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The Ringling Archives Digilab

What is The Ringling Archives Digilab?

The Ringling Archives is a facility that uses mostly photography to make digital files of archival material. We use cameras, because unlike scanners, they reduce the potential for damage to fragile materials. In addition cameras capture metadata, such as: camera information, creation date, exposure settings, and image dimensions.

An archivist photographs material in The Archives Digilab

What do we digitize?

All media in the Archives is subject to digitization, including photographs, documents, records, ephemera, scrapbooks, photo albums, moving images and more. Ongoing digital projects include capturing the meeting minutes of the Ringling’s Governing Boards, video recording and editing of Collecting Recollections programs to be shared on YouTube, segments of films to support projects, general photography, pieces to be added to Tibbals; Howard Bros. Circus Model, and other projects that present themselves.

What are the challenges we face?

Digitizing moving Images, like old movies and videotapes presents challenges when it comes to finding and using obsolete equipment, dealing with the many different formats, such as super 8mm film, 16mm film, VHS videotapes, 3/4in video tapes, etc. and factoring in long processing times. Due to these restrictions, much of the digitization of these formats is outsourced with funding sought through grants. The Archives has recently outsourced the digitization of the Tibbals Circus Collection of Buster Bailey films through a Collections At Risk grant from the Center for Library and Information Resources.

How much material do we have to digitize?

There are millions items in the Archives to be selected for digitization and this list continues to grow as more materials are donated.

How do we select what to digitize?

Collections are selected for digitization based on their physical condition and usage demand. Special requests are honored, based on special needs, examples are: the need to document objects prior to the scheduled installation in the Howard Bros. Circus Model and curatorial requests for exhibitions. Building plans are digitized for ease of access. These records are the official records of the institution, documenting the construction and design of the buildings on the campus as well as upgrades and additions to facilities. Contractors request these drawings when upgrading systems such as the hvac system or the lighting system along the Bay Front.

How do we digitize?

Smaller materials like the scrapbook shown here are photographed on a copy stand with controlled lighting. 

Digilab in The Ringling Archives

With funding from the Peck Stackpoole Foundation, a black-out curtain has been installed that provides a controlled lighting environment by cutting out room illumination.

Blackout curtains installed in The Ringling Archives

We are currently investigating book scanning equipment and technology to advance our digitizing capabilities and effectiveness with our limited staff.

Archivist Ron Levere standing in front of an oversized circus poster in The Ringling Archives

We are faced with the challenges of digitizing large objects such as the oversized posters shown above. As you can see, oversized items are put up on a sheet metal wall plate with magnets in the Archives vault to be photographed.

What are we currently working on?

The Archives staff is working collaboratively with staff in the Art Library. Cataloger, Chris Bonadio, has built MODS metadata forms for several digital collections including the Tibbals Circus Collection of programs, heralds, and international newspaper articles. Archives staff populates these forms with metadata information about the digital files which users can access in an online digital repository. The Archives is partnering with FSU and uploading these files on to their digital repository, Diginole. FSU’s digital repository provides online access to collection materials where they are made available to students, faculty and the general public. A link from The Ringling website will direct users to The Ringling Archive collections hosted on Dignole.

Digital Preservation Assessment

We are awaiting the results of a Digital Preservation Assessment that was conducted by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in the fall of 2019. The Archives received a grant from the NEH to have this assessment completed. The goals of the assessment were to document the state of digital preservation within The Ringling, identify challenges and opportunities for improvement, and make recommendations for preserving The Ringling’s unique digital collections. The archives has a concerted interest in improving the long-term outlook for and access to digital collections and establishing a sustainable preservation program for these assets at the museum.

Where do we go from here?

We are always working to produce the highest quality imagery possible and to keep up with the advances in technology. The Archives staff been developing a plan for implementing a video production initiative which would serve the many needs of the entire museum, including documenting museum programs.