The Museum of Flight Receives Grant for Digitization Project

On January 4, 2016, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) announced the 2015 recipients of their Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives: Enabling New Scholarship through Increasing Access to Unique Materials grant program and we are proud to say that The Museum of Flight was among the winners! The Museum will receive a $58,200 grant to support a digitization project developed by the Archives team entitled “I thought there was nothing so glorious as war…”: Creating Online Access to the World War I Materials at The Museum of Flight. The 18-month long project will digitize and create an online repository of approximately 2,500 photos, 25 aircraft and engine manuals, 23 pieces of sheet music, 53 stereo cards, and 6 cubic feet of manuscripts and ephemera from our Archives that are related to the history of World War I.

Grant Program

CLIR’s Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant program is a national competition to fund projects that digitize and make publicly available rare and unique materials that are essentially considered “hidden” in the collections of cultural memory institutions such as The Museum of Flight. “Hidden” collections are those that have never been discovered by the public at large, either because they’ve never been displayed publicly, made available digitally online or any other public format, or have never had detailed descriptions or finding aids made available for researchers to explore. One of the primary goals of the program is to bring to light new knowledge by presenting these hidden collections to a world-wide audience through concerted digitization projects and online dissemination.

CLIR has an extensive application process that took nearly 9 months to complete and involved our Archives team developing every aspect of a feasible digitization project from start to finish. First, we needed to clearly explain why the materials involved in the project would be considered “hidden” and justify why the materials are of historical and national significance. The application required our Archives team to detail every aspect of the project including: identifying the specific collections to be digitized; explaining the step-by-step plan to digitize the materials; the types of digital files that will be produced in the project and how they will be preserved; how the materials will be made publically available online; how our staff will deal with rights issues related to the digitized materials; all technical aspects of the project, including computer programs and cataloging software; and how the project will be publicized. The final phase of the application process also required that we provide letters of scholarly support for the project from people who are familiar with the Museum and our archival collection, who can attest to the educational value of the project and the historical importance of the materials to be digitized. Out of the 165 applications that CLIR received in 2015, The Museum of Flight’s project to digitize our archival holdings related to World War I was one of only 18 projects to receive funding.

The Project

The centennial of World War I has strengthened and renewed scholarly interest in all aspects of the war and its effects on our world. The war started a mere eleven years after the Wright Brothers took their first flight at Kitty Hawk and in a single decade, aviation technology advanced enough that aircraft and the pilots that flew them became an essential aspect of warfare. Collections related to the technical aspects of WWI-era flying and aircraft, as well as the personal effects and ephemera of WWI pilots, are an invaluable resource for documenting the history of the war. As the United States approaches the 100 year anniversary of our entry into the war, our Archives team felt that a digitization project centered on our holdings related to this topic would not only be a timely commemoration of the anniversary for the Museum, but it would make new scholarly resources on the history of aviation during the war widely available, which will help deepen our understanding and appreciation of the people who built and flew aircraft during this time period. The project will also be a significant first step in developing a formal digitization program for The Museum of Flight Archives.

The World War I-related collections at The Museum of Flight cover both the technical aspects of flight and the personal experiences of the individuals flying the aircraft. A majority of the collections included in this project came to the Museum through family donations or through our acquisition of the Champlin Fighter Museum and American Fighter Aces Association collections. The collections range from scrapbooks and letters from residents of the Pacific Northwest to photographs and documents from nationally renowned flyers. They are the personal collections of pilots that uniquely illustrate their individual wartime experience and tell stories of their triumphs and hardships, most of which have never been told before. Individual collections include a detailed account of Seattle native Norman Archibald’s wartime experience as a pilot for the 95th Aero Squadron in France, which inspired his book Heaven High, Hell Deep, as well as the personal collections of celebrated American Fighter Aces Hamilton Coolidge and Joseph Wehner (who is quoted in our project title for this grant).In addition to these personal collections, we will digitize aircraft and training manuals and other technical documentation. These items are extremely rare and will provide a closer look at the state-of-the-art flying machines of the time period.

These collections have only ever been seen by a small number of researchers who visited our research facility; they have never been displayed publicly within our museum, nor have detailed finding aids for the collections been made available on our website. Without a digitization plan in place and without an online platform to make these materials widely available in digital format, we have not been as effective in sharing these collections, in their entirety, with our remote researchers. This project seeks to remedy this, by creating and implementing a digitization program that will successfully fulfill the needs and wants of our researchers, world-wide, who interested in aviation during World War I and the centennial of America’s entry into the war is a perfect time to open these rare and unique items up to fresh examination by scholars, students, and the general public.

Timeline of the Project

Starting February 1, our Archives Team, led by Supervisory Archivist Amy Heidrick, will begin preparations for the first phase of the project which involves creating the documentation related to the actual digitization project: establishing scanning standards, work flows and processes, and creating a cataloging guide for the digitized materials. The team will also start working with a new program called Omeka, which will serve as the online platform for the digitized materials. This summer, we will hire a temporary Project Archivist who will work for one year on the remaining phases of the project: scanning, cataloging and applying metadata to the digitized materials, uploading the files to the new online platform, conducting usability studies on the Omeka site, developing promotional materials for announcing the launch of the site and finally, overseeing its public launch in late spring of 2017.

Future Impact of the Grant Project

Many museums are moving towards mounting their collections online in searchable databases, online exhibits and image galleries and we have received many requests for The Museum of Flight to begin doing the same with our one-of-a-kind, world-class aviation and aerospace collection. This project is direct response to those requests and is the first vital step in making our collection publicly available to a larger audience. The Museum of Flight will use this project to establish the digitization standards and requirements necessary to create a dynamic online presence and to expand the reach of our collection by making it widely available online. We plan to continue to unveil new hidden collections to the public for many years after the successful completion of this grant project.

The Museum of Flight is grateful to the Council on Library and Information Resources and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation who is funding the program for this amazing opportunity to share our collection with the world. Look for updates on the progress of the project over the next 18 months!