Re: Freight car archives, was: The growing problem of erroneous captions

Tom Madden <tgmadden@...>

Armand Premo wrote:

Really, with today's technology? Why don't they just put the
material on a disc? The reward should be obvious.
The reward to the holding institution is probably different from the reward you envision, Armand. You're probably thinking of having the individual documents available in electronic form, while the institution would be thinking of having an index to their collection available electronically. Their reward would come from improved access to the collection, both for themselves and for users/purchasers. Many institutions - particularly ones with paid staff - resist making their collections available to the public in electronic form for fear that they will lose control of potential income from selling copies. This fear is not unfounded.

As for the seemingly haphazard/disorganized condition of some collections, that I can understand. I have catalogued a number of photo collections as a volunteer at the Colorado Railroad Museum, and am a fairly heavy user of the Pullman collection at the Newberry Library in Chicago. At the document level, it's difficult to impose order on a large collection if the donor did not do so. If the donor is still living or has left specific instructions, the typical organization is chronological. If heirs are involved, all too often - even when we've been expecting the collection - it's delivered in random boxes with no more documentation than "Dad wanted these to go to the museum". Users, however, want collections catalogued by subject rather than date. But if you're sitting there with a couple thousand negatives in front of you, there's no way to efficiently sort them by subject. So you take them in whatever order they come, open a blank computer database in the museum's standard format, take the first negative, assign it a sequential catalog number, and in the appropriate fields enter the date taken (if noted), railroad, equipment number, description, location, any photographer's notes, and photographer's name. Negatives are removed from whatever sleeves or envelopes they may be in and placed (individually) in new, acid-free archival envelopes which have all the database information printed on them. Then they are filed by catalog number. Repeat until done.

Once a collection is fully catalogued, a user can sort or filter the database any way he wishes. You want all the photos showing D&RGW 2-8-8-2s on Tennessee Pass? No problem, we can fetch all of them from all of the collections, but except for sequential photos of one train taken by one photographer, the catalogue numbers (and therefore the locations in the files) will be all over the map. Like the collection cited earlier in this thread, the CRRM's photo and negative files are not set up for efficient browsing at the document level, and we certainly have our equivalents of the "four boxcar shots followed by one of Maurice Richard" file drawers.

Tom Madden

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