One small step for an archive, one giant leap for an archivist

The advantage of working with highly customizable, open-source tools is the ability to tailor your workflow to the specific needs of your institution or collection. The disadvantage is that you have to customize your workflow, and by that you may find yourself testing configurations in seemingly endless fashion. With so many manually entered steps along the way, a single mismatched configuration can throw pieces of your processing workflow into a tailspin and leave you, hoping, in bouts of desperation, for a one-size-fits-all magical turnkey solution to all digital archival objects for their forever-and-ever-nothing-will-ever-be-lost deep storage.

Currently at the WCS Library and Archives, we are relying on BitCurator and Archivematica to process our digital collections. We’ve also been working with ArchivesSpace to describe our digital collections and DuraCloud as our cloud-based storage. A part of our Legacy Digital Project has been to test and implement procedures for DuraCloud managed archival storage. We’ve also been busy testing and producing workflow policies for disk imaging legacy media in a variety of formats (3.5” floppy disks, 5.25” floppy disks, zip disks, CD’s and DVD’s) and getting files off their physical carriers (USB flash drives and external hard drives) in a forensically sound manner, using BitCurator’s suite of forensic tools.

The third phase of our project has been to test, configure, and deploy our workflows using Archivematica to process our digital objects. Archivematica is open-source and standards based (on the OAIS functional model), and it is managed through a web-based dashboard. A nice feature in Archivematica is that it allows you to configure a space,  which could be your preferred cloud-based storage option with a specific location, a subdivision of a space which can be assigned for a specific purpose or usage, such as AIP (Archival Information Package) storage, DIP (Dissemination Information Package) storage, or even as a Transfer Source on your Archivematica pipeline (i.e. a local installation of an Archivematica dashboard).

Our first task was to set up DuraCloud as our archival storage on Archivematica. We did so, closely–almost obsessively, following the Administrator Manual’s Quick Start Guide. With that worked out, we were able to test our ingest capabilities with the contents of a collection of 69 3.5” floppy disks. The floppies are from 2001 or earlier and are associated with the WCS’s Asia Program. The entire collection amounted to approximately 2,000 files which we were able to successfully process, transfer, and ingest with Archivematica. I felt like Brian Eno in Before and After Science, a cosmonaut, guiding thousands of files through pathways, towards their archival safe haven.

Look at all those successful microservices!

But, I fell into despair as I started to process another collection, from the WHHP Field Vets records (an amazing treasure trove of documentation from WCS veterinarians working in the field across the globe), and the ingest of DIPs (Dissemination Information Packages) started to fail. Like that, a domino effect of failures started to unfold upon me. After cruising Archivematica’s User Forum, and some tinkering with Archivematica’s processing configuration settings, the “Generate AIP METS microservice” started to fail as well. When switching my transfer type from a Standard one to one attuned for disk images (for which I had to create rules and commands for it to “accept” ISO and E01 disk images), the “Generate AIP METS” microservice would not fail, but the “Verify AIP” microservice would consistently fail, throwing an additional obstacle my way.

A bouquet of FAIL!

At the time of writing, we have not yet figured out a solution to our microservice errors, but we are persisting. Though not all is lost, I find it useful to read other digital archivists’ journey towards “figuring it out”. The Society of American Archivists’ Electronic Records Section blog series on #digitalarchivesfail has been an enlightening, empathic exercise, and a reminder to hang in there while figuring it out. A lot of insight and learning can come of it!

“Hang in there, baby” poster from                   The Simpsons


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A pacific world

An interesting feature of the records of former New York Zoological Society (NYZS) President Fairfield Osborn Jr. is his creative output: the numerous speeches, articles, books, and other such works he produced during his tenure as President at the Society, from 1940 to the late 1960s.

One such work is The Pacific World, a publication whose purpose was to provide zoological and natural history information to American soldiers that were stationed in the Pacific during the Second World War.

The Pacific World was published in two editions, one for the consumption of the general public and one for the armed services, as a series of small pamphlets. In the 1944 annual report of the Society, President Osborn declared that the series would prove to be an important contribution to zoology and natural history related literature. The effort was intended to encourage those serving overseas to play a role in conserving the biodiversity found in the oceans, lands, skies, and islands of the Pacific Ocean.

The work was published in 1944 by the American Committee for International Wild Life Protection (ACIWLP), an organization concerned with the promotion of the conservation of endangered species and other wildlife in their original habitats around the globe.

1. Illustrated preliminary chart by William Beebe noting the range and variety of mammals among the islands of the Pacific, 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.

President Osborn served as the publication’s editor, bringing together a number NYZS contributors (including NYZS’s Executive Secretary John Tee Van, William Beebe of the Department of Tropical Research, Donald Mercy of NYZS’s Education Department), as well as contributors from well-known American scientific and educational institutions such as the American Geographic Society, the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Smithsonian Institution, and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).

2. Correspondence, instructions with sample chart, and research materials noting the advice and guidance of Curator Wm. H. Barton, Jr. at AMNH’s Department of Astronomy on a proposed star chart of the Pacific region (the final version was later published in the chapter Stars Over Melanesia within the 1944 publication of The Pacific World), November 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.

While the publication is a product of its time, in that it expresses the particular ethnocentric views of its contributors in the descriptions and terminology used to report on the history, heritage, and culture of the communities of the Pacific, The Pacific World and its accompanying charts, maps, lists and other visual content provides an illuminating overview of environmental conditions (including land area, climate, and weather data) and the biodiversity of animal species found in the region in the mid-20th century.

3-1. Page one (pages two and three below) of a document by Herbert S. Zim giving editorial commentary on an earlier version of the publication, named Handbook of the Pacific, 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.



The WCS Archives’ Fairfield Osborn collection includes original materials relating to the production of The Pacific World that contains correspondence, final and draft copies of manuscript materials, graphs, maps, illustrations, notes and other materials.  The materials document President Obsorn’s editorial role, the relationships between NYZS and the various contributors to the project, and the production process. There is also insight into the Pacific region through additional correspondence from those in the field.

4-1. Page one (pages two and three below) of a letter from a Ralph J. Donahue to NYZS’s William Beebe with field observations on bird species in Alaska, August 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.



5. Detail of a draft chart with accompanying note illustrating data on the distribution of birds among the islands of the Pacific, circa 1943. Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 1029.

Today WCS continues to provide educational and outreach materials to those serving in the U.S. Military in support of wildlife conservation, now through 21st-century means of information distribution and sharing.

This post is the eighth in a year-long series dedicated to WCS’s National Historical Public Records Commission (NHPRC) funded archival processing project that will make several important archival collections from the New York Zoological Society accessible for the first time.

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Mochi’s Silhouettes

Ugo Mochi is not a household name.  But his artwork is known and admired by many.  Mochi was best known for his animal silhouettes.  Created from paper with details to scale, these silhouettes are Mochi’s greatest contribution to art as well as to the study of the natural world.  [, history section, accessed 2/1/17]

The New York Zoological Society’s (now the Wildlife Conservation Society) Bronx Zoo was a favorite spot for Mochi.  He used Zoo animals when creating his most famous book, Hoofed Mammals of the World (1953).  A few years after his death in 1977, Mochi’s daughters donated to the Zoo the 40 original plates used in the Hoofed Mammals book.  WCS adapted some of his silhouettes in logos and exhibit graphics.

Over time, however, the plates began to deteriorate.  Silhouettes became dislodged from their matting.  The plates became dirty.  An earlier Greater Hudson Heritage Network (GHHN) grant identified the issues facing these plates.  And the WCS Archives, recognizing the importance and aesthetic value of these pieces, applied for and was awarded a grant from GHHN to restore most of them (30 of 40).

Before image of Plate IV

After image of Plate IV










Conservator Paula Schrynemakers was brought in to do the delicate work of stabilizing the pieces and restoring them for long term preservation.  Each piece required individualized treatment.  Wheat paste was used to re-affix dislodged silhouettes.  Surface cleaning was done to return the plates as close as possible back to their original beauty.

Before image of Plate IX

After image of Plate IX










Even with Paula’s wonderful work, as she pointed out in her treatment analysis, “although they are not brittle, the silhouettes are extremely fragile.”  As the WCS Archives moves forward with exhibition plans for various items in the Archives, we will be following her excellent suggestions for exhibiting these plates.

With the Mochi family’s permission, we have also digitized the images.  You can check out the before and after pictures here.

You can learn more about Ugo Mochi at the site Outlines by Mochi, where you can also find a online shop of Mochi prints for sale.

The World of Tomorrow, Today: Remembering the New York World’s Fair of 1939-1940

1. Photograph of the exterior of the Zoological Wonders building at the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens, circa 1939-1940. Scanned from Saving Wildlife: A Century of Conservation, page 125. Donald Letcher Goddard, Wildlife Conservation Society. 1995.

In April 1939, the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) presented their Zoological Wonders pavilion to the public at the very first New York World’s Fair. The 1939-40 Fair brought highlights from the New York Zoological Park in the Bronx and the New York Aquarium in Manhattan to Flushing Meadows in Queens. In this month’s post from our NHPRC grant project, we are presenting a selection of materials unearthed from records from the NYZOs Corporation, a former NYZS subsidiary created to coordinate the Society’s participation in the 1939-1940 World’s Fair. Fairfield Osborn Jr., the Secretary of the Society’s Executive Committee at the time, managed that participation in his last task before becoming the Society’s President in 1940. As such, the World’s Fair materials illustrate the beginning of a new era at NYZS.
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Getting Data Out Of Its Floppy Cage

Our FC5025 controller connected to the TEAC FD-55GFR 5.25″ floppy disk drive.

The new year and holidays brought with it gifts and offerings for our legacy digital project!

Upon returning from our holiday break, we were greeted with the arrival of our TEAC FD-55GFR 5.25″ floppy disk drive along with Device Side Data’s FC5025 USB 5.25″ floppy controller.

We decided on purchasing a 5.25″ floppy disk drive of off Amazon and a FC5025 controller. The FC5025 controller is essentially a circuit board that liaises between your legacy 5.25″ floppy drive and a modern computer running a contemporary operating system. These two components are the essential building blocks to getting data off of 5.25″ floppy through disk imaging because they interface between an older, circa-1981 floppy disk drive and a modern computer. Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities’ (MITH) Vintage Computer site does an excellent job of breaking down the FC5025’s connections and instructions for imaging floppies. The card comes with drivers to enable connections to Windows (98, 7, 8, XP), Mac (OS X), and Linux operating systems.
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In the voices of animals

The vast majority of the documents in the WCS Archives are written by people speaking as themselves.  They may be speaking as representatives for a larger collective, such as the Society, or a professional organization, or even–in the cases of some Congressional testimony transcripts–as representatives for the zoo profession as a whole.  Every now and then, however, we come across examples of people speaking not in their own voices, but in those of animals.
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NYZS at the Rock

Excerpt from Mark Finston's article, “Towers Over Rockefeller Plaza: Huge tree finds its places in the sun” published in the Newark Star-Ledger on December 2, 1969. Text reads: “When last year's Christmas tree was hoisted, a small owl, which had apparently been living in the tree, and which had not emerged during the long ride from Canada, let out a screech. The owl was donated to the Bronx Zoo. No such animal life was discovered in this year's tree...”  From a clippings file titled "Birds, 1969". Scanned from WCS Archives Collection 2032.

At this time of year one may ask the question: “What do the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) and Rockefeller Center have in common?” As it turns out, the Society and this long-standing New York City gathering place and holiday beacon have a historical relationship–with a festive flavor. Continue reading

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Cultivating the Wild

“Generations are growing up without any natural contact with wild creatures; a new public opinion concerning wildlife and wild environment is arising unfettered and unguided by fact or experience. Except at the Zoo, the opportunities to know or even become interested in wild creatures are largely vicarious ones for many city dwellers. The opinions of these people will shape the future of wild lands and wild creatures.” -William G. Conway. General Director, 1966-1999. New York Zoological Society. (Gathering of Animals. William Bridges. 1974. Page 500.)

Frequently here at WCS Archives, I find myself reflecting on public experiences and encounters with the natural world, and the challenges of conveying rural and field perspectives and experiences in an urban context.  It is particularly true on Wednesdays, when admission to the zoo is free, and streams of families, teams of teens, as well as school groups with tethered young potential zoologists, naturalists, and conservationists come to visit, many for the first time. Continue reading

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Turning on, Booting up and Jacking In


Caroline Gil here, Digital Project Archivist for the Leon-Levy Foundation-funded Legacy Digital Media Project at the Wildlife Conservation Society. My initial weeks here at the WCS Archives have consisted of inventorying, assessing, and developing an all-encompassing, forensically sound plan for imaging and conserving approximately 1,000 pieces of digital media. For this pilot project, WCS Processing Archivist Leilani Dawson selected pieces of removable media, including optical, magnetic and spinning disk hard drives, which encompass about 393 3.5” floppy disks, 390 pieces of either CDs and DVDs (in all their configurations, i.e. CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD +R etc), 46 Mini-DV video tapes, and half a dozen external hard drivesreally cool looking, heavy ones circa the early aughts. Continue reading

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NEH Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections Grant Project Complete

As we reported back in August 2015, the WCS Archives received a Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.  We’re pleased now to report the completion of the project, in which we developed a Conceptual Preservation Design Plan for a new WCS Archives space.  Situated in the Bronx Zoo’s Heads and Horns Building, this space would include a large collections storage area to provide safe, sustainable preservation conditions for our historical materials, proper fhich we currently lack) to host those consulting the collections as well as classes and small lectures, and a small exhibition area to showcase WCS’s historical treasures to invited audiences.  Continue reading