What’s wrong with si.edu

byline Gayle

One museum site that I chose was the Smithsonian website because I’ve always found the home page to be way too fussy and confusing. I do not believe that they farm out the work but that they do it in house. There was a time when each museum and each department within a museum did their separate webpages. I manned the anthropology department website around 2001 for a year. At that time it was simple HTML. Now I see they are all doing CSS. From perusing through the various museum websites it still seems that the pages are being done in house. I know that NMAI has its own webmaster and I think that NMNH still does also. The sites are not consistent but differ from museum to museum. How does everyone feel about that? The Smithsonian consists of somewhere around 17 museums and the National Zoo. Should all of the pages be consistent from museum to museum, or is it okay to be different? And am I the only one who finds the main page too fussy and confusing?

On our readings. I found “The Pasts and Futures of Digital History” by Edward L. Ayers written in 1999 to be (naturally) outdated, but forward looking. Some of the developments that he predicted have seen fruition, which was evidenced in William Turkel’s article, “What It’s About.” .

In his article “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era,” Roy Rosenzweig made a statement which rings very true even today:”Although some historians might object that the Bert Is Evil web site is of little historical significance, even traditional historians should worry about what the digital era might mean for the historical record. U. S. government records, for example, are being lost on a daily basis.”

I can attest to the uncertainty of digital records as I lost 300G of material when my 300G external harddrive crashed. I had lots of important records on there also (income tax, scans of my father’s old photos, etc.). That’s why I always promote preservation of the original in the strict archival sense of the word which is to maintain the collection in the condition it was received and not allow it to deteriorate any further. To a point you can say that digitization is a means of preservation, but not in the strict archival sense of the word. It is more a means access. Fortunately, I have preserved the original photos and can rescan them but it’s just a time-consuming nuisance to have to do it again.

Unfortunately, those items which were born digital are lost if I can’t get the hard drive restored again (which I haven’t so far). Born digital is another matter entirely. There are several ways you could preserve the born digital: make hard copies of the material; make more than one digital copy, write it to a CD or DVD or back it up on another hard drive, jukebox, or tape. But CDs and DVDs are already on their way out. Besides the fact that (are you ready for this?) DVDs can grow mold! Yes, an archivist found DVDs with mold on them. And if you’re not an archivist working in a climate controlled archives, are you prepared to keep your CDs and DVDs at 60/65 degrees temp and 50 percent relative humidity? But there’s another angle to this problem. At some point, the hardware to run these CD/DVDs will not be available any longer. Why or why did I not keep my 5-1/4 drive? I still wonder what is on my 5-1/4 diskettes that I still have but can’t access.

Sorry, but I didn’t care for the sample “mashup.” Wikipedia uses that format and it flows much more sensibly with Wikipedia than with the sample shown on Turkel’s blog. Did anyone else have trouble following that?


2 Responses to “What’s wrong with si.edu”

  1. begunn Says:


    I have had some success resurrecting “crashed” external HDs for co-workers (assuming that the platters in the drive did not crack that is!). If you would like to bring the drive to class I would be happy to take a quick look at it for you.

    Also, a few years ago I recall reading an article about CD and DVD rot. It is due to the metallic layer of the media corroding, and is only supposed to affect older CDs and DVDs. Media generated in the last few years is supposed to have a special coating or treatment that eliminates the tendency.

    I try to keep duplicates of everything on an extra hard rive, and with digital pictures I keep two copies (TIFF and JPEG) on two separate drives and again on DVDs. The better shots I print out and preserve. Overkill, yes, but I have never lost a thing.


  2. Gayle Says:

    Hi Brian

    I will definitely bring my hard drive to class. Thanks a lot for that offer! I’m not sure there’s such a thing as overkill when it comes to material on computers because we all know what can happen to it in any number of disastrous ways.

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