Posts tagged ‘digital collections’

A Summer with the Archives of American Gardens at Smithsonian Gardens

Within Smithsonian Gardens is the Archives of American Gardens, a repository dedicated to collecting documentation on historic and contemporary American gardens. AAG was founded in 1987, the same year the Garden Club of America (GCA) donated its extensive slide collection documenting American gardens throughout history to the Smithsonian Institution.

Thanks to a GCA scholarship, I was able to join AAG for a 10-week Garden History and Design Internship this summer.  Prior to this internship, I knew little about this archive or its collections. Nevertheless I was eager to learn more about AAG and Smithsonian Gardens plus excited to have an internship with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. My name is Kathryn Schroeder and this past May I received a Master of Library and Information Science and Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

Right away, I was happy to see that my internship would be a diverse experience working on a variety projects exposing me to much of what AAG does. One of the main projects I worked on was processing the Mary Riley Smith Collection. Smith, a Manhattan-based landscape designer, laid out scores of private and public gardens including design work and supervising installation of planting beds at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City for 20 years. I went through the collection folder by folder, noting the client or garden name, location, and folder contents in an inventory. In addition, I re-housed the materials and photocopied certain items for preservation purposes. Utilizing the knowledge I acquired of the collection during this process, I wrote a scope and contents note describing the collection as well as a biographical note about Mary Riley Smith. These notes will be incorporated into a comprehensive finding aid for the collection so interested individuals can learn more about it.

Kathryn processing the Mary Riley Smith Collection at the Archives of American Gardens

Kathryn processing the Mary Riley Smith Collection at the Archives of American Gardens

Having specialized in digital content management during my graduate program, digitization is something that greatly interests me. I was able to apply this interest during my internship by digitizing letters from the W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records. The letters I digitized were from a 1925 contest where customers shared their success stories using Burpee’s seeds. These digitized letters will be uploaded to the Smithsonian Transcription Center where they will be available for transcribing by virtual volunteers whose efforts will enable them to be readily searchable online.

This letter from the 1925 Burpee seed contest was one of hundreds digitized by Kathryn during her internship.

This letter from the 1925 Burpee seed contest was one of hundreds digitized by Kathryn during her internship.

I also had the opportunity to catalog digital images documenting gardens submitted to AAG by volunteers from the Garden Club of America. Using a database designed for cataloging, I created records describing the garden as a whole as well as specific sections of it. The records I created are now available to the public on SIRIS, an online catalog containing millions of records describing holdings in the Smithsonian collections. Another exciting aspect of my internship was researching the history behind a number of garden features and writing ‘One Minute Reports’ to be distributed to GCA chapters across America, blogs, and social media posts. This enabled me to become more familiar with gardening, a subject I did not know much about prior to my internship. I particularly enjoyed researching and writing about the history of swimming pools.

The various projects I worked on throughout my internship allowed me to acquire skills and knowledge that will be valuable tools as I advance in my career. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to spend 10 weeks with the Archives of American Gardens and Smithsonian Gardens, and thoroughly enjoyed my time in Washington, D.C.

Kathryn Schroeder, Summer 2015 GCA Garden History and Design Intern, Archives of American Gardens

August 21, 2015 at 2:41 pm 1 comment

Growing a Digital Garden Archive

Gardens at Chewonki

The gardens at the Chewonki Foundation in Wiscasset, Maine evolved over a century as the summer camp transformed into a year-round environmental education organization. Generations of students and staff have left their mark on the farm and gardens.

We are a nation of gardeners. Thomas Jefferson grew over 300 varieties of plants at his Monticello home and like any dedicated gardener kept meticulous records detailing the triumphs (and failures) of his adventures in gardening. In the nineteenth century Italian immigrants introduced new vegetables like artichokes to the United States. Today, heirloom seeds originating from around the globe—or grandma’s backyard—can be purchased online and grown wherever we make a home. The Smithsonian Gardens Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History tells a story of citizens feeding their communities during wartime years, as well as a story of the diverse cultures that comprise the American people. In the summer ‘Carolina Gold’ rice, a traditional crop from the Carolina Lowcountry, can be found growing only a few feet from ‘Corbaci’ sweet peppers, a hard-to-find heirloom from Turkey.

Gandhi Garden

Inspired by the quote “you must be the change you wish to see in the world,” the artists of the S.A.G.E. Coalition in Trenton, New Jersey transformed an abandoned lot into a vibrant community garden and gathering space.

April is National Garden Month, and we are celebrating the diversity of American gardens and the gardeners who make them grow. Small gardens and large gardens, community gardens and backyards, our diverse stories are part of a verdant quilt of gardens growing across the country. Gardens tell us where we’ve been, and where we are going. They can tell us stories about how people in our communities lived in the past and articulate our cultural values in the present. So often our everyday stories—the dahlias bred by a great-uncle, the nursery owned by a family for generations, the hot peppers grown as a reminder of a faraway island childhood—are lost to the historical record, and therefore lost to future generations.

Community of Gardens website

Community of Gardens is a participatory digital archive collecting stories from the public about gardens and gardening in America.

Community of Gardens is our answer to the call to preserve our vernacular garden heritage. Community of Gardens is a digital archive hosted by Smithsonian Gardens, in partnership with our Archives of American Gardens, and created by YOU. It is a participatory archive that enriches and adds diversity to the history of gardening in the United States and encourages engagement with gardens on a local, community level. The website uses a multimedia platform that supports images, text, audio, and video. Visitors can add their own story to the digital archive, or explore personal stories of gardens from around the country.

To contribute a story to the digital archive visit the “Share a Story” page on the Community of Gardens website to sign up for an account. Once you have set up your account you may then add a written story and photographs. If you’d like to add video or audio files to your story email them to You will hear from a Smithsonian Gardens education staff member within a few days, and your story will be posted on the website usually within 3-5 business days. Once you have shared a story, share another story, or encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same!

Paul, on the right, shared his family’s garden history with Community of Gardens, beginning with his great-grandfather immigrating to America in 1881. His grandfather Harry Sr., on left, grew tomatoes, and in the nineteenth century his great-grandfather sold vegetables the old Central Market in Washington, D.C. Today Paul maintains a large garden that he tends with his children.

Paul, on the right, shared his family’s garden history with Community of Gardens, beginning with his great-grandfather immigrating to America in 1881. His grandfather Harry Sr., on the left, grew tomatoes, and today Paul maintains a large garden that he tends with his children.

We are looking for any story about gardens and gardening in America—even stories of Americans gardening abroad. Here is just a sampling of the stories we are looking to include in Community of Gardens:

  • What’s growing in your own backyard, or on your apartment balcony? What motivates you to garden and how did you get your start? How does gardening enrich your everyday life?
  • Interview a neighbor or family member about their garden.
  • Memories of gardens past. Do you have strong memories of your grandparents’ garden, or visiting a public garden that no longer exists? Gardens can live on in stories and images through the archive.
  • Family history. This is a good opportunity to get out the photo albums and scan old family photographs. Are you a fourth-generation gardener like Paul, pictured above?
  • Community gardens—past and present.
  • Did you immigrate to the United States from another country? How do your traditions and culture play a role in your garden?
  • College and university gardens.
  • School gardens. Involve your students in telling the story of their garden!
  • Pollinator gardens and beekeeping.
  • Americans gardening abroad. Are you a veteran or member of the Foreign Service? Did you keep a garden while living abroad? How did living in another country influence your garden?
  • Sustainability and eco-friendly gardening.
  • Stories of gardens committed to providing food access in urban areas.

Join us in preserving our national garden heritage—this month and every month. What is your garden story?

 -Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

April 15, 2015 at 8:42 am Leave a comment

A DAMS Good Internship at Smithsonian Gardens

scanning in the reference room

Jessica scanning in the Archives of American Gardens reference room at the Smithsonian Gardens offices.

Did you know Smithsonian Gardens does a lot more than just plant and maintain all the beautiful gardens around the Smithsonian properties? I know I didn’t!  That is until I became an Archives of American Gardens intern at Smithsonian Gardens. My name is Jessica Brode, and I am a graduate student at George Washington University beginning my final year in the Masters in Museum Studies program.

Before coming to Smithsonian Gardens, I interned with various institutions across the country and abroad. After moving to D.C. I began to specialize in collections management work within museums, mainly assisting in digitization efforts with museums like the Smithsonian’s American History and Natural History Museums. I applied to Smithsonian Gardens after a chance encounter demonstrated that there were opportunities to use my skills there.

Coming in as an Archives of American Gardens intern, I was able to really put my skills to use for Smithsonian Gardens while learning new skills along the way. The Archives of American Gardens (AAG) currently documents over 8,500 gardens throughout the United States, with images ranging from the 1870s to the present.  AAG maintains records on historic and contemporary gardens and gardening trends and contains over 150,000 images.

Hershey Rode Gardens, Archives of American Gardens

The Hershey Rose Gardens is just one of the garden history topics Jessica explored during her internship. (Hershey Rose Gardens in Hershey, Pennsylvania, c. 1936. Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Collection.)

I learned the Horizon cataloging system utilized by the AAG and cataloged often throughout my internship.  I was given the opportunity to research and write several exciting blog posts about gardening topics I would have never even thought of, including the Hershey Rose Garden, World Fairs’ gardens, and floral clocks.

The best part of my internship was the ability to take a project further than I ever thought I could.  Smithsonian Gardens uses a system called a Digital Asset Management System (or DAMS) in order to track digital images of its gardens and events.  I was given the opportunity to rename and reorganize the Smithsonian Gardens folder structure so that images could be filed by garden and year, making it more intuitive for a user to search numerous images.  The new re-organization of images will enable staff to easily create slideshows of the best garden images for each of its gardens to make them readily available to the public through the Collections Search Center and SIRIS.  It was really exciting to see how my skills could be used to help share garden history with the public!

I am really excited that I had the opportunity to spend the summer with Smithsonian Gardens, and even more excited to see what else is ahead.  My internship has been extended so that I can continue my work at the Archives of American Gardens this coming fall and spring, and I am really looking forward to continuing some of the work I began, and starting new projects as well.

-Jessica Brode, Archives of American Gardens intern

November 4, 2014 at 6:30 am 1 comment

Explore Smithsonian Gardens’ Orchids Online!

At the end of April, after ten months of planning, coordinating, and troubleshooting, the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection (SGOC) went live. No, we didn’t kill off all of the plants over the winter and revive them for this announcement . . . I mean live as in on-air, online, and freely accessible! SGOC is now available for the world to explore on the Smithsonian Collections Search Center and is the only living collection to join the multitudes of objects, specimens, and archival records that are contained within the site. Below is a snapshot of what an individual catalog record looks like:

Collection, Orchid record sample

Example of a Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection record in the Smithsonian Institution Collections Search Center.

Records are updated twice a month and contain basic information about each accession, such as scientific name, flower color, range (if a species), and taxonomy. One of the best parts of having the collection online is being able to peruse the beautiful images taken by our talented volunteers Gene Cross, Bryan Ramsay, and James Osen.  So far, about a third of the records have images associated with them. We only photograph the orchids when they are in bloom, but many of our orchids (especially the species) are either too small to bloom, or haven’t yet bloomed during their time at the greenhouses.

SGOC’s presence on the Collections Search Center is serving as motivation to improve Smithsonian Gardens’ collection records in BG-BASE and correct plant identification errors.  Our hope is that these records can be a valuable resource for educators, students, researchers, and curious individuals, and a source of orchid inspiration year-round.

-Julie Rotramel, Smithsonian Gardens Living Collections Contractor

July 9, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Historic Images of Early Olmsted Designs Digitized

This article was originally published in the National Association for Olmsted Parks online newsletter. April 26th is Frederick Law Olmsted’s birthday; celebrate by visiting a local park!

The Riverway

The Riverway in the Emerald Necklace, Boston, Massachusetts. Thomas Warren Sears, photographer, 1907. Archives of American Gardens.

Several hundred photographic images dating from the early twentieth century and taken by Olmsted Brothers’ employee Thomas W. Sears were digitized recently thanks to a project funded by the Smithsonian Institution.  The glass plate negatives are part of the Thomas Warren Sears Collection at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens (AAG).

The historic images include unpublished views of early Olmsted design projects including the Emerald Necklace in Boston and Roland Park in Baltimore.  There are even a handful of images of Fairsted, the Olmsted firm’s office in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Sears started his design career with the Olmsted firm and later went into private practice in Philadelphia.  Among his most noted commissions are Reynolda, the R. J. Reynolds estate in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (now part of Wake Forest University) and the Colonial Revival gardens at Pennsbury, William Penn’s country estate in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Fairsted, Massachusetts

Fairsted, the Olmsted office in Brookline, Massachusetts. Thomas Warren Sears, photographer, 1910s. Archives of American Gardens.

An amateur photographer, Sears documented several projects of the Olmsted firm, his own design work, and numerous gardens and landscapes in the U.S. and Europe that he visited.  The Sears Collection at AAG includes over 4,500 of his images, dated approximately 1900-1930.

The 900 Sears images digitized for this pilot project are all available on the Smithsonian’s online catalog at .  Their resolution is truly remarkable: it is possible to read the caption of a framed photograph seen in the background of Sears’ dorm room at Harvard University!

Approximately 20% of the Sears Collection was digitized during the rapid capture digitization project.  The time needed to capture a high resolution digital scan of each fragile glass plate negative was under a minute as compared to 9-14 minutes per scan that AAG staff had been averaging with a flatbed scanner.  The Archives of American Gardens hopes to secure funding in the future to digitize the remainder of the collection which includes Olmsted gems like New York’s Central Park, Buffalo’s Delaware Park, and Branch Brook Park in New Jersey.

-Joyce Connolly, Museum Specialist 

April 24, 2014 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Rapid Capture Open House at the Archives of American Gardens

Rapid Capture open house at Smithsonian Gardens.

Rapid Capture open house at the Smithsonian Gardens offices.

Here at Smithsonian Gardens we are celebrating American Archives Month throughout October. In August 2013, we participated in the first of a series of pilot projects, funded by the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office, to create high resolution images of archival, museum and library collection items at a rapid speed. The pilot project included a week-long open house for Smithsonian staff, fellows, interns, volunteers and contractors, to showcase the rapid digitizating of over 900 historic glass-plate negatives from the Thomas Sears Collection at the Archives of American Gardens. The open house demonstrated all stages of digitizating a glass-plate negative collection, from moving each fragile plate in a custom carrier, capturing it, and performing quality control on the resulting image, to making the digitized output accessible to the public online. The overall process involved an outside contractor performing the image capture and image processing and two staff members from the Archives of American Gardens prepping the images, handling the glass-plate negatives, ingesting the images into the Smithsonian’s Digital Asset Management System and linking them to pre-existing catalog records in the Smithsonian’s online catalog, SIRIS.

Edgewood, Baltimore, Maryland.

Unidentified man, Edgewood estate, Baltimore, Maryland by Thomas Sears, 1914. Archives of American Gardens.

The 8×10 negatives, which had previously been digitized in the 1990s on a video disc at 640 pixels on the image’s longest side, were obviously pixelated in SIRIS. New scans of the negatives created by the vendor through rapid capture were digitized with an 80 megapixel camera. The quality of the new scans, measured at roughly 10,000 pixels on the longest side, ensures that the Archives will likely never have to scan the glass plates again. Rapid capture is not new, but the tools to measure the quality that can be achieved through rapid digitization are. For any large scale digitization projects of like materials, the Archives of American Gardens hopes to secure funding to digitize archival images through the rapid capture process instead of its current method of digitizing on a flatbed scanner.

To put it into concrete terms, the time that it takes to scan one image on a flatbed scanner is roughly 12 to 15 minutes. To digitize one image using rapid capture, it takes less than one minute. Rapid capture has opened our eyes to a highly efficient method that enables an entire collection to be digitized in a quantifiable time frame. The piece of the puzzle that remains to be addressed is the time-intensive process of cataloging that is needed to make the collections readily searchable online.

Background on Thomas Sears

Thomas Sears graduated with a degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University’s Lawrence Scientific School in 1906, where he also studied photography. He worked for Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects in the 1910s out of their Brookline, Massachusetts office before establishing his own landscape design office.

A set of images scanned during the rapid capture digitization project included the Edgewood estate in Baltimore, Maryland, photographed by Thomas Sears and designed by Sears and Wendell of Philadelphia.

Learn more about the Thomas Sears Collection.

Click here to learn more about the Archives of American Gardens.

-Kelly Crawford, Museum Specialist

October 23, 2013 at 9:24 am 1 comment

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