Helen Selsdon: Hi, I’m Helen Selsdon, the archivist at the American Foundation for the Blind. I’m going to introduce you to digital and physical archival collections and show you how to search and browse the Helen Keller archive. This archive is a fully accessible digital archive, which means it can be used by people who are blind, deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing as well as those who can see and hear. This archive is the world’s largest collection of materials by and about Helen Keller. Sometimes, I’ll ask you questions that will prompt you to try something new at home. Pause this video for as long as you need—I’ll still be here when you are done.
So, let’s get started! Do you have a collection? Many people do. I have a stamp collection! I’ve been collecting stamps since I was seven. Personal collections like this are a kind of archive. In its simplest form, archives are collections that you store and organize for later. For example, my stamp collection is organized by country and date. If you took your collection and organized it and then wrote a guide to help your friend search it, you would be running your archive like a pro.
So, let’s define an archive. To be an archive, a collection must be composed of unique documents, objects, and other artifacts; and must be organized to make sense of a collection so that people can find what they are looking for. An archive is sometimes organized by an institution, managed by archivists, and made available to researchers. It can tell us about a person, organization, or physical things. It is typically held and protected in a physical repository, but may be made accessible electronically via a digital platform. Most archives look like this.
But as the internet becomes a more important part of our lives, many archives are becoming digital. That means you can access many amazing artifacts and fascinating documents at your fingertips. Take a moment to think about what are the pros and cons of physical and digital archival collections. What can you do in a physical archive that you cannot do in a digital archive and vice versa. Pause this video to consider your answer. I bet you came up with a lot of great responses. Here are some of ours. In a physical archive you can have a hands-on encounter with the past. For example, how would it feel to see or read from the original Declaration of Independence at the National Archives in Washington D.C.
With a physical archive, you can flip through a folder more easily than loading a new page for every document. Unfortunately most archives are not digitized, so it’s still far easier to access many more items by visiting a physical collection. However, there are also many advantages to digital archival collections! Most importantly, they are accessible worldwide on the internet—you don’t have to travel to see what’s in the archive. Many are also keyword searchable. You can find what you are looking for in exactly the same way as you undertake a regular search on the internet. The digital Helen Keller Archive as well as other digital collections, have useful transcriptions and metadata often included. I’ll illustrate what metadata is shortly. These pieces of information help you understand the five (5) Ws: Who? What? When? Where? and Why? of the artifacts in the archive.
Finally, digital archival collections are more accessible to people with disabilities, including those with visual and hearing impairments. For example, the digital Helen Keller Archive allows users to change the text size and text color and provides description for multimedia including photographs, film, and audio. Right, let’s explore the digital Helen Keller Archival Collection! Do you know who Helen Keller was? Take a moment to think about what you’ve learned about Helen in the past. You probably know her as the child at the water pump. Or a sweet old lady. But this is to come away with a very limited understanding of her and what she accomplished. Helen fought for those with vision loss, but she was also a fighter for freedom of speech and the right of every individual to live in dignity. She was born in 1880 and died in 1968. During her long life she wrote over 14 books and hundreds of essays, she fought for workers’ rights, women’s rights, and the marginalized. For 44 years she worked at the American Foundation for the Blind, championing the rights of those with vision loss. She took her fight nationwide and to 39 countries around the globe. Helen Keller led the charge for changes in legislation, rehabilitation and education to assist those with visual impairments. And very importantly, she changed perceptions of blindness itself. She showed that a woman who is both deaf and blind has the same ability and an equal right to lead a happy and fulfilling life as her sighted and hearing peers.
Now, I’m going to show you how to use our archive. I’ll demonstrate how to browse and search the collection–then you can try at home! I am using a mouse, so that’s how I’ll give the instructions. But this is an accessible archive, so it should work and play well with any assistive technology you are using. Let’s start with “Browse.”
To go to the digital archive, w-w-w dot a-f-b dot org forward slash Helen Keller Archive. I hope you’re there. So, the Browse tool is a great way to explore the different types of materials contained in the archive. To start browsing, I go to the “Browse” tab at the top of the homepage. I then hover on the tab and three options appear: “Browse by Series” “Browse by Subject” and “Browse by Tags.”
I’ve selected the first option, “Browse by Series.” The Helen Keller Archive is arranged by types of material, known as “Series.” Series in the Helen Keller Archive include letters, photographs, artifacts, press clippings, and more. I want to find a photograph of Helen and her dogs, so I select Series 7: Photographic Material, and I click on this link. I then choose Sub Series 1: Photographs.
I again click on this link and a list of 61 boxes appears. These boxes are arranged by subject in alphabetical order. I’m going to choose Box 7, Folder 7. I have chosen the first item. Here we go, Box 7, Folder 7. I am choosing the first item in the folder. This is an image of Helen seated on a bench with a dog, possibly her pet dog Sieglende who is seated by her feet. He is gorgeous!
Scroll down to beneath the image and you will find all the rich information about the image. Both the transcription on the left hand side of the screen, here, and the metadata on the right.
The metadata includes technical and other descriptive information about the image such as the date the image was taken, the image size, format, photographer – where we know it, as well as subjects for this specific digital image. These subjects were selected by metadata assistants to help researchers locate information on a specific topic. In this instance the subject “Animal hyphen dog” was chosen. Now you try.
Follow the link again: w-w-w dot a-f-b dot org forward slash Helen Keller Archive. Alright, hover over the “Browse” tab. Choose “Browse by Series.” So, now you see all the ten series. Can you find an image of a boomerang that was a gift to Helen Keller? A couple of clues here. It is an image of an object. Which series contains images of three-dimensional objects?
Okay, so select one that you think might contain three-dimensional objects. Okay. The answer is “Artifacts” which is Series 8, and I’m clicking on it now. You can pause the video if you need to, and come back when you’ve found it.
Okay, now I’m going to illustrate how to do a simple keyword search. This is a great way to search the archive for topics you are already interested in. Maybe you’ve heard of the women’s suffrage movement. That’s when women fought for the right to vote. Helen Keller was a committed supporter of suffrage. Let’s find a document related to this topic.
I’m going to use the simple search term “suffrage.” Using the “Search” tab on the main page, I choose “Simple Search.” I go to “Simple Search.” I do “Clear Search” to make sure I’m doing a completely new search. And then, I type in the word “suffrage.” And, I hit search. You see I have 494 results it says for search results under “suffrage.” But, we want to refine that search.
I’m interested in the period from 1910 to 1919. So, on the left-hand side, I can choose by “Decade.” I’m clicking on “1910 to 1919.” I’m clicking on that, and I now have 101 results. Now you try.
Follow the link again, w-w-w dot a-f-b dot org forward slash Helen Keller Archive. Go to the Search tab. Choose “Simple Search.” Click on the “Search” tab. Clear your search. Then, we’re going to search for the word “pacifism.” Type in the word “pacifism.” Use the left-hand navigation column to refine your search. There are plenty of ways to do this again—by date, by subject, by place, and by person. Pause the video, and then come back when you’ve completed your search.
Finally, let’s learn to “Browse by Subject.” This tool allows you to find material in alphabetical order by topic. To start go to the “Browse” tab and select the “Browse by Subject” option. Okay. An enourmous list comes up. Unsurprisingly, “Blindness” is a large category. You will also find “France,” “Socialism,” “Tuberculosis.” It is extremely lengthy.
Feel free to use your controls as follows. For MAC, use “Command plus F.” For PC, use “Control plus F” to find your search term.
I’m going to use “Control plus F,” and I’m going to search for the term, “Buddhism.” Control F. Buddhism. And, up it comes. And this takes me to “Religion dash Buddhism.” Okay, I’m going to click on that term. And here, I’ve got three items that come up under that section. Now, it’s your turn.
So, follow this link again, w-w-w dot a-f-b dot org forward slash Helen Keller Archive. Hover over the “Browse” tab. And, again, select “Browse by Subject.”
So, now it’s your turn to pick a topic you care about and find out if it is represented in the archive using “Command” or “Control” [plus] “F.” Pause the video, and then come back when you’ve completed your search. We hope that your “Browse by Subject” search was a success, and you’ve discovered even more fascinating items in the Helen Keller archive!
And we hope that you’ve enjoyed learning how to navigate an online digital collection. And learned more about Helen’s life and her achievements in the process. And, tell others about this resource. And of course, if you have suggestions or comments, please feel free to contact me, Helen Selsdon, at h-s-e-l-s-d-o-n at a-f-b dot o-r-g. And thank you so much for taking part! Thank you.
A fully accessible digital collection from
the American Foundation for the Blind