This continues our series on Finley and Bohlman and highlights the work of one of our student employees. Valeria Dávila Gronros is an Argentinean photographer, filmmaker, and digital films restorer, about to obtain her BA in Cinema Studies by the Universidad del Cine of Buenos Aires. She is currently a digitization technician at the Digital Production Unit of the Oregon State University Special Collections & Archives Research Center.
What was it like being thrown into a project of this scale without any prior experience in DPU or with digitizing archival collections?
It was exciting and challenging, as pretty much everything going on in my life at the time… I had recently moved in the US from my home country, Argentina; it was a radical shift, and, as I was going through that transition, joining DPU provided me not only a job but a supportive environment, where to settle down and get involved with the city and with the university by doing something meaningful.
When I joined, DPU was undertaking its biggest digitization project, «Reuniting Finley and Bohlman», in collaboration with the Oregon Historical Society. The idea was to reunite the OSU and OHS collections online, for public access. This project was challenging in many ways, not only in terms of scale –8000 paper documents–, but also in terms of time. As the project was being funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the LSTA Grant, we had just one year to complete the digitization work.
I had a background in digital photography and filmmaking, and have had previously worked digitally restoring films, so I was comfortable within the digital dominion. But, as for digitizing, my user-level experience was nothing like the specialized digitization that DPU does… DPU digitizes archival materials from the Special Collections & Archives, in accordance to international access and preservation standards, using dedicated software and equipment, so, it was a lot to learn and to get familiar with. In addition to this, the archival environment was completely new to me, but my work at DPU put me in contact with that universe too.
You had mentioned that you were under a time crunch when it came to completing the project. How did it feel when you completed it?
I felt fulfilled, and relieved… I think we all did. At that time DPU was facing its own challenges. In terms of staff, for instance, we were three after I joined. For a project like «Finley and Bohlman» this structure was critical. By the time I started, half year had passed but yet not half the digitization had been made. Six months later we were finishing the project… The achievement was truly a team effort. Both Brian’s coordination and our commitment played a key role in it.
What types of items did you work with in this project? Do you have a favorite item that you worked with?
Fortunately, among the 8000 documents there were diverse types of items, from manuscripts and typescripts, to maps, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, and ephemera, such as postcards, letters, social events invitations, brochures, and the list continues. This diversification made the digitization interesting for me, and a great source of training and learning. As straightforward as it may seem, digitizing requires creativity and ingenuity, since each item is different in terms of shape, texture, size, color, reflectivity, etc., demanding, accordingly, different digitization techniques.
Digitizing «Finley and Bohlman» taught me that you have to be caring and patience with the archival materials and with the process, since it can sometimes get arduous. These lessons guided me all the way through the following projects, yet it has proven to be an ongoing learning. We are always challenged with unique items that we have never handled or digitized before. Those teaches you the most, and often add a little magic to the work too.
Favourite items? Yes! Well, I wish I had digitized some of the amazing photographs, but I loved digitizing the newspaper clippings, the maps and the postcards, because they were all image-based.
You mentioned how complicated some of the scanning was, did you have a standard procedure with each item? Could you describe how you went about scanning Finley-Bohlman?
We have specific workflows for both paper-based and photographic materials digitization. «Finley and Bohlman» was a paper-based special collection. Most of its items were fragile, and many were falling apart, requiring a extreme careful handling and scanning. Besides, we often had oversized newspaper clippings and maps, that were twice or triple the size of our scanner, so we would scan them in several parts –from as little as two and up to six, or more– and then merge the digital pieces into one single image using Photoshop. The automatic merging tool would not always work as expected, so I would often merge the pieces manually. As making a puzzle, it was arduous and time-consuming but rewarding once got the final images.
Digitizing was one part of the process. The other was preparing the materials to the online repository. So, we would review each digital file for quality control, and while we would create and keep archivable PDFs from said files, we would also create a compressed version for online access (visit https://oregondigital.org/sets/finley-bohlman).
After putting in all the time and effort, what did it feel like winning the LTSA award for the project?
Wow! The «Project of the Year» award came as a surprise to all of us, and it was gratefully welcomed.
It was the perfect way to give closure to a project like this one, that was different from the start because there were a strong interest and expectation regarding «Finley and Bohlman» within the archive community. Plus, a joint effort was made by OSU and OHS to set up lectures that would contextualize and disseminate the project, and given the relevance of these figures in the context of wildlife conservation, the project got the attention of the media as well. This interest and repercussion were great because it has drawn attention to our work, giving us the space to share our experience. I very much enjoy sharing this, so thanks for your interest!