Pushing the Naval Historical Center into the Digital World

I was especially interested in this week’s reading as it pertains to an ongoing debate at the Naval Historical Center, the parent command for my museum.  Our current Director of Naval History, ADM Tobin, loves all things computer/digital/technological, usually calling himself a “certified geek.”  When he came “aboard” his first order of business was to get the money to digitize the Center’s Operational Archives, currently housed in various Hollenger boxes and files cabinets on the third floor of our main builidng.  90% of the Archiveare in paper format, the rest is on microfilm or in some other format.  It’s not a great situation, considering in the time that I’ve been at the Center, the building housing the Archives has been victim to infestation, flooding, mold, and alarm failures (a portion of the Archive is still classified.) 

ADM Tobin manged to find the money to get this process started, although it’s been one roadblock afteranother, the biggest of which being the size of the Archive.  On a regular basis some retiring admiral/submarine XO/battle squadron leader is giving us 30 cubic feet of his personal papers.  We currently don’t have the personnel to digitize the Archive and run it simultaneously.  Hurdle #2-we can’t figure out the best format to digitize the material into.  The younger generation of employees in the Archive wants to mark it up, make it completely machine readable.    The older generation wants to take the easiest route and just do page image scans, looking upon the effort as more of a beast of burden then the next logical step in protecting the documents.  (What little we have online right now is in the page scan format.) I seems to me (and not because I’m part of that “younger generation”-the whole 6 of us) that if your going to undertake a project like the one our Operational Archives is looking at then you go all the way with it and make the documents completely machine readable. 

In the long run, the benfits, like greater access by the public, appear to out-way the negatives, like cost.  Our OA folks spend a better portion of their day right now pulling boxes from shelves to fulfil public research requests.  There is currently no other way for the public use the Archive.   A machine readable digital archive seems like the best way to alleviate both of those issues. 

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4 responses to “Pushing the Naval Historical Center into the Digital World

  1. Hey Karin, all I can say as a researcher is..the closer you keep the digital document to the original, the happier I will be. However, I also want to be able to scan for keywords. So how much would it cost to do both? A destroyer? A mine sweeper? I am being silly, but I do not envy your dillema. You know what freaks me out–have you ever considered that as government documents, many of these papers were filled out in triplicate?

  2. As I may have told you earlier in the class, the Naval Historical Center photo archives are a major source for my project, in addition to being on of my favorite sites period. I have noticed that the main page format has changed. By the way, I used to work with RADM Tobin back in the mid-90s.

  3. Scary, isn’t it, about the triplicate. It wouldn’t surprise me if we have at least 2 of the three copies 🙂 I guess to take the true image of the document for granted. I look at documents typed out in the “standard military format” all day long and it all the documents, at quick glance, look the same to me (that is everything from the 40’s and on.) I do see your point with earlier documents though, which our archive also holds. There’s great value and seeing the original format of those documents. I’m just glad I work in Museum Education and only hear about the trial and tribulation of digial archiving at “Friday Lunch Bunch.”

  4. ADM Tobin is a cool guy, isn’t he. Come hell or high water, he’s going to push us (kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The mainpage is my work in process. My intern, and archivist and I have been redesigning it. We’re getting there, but trying to teach yourself CSS is a real $#%&*. Slowly but surely. Let me know if you need to get in the Photo Archives proper for your project (or if anyone give you hell when you try to make an appointment!)

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