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Preservation goes digital

By Misty Snyder Registrar
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

In the Collections Division at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum working to preserve and protect historic objects that tell the Seminole Tribe’s story is a top priority.

Ensuring that historic objects are protected and preserved includes processes that limit their exposure to harmful levels of light, temperature, and humidity.

It also involves storing them in special acid-free and dye-free protective housing and in collection storage areas that utilize special cabinetry and are areas that are kept secure.

All of these practices are designed to protect the objects against external forces and to slow and reduce inherent vice — the inevitable deterioration of objects due to the instability of the materials of which they are made.

An example of the audiovisual objects sent to be digitized. (Courtesy photo)

Inherent vice applies to all objects but it presents a unique challenge when it comes to our audiovisual materials.

From reel-to-reel films and audio recordings to Betamax, 8-tracks, cassettes and VHS tapes and even CD, DVD, and Blu-ray discs –we have all of these types of objects in the museum’s Collection- and while the technology has gotten more sophisticated, provided better quality outputs and become more stable with time, they are all still subject to deterioration as well as to simply becoming obsolete.

Have you ever put a CD into a CD player and had it skip or not play at all? The organic dye used in the data layer of a CD will degrade over time and it will degrade even more quickly if exposed to UV light or high temperatures, for instance, if you have left the CD in your car for an extended period.

This is an example of deterioration. Or have you ever come across an old favorite movie on a VHS tape or music album on a cassette but not been able to play it because you no longer have a VCR or tape player?

This illustrates the problem we can have when objects become obsolete and we no longer have access to the information that is stored upon them.

In order to protect against inevitable deterioration and to continue to provide access to the information that is recorded on these devices the museum actively manages its audiovisual materials through ongoing collection assessments and digitization projects.

We recently undertook one of these projects and were able to digitize 117 objects.

These projects require careful planning and a detailed process of execution.

First, objects are reviewed to assess what needs to be digitized. This may be objects that we recently acquired or objects that are already in the collection but that haven’t yet been converted to digital format.

Next, the materials are inventoried and packed up within archival boxes and shipped using an art shipping company to insure that the objects are stored at acceptable temperature and humidity and handled with proper care on their journey.

The objects are shipped to a company that specializes in archival quality digitization.

Once there, they are processed by specially trained technicians using the appropriate equipment to carefully extract the information from these sometimes fragile devices.

When all of the objects are digitized they are returned to us at the museum along with hard drives containing the archival digital files.

After the objects are returned and the initial inventory completed then museum volunteer, Marlin Billie, and I review each of the digital files to be sure that they are functioning, complete and correct.

While helping me to complete this part of the project Mr. Billie came up with the idea of showing some of these movies that we now have digitized at the Big Cypress Senior Center.

This is exactly the kind of reason that we complete these types of projects: to safely provide access to the Tribal Community to these resources while still also protecting them at the museum for generations to come.

The first movie day at the Big Cypress Senior Center was scheduled to be held Nov. 22 with the showing of “Joe Panther.”

For more information call the Museum Collections team at 863-902-1113.

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