Southern Architect and Building News Project Update

Hello, People of the Blogosphere!  We’ve been very busy working on a number of projects this summer, one of which has been the Southern Architect and Building News digitization project.

Part of what’s so neat about this project is that we get to collaborate with other wonderful folks around the UT Libraries.  The downside of this is that it means we have to coordinate and make decisions together about the workflow, standards, and overall goals.  This does make it take a bit longer than if all the work were happening in-house here at the Library.

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Picking up digitized volumes of SABN!

So far, we have sent several batches of about 10 volumes over to our friends in Digitization Services to be scanned and ingested into the Data Asset Management System (DAMS).  They have input some metadata for us, but part of what we have to decide here at the Library is what our metadata schema will look like.  There is a lot of information we could include in our metadata, so we have to make some choices about what will be most meaningful to our end users and how much information it is realistic to enter for each item.

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Packed to go to PCL!

The last batch of Southern Architect has been sent to PCL to be digitized, which is pretty exciting!  Once this is finished we will pick them up and they will join the rest of Southern Architect to await metadata entry!  Currently all the already digitized copies of Southern Architect are back at the Library, so once the paged content issues with the DAMS are fixed, we should be ready to go all-in on metadata!   

We’re slowly working our way through some of the issues with the DAMS.  This project is for the long haul, so it is going to take some time to get Southern Architect and Building News digitized and available online.  But, we also known what a special publication it is and how fascinating it is and its value to architectural history!  We can’t wait to keep working to make sure every one can see for themselves what makes Southern Architect so special and important!

The Volz O’Connell Hutson Collection: Born-Digital Initiatives at the AAA

One of the many structures VOH Architects worked on: the Littlefield House on the University of Texas at Austin campus.
One of the many structures VOH Architects worked on: the Littlefield House on the University of Texas at Austin campus.

Hello! My name is Abbie Norris, and I am the current digital archives Graduate Research Assistant at the Alexander Architectural Archives. My primary job is processing the born-digital content received in the Volz O’Connell Hutson Collection. This collection contains the records of Volz O’Connell Hutson (VOH) Architects, a firm focused primarily on preserving and restoring historic buildings and interiors. The collection showcases notable buildings from Texas and United States history and is an excellent resource to discover how much is needed to keep historic buildings authentic and alive.

A gray CD reading "Images for Volz: Elisabet Ney Museum, April 2007"
A sample CD from the collection. Born-digital archiving requires preservation two ways: retention of the original media and capture of the data for long-term storage.

The VOH Collection is significant to the Alexander for several reasons, but most importantly, it is the archive’s first large-scale born-digital accession. In addition to analog records and building materials, the collection includes roughly 450 floppy disks, 250 CDs, 90 zip disks, and one lone flash drive. These materials document the life of the firm from the early 1980s to the mid 2010s. So far, we have imaged over 100 filetypes representing everything from office files to construction reports to historic photographs. It’s a diverse array, and as the project moves forward, we’re faced with many questions about how best to provide access to researchers.

As diverse as the filetypes are the kinds of buildings included in the collection – though many are tied by one important identity. VOH Architects worked on buildings of many functions, styles, and preservation needs. While these buildings span the United States, the majority of them are located in Texas. Included are the Governor’s Mansion, the Alamo, the Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch, and the Alexander’s own Battle Hall. I love working with this visual representation of Texas history. Whether it’s by noticing design similarities between county courthouses or the way historic landmarks are used and maintained, the collection is an in-depth look into how architecture shapes our state and its identity.

Scaffolding covers a green dome atop a white tower.
Restoration underway on the Colorado County Courthouse dome. Photo credit: Volz O’Connell Hutson Architects, (http://voharchitects.com/projects/colorado-county-courthouse/).

In my four months of working with this collection, I’ve learned an incredible amount about both the intricacies of born-digital archiving and the breadth of work architects do. Through the frustration of software bugs and the triumph of imaging previously unreadable disks, the VOH is a fascinating collection that provides many learning opportunities.

The next steps of the project are to finalize the creation of a finding aid for these born-digital materials and to determine methods of access once the collection is published. Check back here soon for collection updates and an in-depth look at the world of born-digital archiving at the Alexander Architectural Archives!