Yesterday, I hit a milestone.
I photographed the last document for our C-SPAN digitization project.
Here’s how it feels to be done:
To be honest, it was hard to imagine ever getting to this point. You plan a whole project with a two-year timeline and that two years feels very far away. Even at the beginning of 2020, it seemed impossible to think one day I’d photograph the last page! But to have been through all this time, in the midst of the pandemic and workplace shutdowns, a world in upheaval, and having a baby (oh yeah, I had a baby!) and be able to close the book on this phase of the project is surreal.
I’ve learned a few things in this process:
Be flexible—obviously, we’ve all had to learn how to be more flexible this year. Back in March, when GMU sent everybody home, I was still on maternity leave and not sure how we would be able to proceed. With the help of my indispensable team of students and co-workers, we plugged away at what we could from home. It wasn’t until July when I could start heading back into the office again once or twice a week to resume imaging. These are not hurdles I’d anticipated in the project plan! (Leslie Knope would be so disappointed in my poor master planning.)
But even without all those extreme circumstances, this project would have taken flexibility. Issues come up, workflows have to be revised and adjusted, extra checking or redoing needs to be implemented. These things are normal parts of the process. Even the best planner can’t anticipate everything.
Learn along the way—I’ve been doing digitization for years now, but I still run into questions I don’t know how to answer! Sometimes technology acts up and it takes a lot of research and experimenting to figure it out. Sometimes, I have to crowdsource how to solve a problem by asking others and surveying the professional community. Either way, it’s good to acknowledge what you don’t know and try to learn! I certainly learn a lot each time I undertake a new project, and C-SPAN is no exception! This lesson is going to be even more important going into the last phase of the project—building an Omeka S site, a new experience for me!
Persevere—The truth of the matter is that digitization requires A TON of repetitive work. Gathering metadata is repetitive, imaging is repetitive, processing is repetitive, redacting is repetitive (even this sentence is repetitive). It’s very easy to start hitting your head against the wall just to feel something (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration). In other words, it is common to lose sight of the end goal and the importance of diligently completing every part of the project to the best of your ability. But those things are the most important! You have to keep up your stamina and take the enjoyment you can when you get the parts that are something of a slog.
Get help!—Truly and sincerely, the completion of this phase of the project has been a team effort! My students spent many hours amid their classes and summer breaks to dig deeply into those repetitive tasks I just mentioned. My co-workers made that flexibility possible (especially through the “having a baby” part) and helped me work through a series of bumps in the road. C-SPAN provided the documents, but also so many resources to help us along! So three cheers for everyone! The best news is that YOU can help out too! I encourage you to go out and find a way to help YOUR local archives. If you benefit from digitized images, give back to the process! I assure you, any archives would be grateful to have you. (Plus, you’ve learned so much from dutifully and carefully reviewing all my posts on digitization, right? *wink, wink* So you’re practically an expert!)
Finally, the last lesson—If you’re the only one in the office and you’re alone in a dark, windowless lab with the lights turned out so you can take good pictures of old documents, I would not advise listening to ghost stories unless you want to be perpetually paranoid that there’s something RIGHT BEHIND YOU.
As always, thanks for listening, and stay tuned as we finish up the last phase of the project!
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