Smithsonian Field Book Project

By: cpedmo
Posted: March 04, 2012 Cherie Edmonds (Me), Annie Stoehr, and Kelsey Duinkerken standing in front of a Zeutchel 10,000 at the National Museum of Natural History.

For ASB, I went to the Smithsonian Institution Archives where I volunteered my time to help on the Field Book Project. The Field Book Project is an endeavor between the Smithsonian Institution Archives and the National Museum of Natural History to make a searchable online registry of their "hidden" collection of field books for researchers and scholars. A field book can be defined as any collection of materials that include scientific information. These field books date as far back as the early 1800s, and that's just the part of the collection I've been exposed to!! Here's the website if you want to learn more about it:

http://www.mnh.si.edu/rc/fieldbooks/

For this project I did digitization and metadata entry of several varieties of field books dating from the 1840's to the 1970's. My mentor had me rotate jobs daily so I could experience a variety of collections and job experiences.

Day 1 - I did metadata entry for field books (from a person named Alfred or Allen) that were digitized remotely.

Day 2 - I got to tour behind the scenes of the Natural History Museum and see their archives and digitization unit. Then, I digitized photographs from a photographer, named Heller, that traveled the world.

Day 3 - I did metadata entry for field books that I had in hand, from a "citizen scientist" who recorded lists of birds he saw everyday from his back yard.

Day 4 - I digitized more photographs from the world-traveling photographer. I got to leave work early to go back to the Natural History Museum and see the exhibits. The butterfly garden was my absolute favorite!

Day 5 - I digitized the papers of Professor F. B. Meeks, one of Smithsonian's own paleontologists!

All the metadata entry I did was down to item-level. So much was involved with trying to create unique descriptions for each item. I had to not only look at the context of what was written or photographed, I also had to record details about the physical features of the object itself. There's no doubt the efforts of my ASB team made an impact on the workload for the project. Not only that, what we accomplished will eventually be available online for others to search and use!

Prior to setting out on this adventure, I had a few goals I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to network and make professional connections, I wanted to learn more about the field I was going into, and I wanted to support a government institution. Through our efforts I know my ASB team helped wade through a good chunk of the work the Smithsonian has to do on the Field Book Project, and because of the hard work we put in we were able to make connections with our project mentors and gain potential Summer internship opportunities.

Before this project, I could barely read normal handwriting, but now I can read handwriting as far back as the 1840's; a skill that has already paid off in my part-time job as an archives collections processor. In addition to that, I got to combine and apply the things I've learned in my classes in a professional setting. Having that experience really helped solidify my education and connect the dots between some of the more abstract concepts.

After reading all the papers and journals, seeing all the pictures and sketches, and getting to handle all the old and fragile materials, it's incredibly difficult not to get invested in the project and the people whose lives, and life histories, I was preserving. I found it hard to leave because once I start something I want to finish it, and with this project being as fun and educational as it has been, I want to see it through. Hopefully, this summer the Smithsonian will be looking for an intern to continue assisting with their efforts.