#tbt SYMBOL-2R computer

This week is Preservation Week – an annual week devoted to raising awareness about the preservation needs of collections. Since I am the Digital Initiatives Archivist, I thought I would make this week’s throwback thursday about computer history here at Iowa State.

I’ve blogged previously about the Cyclone Computer and Electronic Records Day. Today I’m focusing on the SYMBOL-2R computer. In 1970, when the computer was purchased, people used terminals that connected to a central mainframe rather than each person having their own computer. Simultaneous users at multiple terminals were accommodated by timesharing – the rapid switching of the computer’s attention between different processing jobs. The claim to fame for SYMBOL was its use of specialized hardware processors that negated the need for layers of software. By doing so, it sped up timesharing.

“To prove that many “software” functions could profitably be transferred to hardware, SYMBOL-2R was built as a pure hardware implementation, not only of a high-level programming language, but of a multi-terminal timesharing system; operable in the complete absence of system software.”

– Hamilton Richards, Jr. “Controlled Information Sharing in the SYMBOL-2R Computer System” (doctoral dissertation, Iowa State University, 1976), page 3.

Although the library doesn’t have the actual SYMBOL-2R and has no digital files related to the system, the university archives is preserving the documentation, such as the manual shown above, that can be used to maintain the knowledge required to create the computer. To help preserve this material, the archives replaced the rubber band holding the note cards together with a soft cloth tie. The polaroid shown above was peeling and getting damaged, so we placed it in a protective sleeve. All materials are stored in a cool environment in protective acid-free boxes. If you’d like to learn how to care for your own materials check out “Caring for Your Treasures.”

Learn more about computing history at Iowa State at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and in RS 11/6 in the Special Collections and University Archives Department.


Cutting and pasting: alumni scrapbooks

A trip to your local craft store will tell you that scrapbooking is a popular American activity. But this is not just a recent phenomenon. In fact, scrapbooking has been popular for the last century or more, and this is made evident by the number of alumni scrapbooks we have here in the University Archives.

Scrapbooks provide a unique window into the history and culture of a time period. They save many of the things that would otherwise be lost to time, such as newspaper clippings, dance cards, theatre programs, and flyers. Early 20th century Iowa State College students, like many of their cohort around the country, kept scrapbooks to capture their experiences and memories of the fun times they spent outside of classes.

Pages from the Raymond T. Benson Scrapbook, RS 21/7/81, showing dance cards and sports score charts, circa 1913-1919.

Pages from the Raymond T. Benson Scrapbook, RS 21/7/81, showing dance cards and sports score charts, circa 1913-1919.

Scrapbooks also capture the larger historical and cultural environment in which the individuals lived out their lives, such as the scrapbook below from Mary (Graf) Speer, who attended Iowa State College in the 1940s. The first page of her scrapbook includes a newspaper front page headline proclaiming victory in Europe during World War II–obviously a huge concern to the students of the day, who had friends and family members fighting both in Europe and in the Pacific Theater.

From Mary E. (Graf) Speer Scrapbook, RS 21/7/250, 1945.

From Mary E. (Graf) Speer Scrapbook, RS 21/7/250, 1945.

Raymond T. Benson’s scrapbook from World War I documents the military activity on campus.

Page from Raymond T. Benson Scrapbook, RS 21/7/81.

Page from Raymond T. Benson Scrapbook, RS 21/7/81.

Scrapbooks also present unique challenges to archivists in terms of storage and preservation. Because scrapbooks often contain 3 dimensional objects, this can strain the binding, as with Raymond T. Benson’s Scrapbook below.

Cover of Raymond T. Benson Scrapbook, RS 21/7/81.

Cover of Raymond T. Benson Scrapbook, RS 21/7/81.

While the photograph above shows a scrapbook placed in a box to protect it, other scrapbooks required more extensive housing treatments. Mary Graf Speer’s scrapbook came to the archives missing a cover, so spacers were placed inside the box to keep the individual pages together, while some material was removed to a separate folder.

Mary E. (Graf) Speer Scrapbook, RS 21/7/250, in box with spacers and separated material in folder.

Mary E. (Graf) Speer Scrapbook, RS 21/7/250, in box with spacers and separated material in folder.

Sometimes a scrapbook needs special treatment, not because it is in bad condition, but in order to keep it pristine. Lottie M. Rogers, who attended Iowa State College in 1901-1902, created a beautiful scrapbook. Library conservators created a special box to maintain it in its originally beautiful condition.

Lottie M. Rogers Scrapbook, RS 21/7/149, circa 1901.

Lottie M. Rogers Scrapbook, RS 21/7/149, circa 1901.

Box created to house the Lottie M. Rogers Scrapbook.

Box created to house the Lottie M. Rogers Scrapbook.

More alumni scrapbooks and other papers can be found in RS 21/7, Alumni and Former Students.


Pass It On: Saving Heritage and Memories

This week (May 9-15) is the American Library Association’s first annual Preservation Week.  In honor of preservation week, the library’s preservation department has selected and shown a variety of preservation related videos for staff here at Parks Library.  To find out more about these videos, please visit the preservation department’s blog.  Most of the films are available for viewing on the web.  The American Library Association has also provided links to a variety of preservation-related videos.  Below is an amusing video, also available on the ALA website, from Kansas State University Library demonstrating simple steps one can take to help preserve physical materials…and hopefully makes it clear why visitors to the Special Collections Department are not allowed to bring food and drink in with them!

The Special Collections Department works very closely with our preservation department to make sure that our collections and rare books will be around for generations to come.  However, it is also important for these documents and books to be well-cared for before they come to our department, and it is not uncommon for us to receive questions from patrons on suggestions for storing and caring for artifacts and documents people wish to preserve.  The American Library Association has put together a wonderful listing of useful websites to help answer these questions, and if you’re interested in preserving your materials or would like to find out more about conservation work, I highly recommend you visit at least a few of these sites.  Most of the sites provided address the preservation of physical objects.  However, since computers have become an often vital aspect of our daily lives, the preservation of digital files has become more and more important.  The Library of Congress provides a guide for people to preserve their digital files in a variety of formats, including e-mail, digital images, videos, audio, and websites.  Below this guide are a variety of additional resources including a video, slideshow and quiz.  And if you would like to find out about how professionals are grappling with the difficult issues of digital preservation, the menu at the left provides links to video and audio discussions, in addition to other resources.  One way the Special Collections Department is preserving digital information is through Archive-It, a web preservation program.  You can view preserved websites of Iowa State University here.