I’m excited to share a preview of images from our new partner, the Western Sonoma County Historical Society (WSCHS). In the coming weeks, I’ll post many more items from their extensive collection from Sebastopol and western Sonoma County in the new Western Sonoma County Historical Society Collection. WSCHS archives their physical collection at the West County Museum in Sebastopol, where volunteers over the past several years have digitized old photos, postcards, cabinet cards, documents, obituaries and more. Although we look forward to hosting the obituary collection down the road, I’m concentrating on the more than 6o00 images for now. The Museum uses the PastPerfect Museum Software platform to catalog and inventory their holdings, but until now, a single computer in the Museum’s Triggs Reference Room has been the only means of viewing the digitized items. PastPerfect does offer an online option, but that isn’t a practical option for the WSCHS at this time. By bringing them into the Heritage Collections, everyone will be able to view them and they will be searchable in the context of the entire Heritage Collections. In addition, we will store a copy of the images on our archival server as a backup.
Bringing this collection in to the SHC has been challenging and instructive in a similar, but completely separate way than conversion from our MARC records. I had the choice of exporting the PP records in MARC and running our scripts to convert to spreadsheets or to simply export as CSV and work with the PP fields, which don’t exactly map to the SCH fields. I chose the latter and had to work out a new mapping. Although that means that the CONTENTdm fields for this collection differ from the library-only collections, the underlying Dublin Core mapping means that cross-collection searching will still work. Nonetheless, since the WSCHS practices have differed greatly from ours, I found it necessary to massage the metadata in many ways — primarily in constructing formal titles for many items that had only descriptions. I also made the choice to enhance the records with geographical information when practical so we could display the Google Maps with their photos. I am not, however, bring the cataloging fully up to our own standards, since that would be a monumental task. I do intend to work with the Museum’s volunteers to make the process easier in the future.
Since I have the benefit of both working intimately with the Library’s huge collection and having personal knowledge of many of the locations, events and people, I made many small corrections and updates along the way. One example was a staged photo with several unidentified people in period costume. I remembered I’d seen the photo used on the cover of the 1990 Progress Edition supplement to the Sebastopol Times & News (now the Sonoma West Times & News). From that, I knew the context, I knew that local photographer Harvey Henningson had shot the photo and I knew the identity of all three unidentified men — one of whom was my late father, Hal Skinner (in the background, with horses). Similarly, I could identify several dozen previously unidentified buildings and locations in Sebastopol.
I copied the PastPerfect metadata and the images in December 2012 and finally devoted more time to converting the metadata at the beginning of June. Meanwhile, the volunteers at the Museum received some new materials that shed light on quite a few mysteries and have also made corrections. We can each report the changes to the other, but discrepancies between the metadata in SHC and PastPerfect will be inevitable, just as we now have discrepancies between the Library’s own metadata in the Heritage Collections and regular catalog. Unfortunately, we just don’t have a way to easily harmonize all the metadata, so we’ll concentrate on the major updates and let the small ones go for now.
I intended to put the entire collection up by the Museum’s 20th anniversary party on June 29th, 2013, but due to the various problems of converting, organizing and enhancing the metadata, I had to settle for putting up a selection as a proof of concept. The 175 images currently available come from Sebastopol historian Evelyn McClure’s collection and represent most of the photos she took for her 1993 book, Sebastopol, California : History, Homes and People. Over the next few weeks, I will finish work on the rest of the collection and viewers everywhere will be able to see the Museum’s treasures.