John Nemmers

By Hayes Smith
February 2012

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Digitizing Large-Format Architectural Plans

Project Leader Commentary by John Nemmers

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In 2010, Flagler College and the University of Florida (UF) were awarded a Save America’s Treasures grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities to preserve and provide access to architectural drawings for the National Historic Landmark Hotel Ponce de Leon (1885-1887) and the Memorial Presbyterian Church (1889-1890) in St. Augustine, Florida. During this two-year project, the UF Smathers Libraries are conserving and digitizing an irreplaceable collection of the earliest architectural drawings of the Carrère & Hastings firm. The drawings were created for the oil and railroad tycoon Henry Flagler beginning in the 1880s, but the majority of the drawings subsequently had been “lost” for decades. The few people who knew of their existence were unaware of their historical significance, and the drawings remained stored for years in a boiler room under high Florida temperatures and humidity, and exposed to insects and rodents.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 This treasure trove remained unknown and endangered until its rediscovery in 2004 at Flagler College. To ensure that the drawings are protected and accessible to researchers, the drawings were deposited in 2005 in the UF Architecture Archives, a unit of Special & Area Studies Collections. Comprised of over 260 fragile objects, the St. Augustine collection includes original drawings on cloth, silk, and paper, and a variety of blueprints, diazotypes, and other reproductions. Sizes range from eight by eight inches to over four by eight feet. Many of the drawings could not be unrolled or handled because they were literally crumbling on the shelves; it is very likely that some of these drawings had not been unrolled since they were last used in the 1890s. The grant funding has enabled UF to hire personnel and supplies to properly conserve and digitize all of the drawings.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The UF Digital Library Center (DLC) has an excellent track record employing students to digitize materials in all formats and conditions. One undergraduate student, James (Jimmy) Barnett, already had experience digitizing architectural drawings in the DLC, so we were happy to hire him as the imaging technician for this project. We knew that we could trust Jimmy to handle the items properly during imaging, which is crucial since many of the drawings are in extremely poor condition and are over eight feet long. Moreover, with his background and coursework in art we were confident that Jimmy could appreciate the drawings as cultural objects and be sensitive to the techniques and media used to produce them. Our trust was well placed, and Jimmy has been an exemplary steward of the drawings placed temporarily in his custody.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In planning for this project, there was no hesitation about employing an undergraduate student to work with fragile drawings. The archivists and curators in Special Collections have long relied on undergraduate students to assist with processing, research, and outreach activities. We offer an internship course through the History Department, and we have had great success retaining former interns as either paid employees or volunteers. We are able to maintain a pool of highly-trained, motivated assistants, and the students gain practical experience working with historical records. Several of these students have gone on to pursue archives, library, or public history master’s degrees. But regardless of their educational and career paths, we have found that many undergraduate students truly appreciate the value of cultural heritage materials, and many, such as Jimmy, can be trusted to treat them with the care they require.

John Nemmers
Project Leader Commentary

John Nemmers

Descriptive and Technical Services Archivist, George A. Smathers Libraries – University of Florida

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