended conference in recent years. Many presenters’ slides and presentations can be found on the Digital Commonwealth conference web site.  You can also download our final conference program to learn more about the speakers at this year’s event.

Digital Commonwealth President Elizabeth Thomsen poses with NDSR Boston residents after their presentation. Photo credit: Molly Stothert-Maurer
Digital Commonwealth President Elizabeth Thomsen posing with NDSR Boston residents after their presentation. Photo credit: Molly Stothert-Maurer

The anniversary reception gave us all the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the creation and growth of Digital Commonwealth.  Digital Commonwealth President Elizabeth Thompson shared remarks prepared by Greg Pronevitz of the Massachusetts Library System, a key player in the formation of Digital Commonwealth. Carolyn Noah, Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, and Bill Talentino shared memories of the growth of Digital Commonwealth.  David Leonard, Director of Administration and Technology at Boston Public Library and Dan Cohen, President of the Digital Public Library of America, gave their perspective of Digital Commonwealth as partners on a common journey.

 

 

Digital Commonwealth President Elizabeth Thomsen speaking at the 10th Anniversary Reception. Photo credit: Jean Maguire.
Elizabeth Thomsen speaking at the 10th Anniversary Reception. Photo credit: Jean Maguire.

It was a great opportunity to gather together, reflect on what we have accomplished and set our sights on the future of the Digital Commonwealth and our partners.  We thank you all our members and all those who attended the conference this year. If you attended the conference, and have not yet done so, please share your feedback by completing the online evaluation form.

We hope to see you all at the 2017 Digital Commonwealth Annual Conference!

Logbook of the Gay Head of New Bedford Mass. 1856-1860.
Logbook of the Gay Head of New Bedford Mass. 1856-1860.

By Michael Lapides, Director of Digital Initiatives at New Bedford Whaling Museum

Back in 2012 a team from the Boston Public Library, led by Tom Blake, came to New Bedford to recruit the Museum into the Digital Commonwealth. We are so happy they did! While we had and still have a massive online collections database (over 50,000 records and related images) it is essentially buried, not crawled by search engines, and therefore hidden from a wider public view.  Participating in the Digital Commonwealth is a remedy to this lock-out.

Our digitization program started with our whaling logbook and journal collection, 223 are currently available via the Internet Archive, 152 of these are also available via the Digital Public Library of America.  We will continue to contribute from our collection of more than 2300 volumes, the largest and finest collection of whaling logbooks and journals in the world. The bulk of these primary sources document American whaling (1754-1925) although British, Australian, Norwegian and Azorean voyages are also included.

Our cartographic collections number around 700 pieces including sea charts used by whaling masters, bound pilot charts and atlases, decorative maps, maps and charts of key geographical regions significant to whaling at different times in history as well as maps and charts of the local Old Dartmouth region. Currently the Digital Commonwealth has 10 examples, representing oceans and whaling cruising grounds. The zooming functionality makes study of their contents possible.

Map of South Atlantic Ocean. 1857.
Map of South Atlantic Ocean. 1857.

Our manuscript collections  (over 140 distinct collections) help to complete the historical picture told through these digitized collections. Currently manuscripts are discoverable online via EAD Finding Aids. We hope someday to digitize and share choice manuscript collections through the good offices of the Boston Public Library and the Digital Commonwealth. These include late 17th century property deeds and indentures through the various mercantile investments and business practices of the agents of whaling and merchant voyages, church records, architecture, personal papers of significant (and lesser known) people of the 19th century and industrial, banking, and modern whaling documentation extending well into the 20th century.