Crowley Digitizes 15 Volumes from the Mount Vernon Historical Collection
As we celebrate President’s Day this week, we look back to the one who started it all; George Washington. The man who led our troops to victory in the Revolutionary war and helped shape 13 orphaned colonies into the United States of America. His ideals contributed to the foundation of the Constitution and have stood as a moral benchmark for the evolution of the country. Over two centuries after his death, we are now able to celebrate his life by seeing his ephemera on display at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.
GEORGE FINALLY GETS HIS LIBRARY
Opened last fall, the Fred W. Smith National Library is located in Alexandria, Virginia on Washington’s family estate, Mount Vernon. As mentioned in this MSNBC article announcing the library opening, Washington had long thought to preserve his work in a similar manner, stating in a 1797 letter to James Henry, “I have not houses to build, except one, which I must erect for the accommodation and security of my military, civil and private papers, which are voluminous and may be interesting.”
Crowley Imaging representative Meghan Wyatt was invited to visit the library last month and saw first-hand the expansive historical collection gathered there for the public to enjoy. Wyatt recalls, “One of the most fascinating parts of the collection was a recreation of Washington’s personal library – original volumes owned by Washington and his heirs that were bought at auction and brought back to Mount Vernon.” Several volumes of this kind were recently added to the collection. Wyatt’s interest in the library’s collection was sparked when she managed the Crowley Imaging book digitization project for the Mount Vernon Estates and Gardens in 2010.
SCANNING THE OTHER WASHINGTONS
The Mount Vernon estates and library are owned and maintained by a non-profit organization called the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, proclaimed as “the oldest national historic preservation organization in the country.” In an effort to preserve and allow access to all artifacts pertaining to the life of George Washington, the Ladies’ Association sought to digitize parts of the collection. Crowley Imaging was selected to scan 15 volumes, approximately 2500 pages, from the Mount Vernon Historical Collection including music books, diaries, ledgers and account books, several of which belonged to members of Washington’s family:
- Two music books belonging to Eleanor Parke Custis (Martha Washington’s granddaughter)
- Diary of John Augustine Washington (George’s brother) dating from March 1852 to January 1856
- John Augustine Washington Ledger C, 1774-1789
- John Augustine Washington Farm Book, 1842
Special Collections Librarian Michele Lee notes, “The materials in this collection are often requested by researchers because they document the daily routine of life at Mount Vernon or life for the Washington family. Due to their fragile nature, however, they have been subject to very limited access over the years. This digitization effort allows researchers to obtain the content needed to explore the Washington family and Mount Vernon while preserving the originals for generations to come.”
Because the items are unique and rare, experienced book scanner operators digitized a few volumes from the collection at a time under the supervision and advisement of Mount Vernon staff. Lee, one of the few to supervise the project, recalls, “This particular project was interesting because we worked side-by-side with the Crowley team throughout — we oversaw the handling of the materials and in many cases handled these rare and fragile materials ourselves, while the Crowley team provided the expertise and technology necessary to achieve archival quality scans. It was a true team effort and we are grateful to the Crowley team for their appreciation of these unique historical materials.”
The book scanning was performed on a Zeutschel planetary scanner, which has an overhead camera that is ideal for fragile or light-sensitive material. The images were scanned in color at 300 dpi resolution and saved as uncompressed TIFF files with metadata to an external hard drive, which was returned to Mount Vernon with the originals. The images are not yet available online, but the Fred W. Smith Library staff is working to make them and others in the collection available in the very near future. While not currently on display, many of the original volumes have been on display in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center at Mount Vernon. “To preserve and protect the pieces,” states Lee, “some will not go on display again for several years and so the digital version will allow people to still see and use the materials for their research.”
Questions about digitizing for preservation or wider access?
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