New Technology: Digital Documents

Craig Heuser
Special Collections Assistant

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When I first started working at The Filson Historical Society in 1998, I heard other staff members refer to a mysterious place in the basement called the “computer graveyard.” I was not quite sure what to think, knowing that the Ferguson Mansion had housed the Pearson Funeral Home from 1924 to 1977.

However, I found the title was appropriate after discovering a room containing several outdated computers and other unusable electronics dating from the 1980s. While this may not seem like long ago, especially in a place that collects artifacts dating back over 3,000 years, fifteen years ago is eons in the world of computers.

Since that time, The Filson has made great strides to leap into the technology age and leave the “graveyard” behind. One of the most exciting projects has been the ongoing digitization of our portrait and photographic collections. Using a program named Past Perfect, the special collections department, with the help of our faithful and hardworking volunteer Mrs. Phyllis Burger, has transferred the old accession records dating from 1887 into a computer database. Once all of the written information, which can include the item’s description, size, and background, is typed into the system, a scanned image can be attached to the record. Therefore, when a researcher asks for a specific picture or portrait, this program allows the special collections staff to view it and access its information within a matter of minutes as opposed to the time it currently takes to flip through our copied files. The possibilities do not end there. Upon the completion of this project, we plan to photograph The Filson’s stored artifacts with our digital camera, putting the entire museum collection at our fingertips right down to the last arrowhead.

While Past Perfect specifically benefits the special collections department, another important project currently being undertaken also involves the library. For the past year, staff members from the library and special collections have been working together with a company named Epixtech to implement a new database for our library and manuscript collections. Once completed, patrons from around the world will be able to log onto our web site and browse bibliographic information for all of the cataloged materials currently held by The Filson, from J. Stoddard Johnston’s multivolume history of Louisville to Henry Clay’s handwritten letters. In addition to searching titles, subjects, and authors from the comfort of your own home, several public-access computers will be available at The Filson to provide a helpful, comprehensive, and time-saving resource for everyone. Furthermore, because both departments are using the same software, we are now able to add our rich manuscript and book collections to several national academic databases in an effort to attract more researchers to our facility.

What does all of this mean to you? These projects, combined with the gradual replacement of many of our computers and the installation of a new cable network linking every staff member, will usher The Filson into a new age of research. When completed, all of these changes will modernize the organization of our collections which translates into easier researching and a better experience for our patrons. If you have any questions about our new technology, please feel free to ask any of the staff members, who will be happy to assist you.

Volume 2, Number 2

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The Filson Historical Society
1310 South Third Street - Louisville, KY 40208
Phone: (502) 635-5083 Fax: (502) 635-5086

The Ferguson Mansion and Office

Monday - Friday: 9 am. - 5 pm.
Saturday and Sunday closed
Monday - Friday: 9 am. - 5 pm.
Saturday: 9 am. - 12 noon