National Parks Preservation (the Digital Version)

American Archives MonthOctober is American Archives Month, a celebration of America’s history and the archivists, organizations and physical buildings that keep them safe and available to the world at large. Each week this month we’ll highlight a facet of how The Crowley Company partners with archivists and historians to help preserve and share American archives.  

Last March my husband and I ran away. We flew into Miami, I sweet-talked (badgered?) him into renting a convertible and we followed the sunshine over some of America’s most stunning waterways, passing the southern tip of the Everglades on our way to Key West and the quest for a perfect margarita. The escape was close in thought as I spoke with Bonnie Ciolino, a National Park Service (NPS) archivist, about the preservation and digitization of special collections for Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve.

Cataloging a National Park

With a Master’s degree in Museum Science from Texas Tech University and a Smithsonian Institution internship behind her, Ciolino started with the NPS in 2006 as an archives technician. Just over a decade later, she is responsible for overseeing the resource management records of Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, De Soto National Memorial, Dry Tortugas National Park and Everglades National Park and is a passionate spokesperson for these distinctly American properties.

In her words, National Park archives contain “everything about the business and the beauty of a Park’s natural and cultural resources.” She emphasizes the importance of the public’s ability to “see and understand how decisions have been made and how resources have been managed in order to foster an understanding of the importance of each Park Service unit.” These records, she notes, often have a direct bearing on future decisions.

microfilm scanner
The Garden Key Lighthouse, circa 1937. Photo credit: National Park Service

When pressed on that point, Ciolino gives the example of the current stabilization efforts of a Fort Jefferson lighthouse, the 65 foot tall Garden Key Light at Dry Tortugas National Park. “We’ve been able to go back through historic documents to see past metal treatments and repairs, the maintenance history of the lighthouse and more. This allowed us a better understanding of the deterioration which has taken place and was essential to the development of a cohesive conservation treatment plan for the lighthouse today. The lighthouse will be dismantled, treated and reassembled in place post-conservation treatment.”

The collections include materials such as correspondence, memorandum, hand-drawn maps, architectural drawings, aerial photographs, scientific research papers, oral history interviews, glass plate negatives, photographic prints, artwork and audio-visual materials.

“Each collection is a reflection of the individual Park’s mission,” notes Ciolino. “The records created for Big Cypress National Preserve include documentation of the unique uses of a Preserve unit. A Preserve unit may not have the restrictions associated with a National Park and could, for example, including hunting access and licensing documentation. Records created and maintained on the Everglades have a focus on the management of water and the natural environment. Documentation for a historic park like De Soto National Memorial leans toward historical information, in this case telling the story of the expedition of Hernando De Soto.”

Digital Preservation of the Parks

On any given day, Ciolino receives requests for information from students working on dissertations, authors conducting research and those seeking photographs. The records are also helpful to staff members at other National Park locations or in other park systems. Yet the struggle to preserve the Parks’ records mirrors that of those to maintain the Parks themselves.

“The work that we do is a service to the public,” says Ciolino. “As with any repository, we’re always trying to do find new and innovative ways to reach our users. The digitization work we have been performing is one step toward our goal of providing increased access to our collections.”

Now working with NPS and Ciolino on a third project, Crowley Imaging creates both digital and microfilmed files. For documents, the final digital files include 400 dpi color TIFF images and searchable multi-page PDFs. For prints and negatives, the images are delivered as 600 dpi color TIFF images. The majority of documents, photographs and over-sized pieces have been scanned on a Zeutschel OS 14000, which enables the meeting of Federal FADGI imaging guidelines. The full-size maps and drawings have been scanned on a WideTEK ® 36DS wide-format scanner, which also meets FADGI guidelines.

The creation of 35mm silver negative microfilm masters and a silver positive 35mm duplicate reel per master are also part of the project and satisfy the requirements for long-term preservation.

Nearly all of the prep work is performed by Ciolino’s staff with special handling instructions for the Crowley team noted throughout. Each collection comes with a test box that contains a sampling of the collection materials. This box is scanned to detailed digitization and film specifications and delivered to the NPS for approval before the actual collection work is performed, allowing both the client and the vendor an opportunity to work out any imaging or metadata kinks in advance.

Just a Drive or a Click Away

Although still (always?) in search of that perfect margarita, I find there’s no substitute for jumping in the car and escaping to someplace with fresh air. Whether your preference is sand, trees, mountains or lakes, there’s a national treasure to explore nearby. Not one for the great outdoors? There’s still a lot to learn about the history and offerings of the American national park system online. And if Bonnie Ciolino and the other NPS archivists prevail, the wonders will continue to mount, one collection at a time.

And that reminds me of a divine Huckleberry martini I had while visiting Yellowstone

Want to learn more?

If you would like more information on how The Crowley Company can support your collection digitization with scanning hardware or digitization services, please contact us by calling (240) 215-0224 U.S.

General inquiries can be emailed to [email protected]. You can also follow The Crowley Company on FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInPinterest and YouTube.

Cheri BakerCheri Baker, Crowley’s former Director of Communications, has retired but retains her love for writing and all things Crowley. With a career that spans newspaper, agency and corporate communications, her goal remains to dig behind the scenes and tell the story - whatever it may be. Find Cheri Baker on LinkedIn+


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