Preserving our physical past & our digital present.

This is my dad’s mother’s family (aka my grandmother). She was one of 12 brothers & sisters.

Lauren and I went to Michigan this last weekend to see my parents and celebrate my dad’s birthday.  Saturday evening, my mom pulled out a scrapbook to show me this amazing work that she’d been doing mapping the genealogy of our family with what she could find online.   And it wasn’t just a map of the family tree.  It brought in the pictures that we had from boxes that we found in my grandmas’ basement, along with the stories they had told us.

It was amazing to sit and listen to the cohesive narrative about how my ancestors immigrated to the United States from England and Germany.  It made my imagination run wild thinking about what my ancestors might have been like and what kind of experiences they had.

I also started to reminisce about my days at the Library of Congress.   Everyday I got to interact with the people whose job it was to preserve world culture and make it accessible for generations to come.

While it was a government agency that was filled with bureaucracy that’d make you wanna pull your hair out, there was something truly magical and noble about what they have to accomplish. They had whole groups of people whose job it was to digitize print materials into formats what would allow them to be accessible infinitely in the future.    They had created these incredible machines that could scan incredibly old books and images without doing any damage to them.

It all makes me wonder how many people are taking the time to trace their roots and preserve all the documents and photos from their past.  I want my future children to be able to know where they came from, hear the stories, and see the photos.  I’m so glad thankful for the genealogy work that my mom’s doing and that my dad writes so much of his story on his blog.

Another thing my parents had been doing is going through all the old photographs, scanning them, and uploading them to Flickr.  We had been using Flickr as a bit of a repository, with over 10,000 photos up their currently.  We figured, just incase the house burned down, the photos would definitely be safe. I’m surprised there aren’t more startups that are creating business models around helping people preserve the past.

Then the other question is… who’s going to preserve our present?  When I was growing up, I learned a lot about American History by looking through old Time Magazine covers with my dad.   It was amazing.  But… how am I going to be able to teach my future children about this current election?

What system will be in place?  Will Wikipedia be the place we go to learn about the past?  How will they be able to see & read what was on the front page of the New York Times on Election Day 2012?  I know there are projects like the Internet Archive but are they enough?

Abraham Lincoln: Get to Know the Man at the Library of Congress

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Today, I had the pleasure of attending the press preview for the Library of Congress‘ new exhibit “With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition.”

First off, I was pleased to see two of my other DC blogging brothers there with me.  I look forward to see the analysis of Frank Gruber from Somewhat Frank and Tom Bridge of We Love DC.  They’re both outstanding bloggers.

During college, I was a student under RIT Professor Joseph Fornieri, a renowned Lincoln scholar, so I definitely understood the history, importance of his presidency, and how he was able to hold the union together.  What was incredible about the Library of Congress’ exhibit is that I was able to see that history sitting before me.

You walk through the hall and you get to see documents, drawings, photos, and books that tell the story of Lincoln and the time which he lived.

IMG_0131Right before you there’ll be things like the Bible that he was sworn into office on (Prez. Obama too), a draft of the Gettysburg Address, contents of Lincoln’s pockets when he was assassinated,  the first draft of the Emancipation proclamation,  Lincoln’s Farewell Address, his first and second Inaugural addresses and much more.

Throughout the exhibition, you’re greeted by a variety of video screens which help to provide you with the context of what you’re seeing.

Overall, I think that if you have the opportunity to see this exhibit DO IT!   It opens to the public on February 12th at 5pm.  It really is a treasure trove that you get to see and interact with in a way that you may not get to do again for a long long time.

If you don’t live in Washington, DC or you won’t be visiting, there is an online companion to this exhibition.  It looks like the first half of it is currently available with the other half coming soon.

As a history nerd, these exhibitions make me giddy.  I could have spent hours inside the room looking at all pieces but the sad part is it ends.  The exhibition is a bit like a roller coaster ride.  You leave the room and you’re like “now what?” It’d be great if the Library of Congress could find a way to extend a visit to a exhibit into a relationship between me and the institution. It’d be great if the exhibit was just the beginning, where over time they continued to feed me more and more.  I’ll write up more on this later.

So… go see this exhibit.  It’s very rad.  You won’t regret it.

Check out…


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Abraham Lincoln Photos on Flickr from the Library of Congress

In preparation for the upcoming Lincoln Bicentennial, the Library of Congress has uploaded a set of photos of President Abraham Lincoln to their Flickr account.  The photos are AWESOME.  Would recommend that you check them out.

If you live in the Washington, DC area, you should check out the brand new Lincoln exhibition, “With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition“, which opens to the public on February 12th.   They’re letting me into the press preview tomorrow, so I’m going to try and grab as many fun tid bits for you all as I can.

If you don’t live in Washington, DC, they have an online version of the exhibit.


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Fans of the Flickr Commons Project Launch the Blog Indicommons

When I was at the Library of Congress working on our contribution to the Flickr Commons project,  we had the photos and they were uploaded for all to see but it felt like something was missing.

There needed to be more of a destination for the community to gather so that the community could get to know each other and for the Library of Congress staff to get to know the community… forming relationships.

Well, the Flickr community launched a Flickr Group dedicated to discussing the photos that had been contributed to the common, which is AWESOME but it didn’t stop there.

Members of the community have recently launch Indicommons, a blog which dives even further into the photos and the institutions which posted them.

If like me, the Flickr Commons project and it’s photos has captured your imagination.  I’d definitely think that this blog is a must read.

Library of Congress Publishes a Report on the Flickr Pilot Project

As my long time readers know, I acquired a love for the institution of the Library of Congress during my tenure as a contractor for their Web Services division.

I had the pleasure (and honor) of being on the team that helped kick off the Library of Congress’ foray into the world of Flickr.

Well this week the project team issued a 50 page report detailing its success, (which in and of it self is cool because typically the Library has kept these internal reports pretty close to the chest.)

Here are some deets:

  • “As of October 23, 2008, there have been 10.4 million views of the photos on Flickr.
  • 7,166 comments were left on 2,873 photos by 2,562 unique Flickr accounts.
  • 67,176 tags were added by 2,518 unique Flickr accounts.
  • More than 500 Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) records have been  enhanced with new information provided by the Flickr Community.
  • Average monthly visits to all PPOC Web pages rose 20% over the five month period  of January-May 2008, compared to the same period in 2007.”

It’s so cool to see this project reach such unparalleled success.  I’m going to write more about my thoughts about it later but I just want to encourage you all to read the report.  It’s fascinating to hear about a government project that used Web 2.0 be so successful.

Here are thoughts from DCist and Thomas Hawk.