One Small step for Archival Processing, One Giant Leap for the Baltimore News American Collection

For the past year and a half, student employees and volunteers in Special Collections at the University of Maryland’s Hornbake Library have been working to provide researchers with better access to the staggering amount of information contained in the Baltimore News American collection.  After the University of Maryland’s Special Collections and University Archives acquired this collection of subject and biographical photographs, newspaper articles, and microfilm approximately 30 years ago, the daunting task of preserving and processing its 1545 linear feet of materials was issued to several decades of graduate assistants and volunteers.

BNA collage

Processing began in 1993 but met an abrupt halt in 2007, when the collection was no longer scheduled as a primary task due to staff shortages. When processing resumed in 2016, student assistants and volunteers continued to transfer the photographs from acidic envelopes, placing them into preservation-quality acid-free folders.  Vital information about the subject, whether it was an event or a person, including names, occupations, and dates of when the photographs were taken or released in the newspaper, were included on the new folders and entered into a searchable database, currently available only in the Maryland Room.

Because the Baltimore News American is arguably the Special Collections and University Archives’ most used collections, ease of searching is critical for both patrons and employees.  Our database system allows those interested in the collection to better search for names, dates, or subjects.  During the past year, the majority of research inquiries were for information on the history of 20th-century Baltimore. According to an analysis of the requests, the research was mainly for genealogical or biographical projects.  During that time, the Special Collections and University Archives staff created over 323 digital copies and 117 high-quality scans for our patrons.  Requested topics ranged from the African-American shantytown on Avalon Island, to McCormick spices and their placement in local advertisements, and to Chesapeake Bay steamboats.  These statistics emphasize the importance of continuing the processing of this large and interesting collection and produce a small glimpse of the various types of content preserved in these photographs and microfilm reels.

Since work on the collection restarted in April 2016, our student assistants and volunteers have processed over 25,000 images from this possible 1.5 million photograph collection.  This feat of preservation and organization of such a large collection is only a small step toward completion, but a great bound toward easier access for our patrons who are interested in the textual and graphical information which can be gleaned from this Baltimore newspaper.

Jennifer Piegols (University of Maryland, Class of 2019), Special Collections Student Assistant.  Jen Piegols is a first year MLIS student in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland.  She works in the State of Maryland and Historical Collections at UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives.

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