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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
An anonymous donation of $200,000 will enable the Sandy Spring Museum to digitize its historical archives, making the collection of documents and photographs accessible to researchers, students and others around the world.
The museum, which was established in 1980 to preserve material culture associated with the village of Sandy Spring and surrounding communities, has a rich collection of diaries, ledgers, personal correspondence, photos and other material, documenting more than 200 years of the area’s history.
“This donation came as a surprise to us,” museum director Allison Weiss said. “It’s such a generous act on the part of the donor because it will enable anyone with a computer to have access to every original document in the museum’s archives. Aside from capital gifts, this is the largest donation in the museum’s history.”
Weiss said digitizing the archives has always been a wish of the museum.
“But it seemed so out of reach that we weren’t even planning for it,” she said. “This person overheard us say the only way we could make our archives accessible was through a major donation.”
The museum received the donation at the end of December and the project is underway.
Lydia Fraser of Germantown was hired as project manager for the archives digitization program. Fraser is familiar with the museum, having worked as its collections manager a few years ago.
She was thrilled to learn of the donation.
“This is such an amazing collection. There are so many treasures,” she said. “But they haven’t been accessible and this project is all about access.”
The primary reasons for an archive to digitize its holdings are to provide broad access to the collection and to preserve the original items so they are not handled excessively.
Although the process is called “digitization,” scanning the individual items is only a small part of the process.
The first step of the process involves a complete inventory of the collection and prioritizing the items by the value they project.
Once inventoried, Fraser will create consistent metadata and assign standardized, searchable terms so that each item can be easily found and accessed.
“It needs to have ‘findability,’” she said. “Think of it like a library — if the books are stacked willy-nilly, they are meaningless. You need to be able to search for things in meaningful ways.”
Following an extensive quality check, the archives will be then uploaded to the shared content site Digital Maryland (www.digitalmaryland.org).
Digital Maryland is a collaborative, statewide digitization program headquartered at the Enoch Pratt Free Library/State Library Resource Center in Baltimore. Its mission is to facilitate the digitization and digital exhibition of the historical and cultural documents, images, audio and video held by Maryland institutions.
In addition to the museum’s collection of historic Quaker materials, some of its most cherished holdings are the complete assemblage of meeting minutes for the community’s many social clubs, some of which are the oldest, continually-meeting clubs of their kind in the United States.
The museum’s archives contain minutes from the Enterprise Club, which is the oldest agricultural society in the country; the Women’s Mutual Improvement Society, founded in 1857; the Neighbors Club, founded in 1897, and the Wednesday Club, founded in 1904.
Because those clubs are still meeting, the archives continue to evolve. It is often the practice of the clubs to consult their records held in the museum’s collection so that minutes from 100 ago can be shared during present-day meetings.
Also of note is a robust collection of late-18th- and early-19th-century correspondence, including many items penned by Benjamin Hallowell, founder of what became the University of Maryland; holdings from Montgomery General Hospital (today’s MedStar Montgomery Medical Center), the first rural hospital established in the United States; manumission papers documenting the release of enslaved people; Quaker wedding contracts, and many other items of local, regional and national significance.
Weiss estimates the project will take two years to complete. Once completed, the museum will be in a position to easily digitize all new items donated to the archives.
“I feel like this is such a generous gift that will benefit our entire community,” she said. “These materials really have not been accessible before.”
For more information, contact Sandy Spring Museum at 301-774-0022 or go to www.sandyspringmuseum.org.
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