Preserving the Past: Digitization of the Barker Mansion Archives.

When I first interviewed at the mansion, almost two years ago now, one of the questions I clearly remember being asked if the archive, and the tasks that came with it, scared me. Of course, I said no, it was an interview for a job I really wanted! That being said, I knew that if I got the job here at the Barker Mansion, I would have to be really cautious about how I went about organizing the archive.

The first time I truly sat down and tried to figure out the various organization systems left in place in the archive over the years, I realized very quickly that I would have to change the system slightly in order to reach the goal of complete digitization of all of the documents and photographs in the Barker Mansion. I decided to set myself goals in terms of digitization, with the first goal being to sort through the documents and photographs in the archive and divide them into pre-1940 and post-1940. This made it much easier to know what needed to be digitized and preserved first and what could wait to be sorted and scanned. One of the main reasons why I decided on that particular time period to separate the documents and photographs is because the 1940s marks the beginning of Purdue University’s time at the Barker Mansion. It was simply less complicated to basically divide everything in half and start with the oldest and most fragile documents and photographs.

It took over a year to sort everything and in January of this year we began digitizing with the aid of two interns from Purdue University Northwest. We were able to purchase a new computer, scanner, and other items as well as pay two interns through a grant we received from the Indiana Historical Society. Working with interns who had no experience in digitization or in an archive would have been an interesting experience on its own. I myself had little to no experience in digitization made for an interesting start to the project.

archive 1

(Textile boxes in the archive)

Once the three of us, figured out how the computer and scanner worked, we were finally able to begin with making finding aids and start scanning. I was slightly unsure how my interns would work together due to them being at the mansion at different times most days, but they managed to find a rhythm in working together that meant that they moved quickly through their projects. By the time the college semester ended, they had managed to digitize all of the pre-1940 documents and photographs, make a list of the textiles stored in the archive, sort through and organize all of the blueprints, and begin the process of uploading the finding aids and digitized content onto the online archive Archon. Thanks to the two of them, I am now much further along with my plan to digitize the archive than I thought I would be.

Organizing and digitizing an archive is not easy, but it is very rewarding. Throughout the past two years our work in the archive has lead us to make discoveries about the mansion that we had never known. This helps us immensely in understanding the lives of the Barker family before, during, and after their time at the Barker Mansion. Though there is still a lot of work left to do in the archive, I am beyond happy with where the archive is now in comparison to where it started.

The next steps for the archive include organizing and digitizing the post-1940 documents and photographs, getting a full listing of the artifacts and textiles in the archive, and digitizing the blueprints currently housed in the archive.

Jackie Perkins, Heritage Interpreter


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