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I had a site visit this morning at the St. Paul's School for Girls located in Brooklandville, Maryland, about twenty minutes north of Baltimore on the I-83 expressway. I met with the part-time archivist and one of the English faculty to explore the potential for digitizing some materials in preparation for the school's 50th anniversary in 2008. The archives is a compact closet of a room that contains yearbooks, photographs, and other materials that document the history and founding of the school and other aspects of its collective memory.
The history of the school has roots that date back to 1799 when the Benevolent Society of the City and County of Baltimore, founded by a group of parishioners from Old St. Paul's, established an orphanage for the care and education of indigent and orphaned girls. The orphanage moved locations and changed names several times before it was closed some time during the 1950s. In 1958 the Benevolent Society decided to establish a new college-preparatory school for girls - today's St. Paul's School for girls.
During this morning's meeting we talked about specifications for scanning and the creation of archival master images, including such details as resolution, file type, storage and backup of image files, etc. We also talked about strategies for selecting materials and preparing descriptive information. As plans progress and the digitization of materials is complete, MDCH will provide the technical infrastructure for hosting their digital collections and making them accessible to a wide audience on the World Wide Web.
St. Paul's is looking into the possibility of purchasing a scanner for use in house so that their materials don't have to leave campus. Doing the digitization in house will also provide hands-on opportunities for student workers to learn about handling archival materials and preparing descriptive information. They will also gain technical skills working with computers and scanners. As a collaborative partner they are looking to MDCH to provide a number of services, primarily consulting services and technical infrastructure support.
In addition to technical specifications we also talked a little bit about selecting materials with an eye toward their historical context. We agreed that the photographs would be a good place to start - after all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Describing the photographs will include answering questions about who, what, when, where, etc. Making the photographs accessible online will spotlight various aspects of campus life throughout out the school's fifty year history. During the course of conversation I also suggested that they round out the collection by including documents such as the school's charter among the items they selected for this collection. Documents such as the charter will provide more historical context for the photographs and also speak a little bit about the growth and development of St. Paul's over the years as an independent school in Maryland.
There are some very exciting possibilities for collaboration with the St. Paul's School for Girls, including a digital storytelling project to explore more of the school's history by means of oral history interviews with retired faculty and staff. Collaborative projects are still in the planning stages but could be available online as early as spring 2008. Stay tuned to www.mdch.org for further developments.