By Rachel Hatcher, SBMAL Intern
In my recent adventure into post-graduate life, I have decided to fill some of my free time by reading classic books that I had previously neglected. For some unknown reason, George Orwell’s novel 1984 never appeared on any of my required reading lists; so, after graduating from Westmont College this past December, I decided to read it on my own time. What might this have to do with the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library? During a typical afternoon, I work at SBMAL, preserving Father Serra’s writings with Photoshop. During the evenings of my first few weeks on the job, I read about Winston Smith—Orwell’s main character, who works at the Ministry of Truth falsifying history by re-writing past newspaper articles to reflect present circumstances. Through my work at the Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library, I was able to see the contrast between Winston’s reckless manipulation of history and my own preservation of history.
Responsibly engaging with the past by preservation through digitizing collections like the Junípero Serra Collection or the California Mission Documents is, in a practical sense, detailed, tedious, and time consuming. I was new to the digitizing process when I came to work at SBMAL. I had always been on the other side of historical study—I had been the researcher, wishing that a digital collection with easy search features existed. At the Archive-Library, with the help of generous grants from the Academy of American Franciscan History and California Missions Foundation, I became acquainted with the process of digitizing document collections.
The first step in the process is to photograph or scan the documents into organized computer files. Fragile original documents and books are digitally photographed so as to not harm them. The photographs or copies of documents are scanned if their condition allows. This part of the process is rather quick compared to the “post production” which follows. After we have digitized the documents, we photo-edit the thousands of digital files to “clean up” the images and make them legible.
For example, I just finished editing a book from a file of hundreds of images in the negative (white writing on a black background). Post scanning and editing, the book is now easy to read—white pages with black writing, taking up a small amount of space on a hard drive.
The final step in the process will be to input the digitized documents onto a computer station along with the finding guide where researchers will be able to easily scroll through the book and other documents that I and the others working on this project scanned and edited. The ultimate goal is to catalogue these files using a database called Past Perfect and it will all be stored off site for safe keeping, allowing us to safeguard these sources for future generations while still making them available to researchers.
This project will take time and dedication. We recently hit a milestone with the number of completed scanned and edited documents for the Junípero Serra Collection, reaching 500 files out of about 1100. This work will be funded primarily by the grant from Academy of American Franciscan History. The grant from the California Missions Foundation helped us begin this groundbreaking work on California Missions Document Collection which contains 4200 distinct documents (many of with multiple pages). I hope to continue working on both collections and see them through to the end, but it will only be possible with the support of foundations like the California Missions Foundation and the Academy of American Franciscan History–and friends like you!