Category Archives: Archive Watch


This Guy Drew a Cat. You Won’t Believe What Happened 4 Centuries Later.

Franz Helm’s illustrated manual on pyrotechnic weapons was around for more than four centuries before it went viral.

When the German artillery expert wrote the manual, in the mid-1500s, he unwittingly created a piece of media ideally suited to the tastes of 21st-century Internet culture: Cats that appeared to be wearing jet packs.

Helm appears to have been describing a creative siege tactic. In order “to set fire to a castle or city which you can’t get at otherwise,” he advised in the manuscript…


QuickWire: National Archives Will Shutter 3 Facilities

The National Archives and Records Administration said on Tuesday that it would close three of its facilities—in Anchorage, Fort Worth, and Philadelphia—to save $1.3-million a year.

Records stored at the Anchorage facility will be moved to a facility in Seattle and will be digitized so they remain available to users in Alaska, said David S. Ferriero, archivist of the United States, in a written statement. The statement was released after the Anchorage Daily News quoted Katie Ringsmuth, an adjunct…


New Repository Offers a Home for Data That Aren’t Numbers

After spending months or years collecting data from focus groups, surveys, and other sources, what are scholars doing with the mountains of information that may or may not have made it into their published research?

In the quantitative-research world, where data come as numbers that can be collected and stored in an organized way, the answer has been to share the data. But for qualitative and multi-method researchers, whose data might come in the form of lengthy interview transcripts, fiel…


Radio Station’s Music Collection Brings Big Challenges to U. of Texas at Austin

The Fine Arts Library struggles to process the 60,000 unorganized CDs that will be available to the public. (Photo courtesy of U. of Texas Libraries)

The U. of Texas at Austin’s Fine Arts Library has 60,000 CDs to process and store before they can be made available to the public. (U. of Texas Libraries photo)

Some of us remember the days when CD organizers were a thing. Whether you had CD towers in your living room or binders with plastic sleeves for the discs, it always seemed as if there never was enough space.

For most of us, those days are history—albums nowadays are easily stored in our computers, phones, or tablets. But the University…


U. of Texas Library Buys 64,000 CDs and LPs From Campus Radio Station

Paying about $3,000 for 400 boxes full of classic records and CDs seems like an incredible bargain, right? Well, the University of Texas at Austin’s Fine Arts Library was the lucky buyer in December, when it purchased more than 60,000 CDs and 4,000 LPs from the university’s public-radio station, KUT.

The radio station’s entire physical music collection—more than 50 years’ worth of accumulation—is now part of the Fine Arts Library’s Historical Music Recordings Collection. The library’s collection, which already had some 200,000 items in all formats, is one of the largest in the nation.

The rare transaction came after KUTX, KUT’s music outlet, digitized its music holdings. The digitizing project began more than a year ago in preparation for the station’s move from quarters on the campus to a brand-new building nearby. (KUTX is heard on local FM airwaves at 98.9, as well as online; KUT, an NPR-affiliated news outlet, is heard at 90.5 or on the Internet.)

“When we designed the new building, it was pretty apparent that we weren’t going to have room for a library the size of the one we had in the old building,” said Jeff McCord, music director at KUTX.

Mr. McCord said the process was “pretty chaotic.” With the help of “an army of students,” KUT ripped about 150,000 songs, or about half a million minutes of music.

The staff kept only a shelf of LPs in the new studio and some album covers, in part because of the information they provide. “Even though we are not playing CDs anymore, there is a wealth of information that came with the albums that is now lost in digital format,” Mr. McCord said.

The Fine Arts Library hopes to make the CD collection available for the public as soon as the music gets processed and stored. The 4,000 LPs will join 100,000 more that are stored in the Collections Deposit Library, which holds fragile materials that are available only by special request.


QuickWire: Fire Damages Internet Archive Building in San Francisco

A fire that broke out early Wednesday morning at the nonprofit Internet Archive destroyed offices and equipment used for digitizing books and movies, but did not damage any archival materials or data, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“It’s going to be really expensive to rebuild, but it’s really important to the Internet landscape,” said Brewster Kahle, founder of the popular digital archive.


QuickWire: Acrimony Accompanies Dickinson Papers to Online Archive

A bitter feud that has vexed Emily Dickinson’s poems and papers since the late 19th century appears to have followed them onto the Internet, where Harvard University’s Houghton Library will soon open an archive with high-resolution images of all the poet’s manuscripts and letters, as well as transcriptions and other information. The library holds roughly 60 percent of the Dickinson manuscripts; the remainder are in the library at Amherst College.

The split came about soon after the poet’s death,…


QuickWire: Einstein Papers Go Digital

Albert Einstein’s mind might soon be a little easier to navigate.

The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein will be made available in digital form by the digital-publishing-platform company Tizra, according to a news release. The digitization of The Collected Papers, published by Princeton University Press, will contain searchable text, in German and in English translation, for the thousands of pages of Einstein’s work throughout his lifetime. The papers include lectures, research notebooks, inter…


U. of Virginia Uploads 20-Year Archive of TV Station’s News Footage

The University of Virginia’s library has unveiled a 20-year trove of digitized news footage and anchor scripts from WSLS-TV, a local station in Roanoke, Va. The online material, covering the years 1951 to 1971, includes some 3,600 clips of silent, 16-millimeter film footage in black-and-white and color, with nearly 10,000 more remaining to be digitized and uploaded.

Among the clips is July 1968 footage from a demonstration protesting a local business college's decision to deny admission to two black students.

Among the clips is July 1968 footage from a demonstration protesting a local business college’s decision to deny admission to two b…


Rushdie’s Digital Shadow, or How to Create Electronic Archives

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Howard spent a week in early July at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School, taking a course on “Born-Digital Materials: Theory & Practice.” This is the last in a series of posts on the experience. See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for more.

When you move around online or work on a computer, you cast what Naomi Nelson calls a “digital shadow”—a record of your activity. Many of us aren’t aware just how long a shadow we cast. For an archivist like Ms. Nelson, head of s…