Kairos 17.3

Our construction of the FSU Card Archive has negotiated the border of print and screen by inviting researchers to make meaning from an archive that claims to represent the artifacts catalogued within it rather than provide a digital facsimile. Given that many users will not have the opportunity to handle the material artifacts themselves, we seek to provide them with a careful, multifaceted reconstruction of these artifacts. Central to this representation is the claim that we are not providing a digital surrogate of the postcards—even through we provide scans of them. In constructing this archive, considerable effort has been made to render the work of the archivist-researcher visible. This includes our work entering data in the archive, our work with the Omeka platform that hosts the archive, and our work building relationships with donors and sources of financial support for the project. >As we represent the artifacts in the collection, we also continually redesign them through our negotiations of the border between print and screen—a border that bears an unmistakable influence over the meaning that researchers and browsers take away from their digital encounters with material artifacts. Acknowledging what Natalia Cecire (2011) has referred to as the "invisible hand" of the effaced laborer, we seek to give our archivist-researchers a visible presence within the archive.

Our negotiation of the border between print and screen runs counter to many other, more popular digitization projects. For example, in her critique of these digitization projects in "The Serendipity of Finding the Unexpected, or, A Copy is not an Edition" Sarah Werner (2011) aptly observed: "When you look at a digital surrogate, someone has already made the decision for you about what you want to see and how you are going to use it" (para. 14). Although we are undeniably making decisions about what visitors to the archive see, we are also trying to balance this by acknowledging these decisions and helping visitors to understand how they are also engaged in reconstructions of these postcards. With this in mind, if we look at the metadata categories as deconstructive acts on the part of the archivist-researcher, then we can acknowledge the decisions that we have made about what visitors will and will not see of these cards.

A metadata category that has been particularly difficult to be consistent with has been that of "genre" in the Item Type metadata. We envisioned the genre category to be one level of address that would allow researchers to look at a specific category of card based on the genre of its content. Currently, the archive uses six genres that are based on genres used among other card collectors and archives.

  • Greeting: card with a greeting on it. While this greeting is often explicit such as "Happy Holidays," the greeting may also be implicitly suggested by the image such as we see in the case of [couple].
  • Art: limited run, not mass produced, created by artist.
  • Portrait: person or animal is the main subject of the card and squarely faces the camera.
  • Scene: land and waterscapes, people in picture are not the main subject, includes indoors as well. Text describing the scene is outside of the image's frame and not intended to be part of the image itself.
  • Travel: this includes Big Letter and Large Letter cards. Name of place or invitation to visit is placed within the field of the image and becomes part of the image rather than a side notation.
  • Preformatted: card with check-box selection.

One genre distinction that has provoked perhaps the most discussion has been that of "scene" and "travel." These discussions illustrate the rocky road a card takes in its transition from print to screen. As can be said for other metadata categories, this one focuses on particular aspects of the card: Is there an implicit or explicit greeting? Where and how is the text incorporated into the image on the front? What is the position of the figures pictured on the front of the cards? All of these small nuances make a difference in distinguishing the "genre” of the cards in this collection. The value of this category is that it gives researchers merely one of many levels of address that have been incorporated across our metadata categories.

Let's look at postcard #DS-34, "London by Night." Here, we have one the first cards entered in the archive. When the data for this card, only the 34th to enter the collection, was initially being entered, we (Stephen, Michael, and Katie) were actively collaborating with our undergraduate interns to establish a stable and uniform descriptive subject vocabulary for the cards. This collaboration is central to the negotiation of the boundary of print and screen in the archive and continues into the present moment when we have over 700 cards in the archive. This collaboration between the variety of archivist-researchers involved in the project hinges on the digital reinterpretations of print ephemera. Thus, it is central to the mission of the archive that these collaborations be represented within the metadata reconstructions of the artifacts.

It is with this in mind that we have incorporated an Item Type metadata field for "archivist comments." Here we can see who has archived each card and who has changed this entry, along with a notation about those changes. Here is where the archive becomes not just a curation of the object, but a curation of how this object is being represented and the way in which our representation is merely one of many other possible representations. Finally, let's return to "London by Night." Scrolling to the bottom of this entry, you'll see that Nicole originally entered this card into the archive on January 20th of 2012. A week later, Katie changed the genre of the card from scene to travel with the comment: "(print occurs within frame of the image)."

Neal ・ Bridgman ・ McElroy