About six or seven years ago, while working for the Cradle of Aviation Museum as the curatorial assistant and collections registrar, curator Josh Stoff asked me to develop and implement an online digital archive of the Museum’s significant and extraordinary photo archive. With prints numbering in the tens of thousands and I essentially’ flying solo,’ save for the assistance of only one volunteer in the curatorial department, the project seemed absolutely insurmountable at the time.
But fortunately, as I began to research a possible digital platform on which to place the archive, my one volunteer and ‘wingman,’ Joel Friedman, stepped forward and began the process of digitally scanning each print individually at high resolution, saving each file with their metadata and catalog number onto an external hard drive. As a dedicated museum volunteer and a passionate aviation buff and historian, each week, Joel would retrieve archival files laden with prints of all sizes that had been previously sleeved, cataloged, and stored in the drawers of the archive’s tall and wide steel storage cabinets. Upon completion of scanning, the physical files were returned to the archive and placed back into their respective files. Thereafter, the digital files were uploaded onto the archive’s computer catalog, and from there, the files would be ready to place onto a digital platform by me.
After researching several resources on which to ‘house’ the museum’s digital archive, I contacted the non-profit Long Island Library Resources Council (LILRC). The LILRC is one of New York’s nine Library Resources Systems. It is a regional multi-type library organization serving academic, special, public, and school libraries and library systems in Nassau and Suffolk counties whose purpose is to enhance access to information, encourage resource sharing and promote library interests for all LILRC members.
In 2017 the Cradle of Aviation Museum became a member of the LILRC, and with the assistance of LILRC’s Digitization and Archives coordinator, Nicole Menchise, the museum’s photo archive was placed within the New York Heritage Digital Collections. New York Heritage Digital Collections features a broad range of materials that present a glimpse into New York State’s history and culture. Over 350 libraries, museums, archives, and other cultural institutions make their collections available in their repository.
In the years since the Cradle of Aviation’s membership with LILRC and the presence of the museum’s digital archive on New York Heritage Digital Collections, the process of uploading the 32,018 digital images that are now accessible online has taken many years, and with extreme attention to detail and care. In time, with thousands of prints yet to be digitized, another volunteer assisted in scanning and identifying those not previously cataloged.
The Cradle of Aviation Museum digital collection is comprised of twelve categories that all relate to Long Island aviation: Long Island Airfields; Long Island Manufacturers; Personalities; The John Drennan Collection; Grumman, Republic Aviation; Sperry; Seversky, Curtiss, Airliners, Spaceflight & Aerials, Airplanes, Eclectic Aviation!
Although my employment at the museum was halted in 2020, along with the digitization project, due to the Covid pandemic, the effort to upload the remaining thousands of images onto the digital archive was still a work in progress. So, once again at the curator’s request, I recently resumed my work on the collection as an independent registrar and digital archivist out of the comfort of my home.
The archive is a historic visual archive of aviation, aviators, and everything aeronautical, and their images NEVER cease to amaze me! And I think I can speak on behalf of Cradle of Aviation Museum curator Josh Stoff, volunteer Joel Friedman, and myself when I say that the work on this archive and its preservation remains a labor of love.