History for the new age: Thousands of photos turned digital

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COURTESY WSU MASC

KWSC football recreation vs. Baylor

MADYSEN MCLAIN, Evergreen reporter

A photo can last 500 years if it’s stored properly, but its access is limited to in-person. 

“I love to have the physical book in hand, but a lot of times, that’s not possible,” Lipi Turner-Rahman, Kimble Digitization Center manager, said. “This whole episode [COVID-19] now is showing us that it’s really important to have digital collections.”

WSU employees and students at the Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections have scanned 10,000 photos from the WSU press photo collection so far to make them available digitally, she said.

The MASC received funding in November from donors to begin the project. The collection dates back from 1948 to 1983 with subjects ranging from football games to students around campus.

The photos already online don’t include the half a million other items waiting to be scanned, Turner-Rahman said.

With the exception of one, every collection is available for public viewing.

“You end up finding these interesting stories and then there are some others that just end up being complete mysteries,” WSU Archivist Mark O’English said.

About 30 WSU students are responsible for scanning the physical copies of these photos, entering the metadata and making sure the resolution is good quality, Turner-Rahman said.

Since the physical location for the MASC is closed, students are now utilizing Skillsoft, software available for WSU employees to learn skills such as Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office, she said.

When O’English was working to describe some of the WSU press photos, he came across 10 pictures where he couldn’t figure out who was in them. The description only included three words.

“They’ve been sitting downstairs in the basement,” O’English said. “There were minimal physical descriptions.”

O’English published the photos on the WSU MASC Facebook page to see if they could find out who was in the photos, and almost immediately, he was contacted by a person who was involved.

Turns out, O’English said, the WSU football team traveled down to Waco, Texas to play a game. The radio team could not easily travel with the team, so instead, they would get the play-by-play records by teletype then they would recreate the game.

One of the people in the photos turned out to be Keith Jackson. The photos were originally from the WSC photo services in the 1950s.

Among the other 70 MASC digital collections, is the Japanese American Incarceration Collection. 

George and Frank V. Hirahara took over 2,000 photos of Japanese families living in the Idaho internment camp from 1943 to 1945. The camp was titled the Heart Moutain Relocation Center.

“Some are really heartbreaking ones of Japanese American students are of celebrating a graduation,” Turner-Rahman said.

She said one of her students from Taiwan wanted to scan a box of documents about China because she wanted to learn more about her heritage. The student wanted to get a different perspective about China and Taiwan besides what was taught in her history books growing up.

Another one of Turner-Rahman’s student workers found a particularly strange discovery.

The student was working on scanning a box of animal science documents from the 1930s. Within the documents, the student found that Washington State College worked on creating a unicorn, she said. The ‘unicorn’ was made of a horse with a transplanted horn.

“It actually gives you an insight into the way that people were and things that they felt were important to preserve that value in their life,” Turner-Rahman said.