Collection Projects

Collection Management staff, volunteers and interns work to document, research and protect the museum's collection objects. Here is your chance to see what museum professionals are up to. Return periodically to learn about new projects.

Mass-digitization of the Sidney N. Shure Collection

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Highlighting the National Postal Museum’s mass-digitization Sidney N. Shure project.


The National Postal Museum has the second largest collection in all of the Smithsonian.

It's almost 6,000,000 objects and a majority of it consists of stamps.

If we can digitize the collection in high-resolution images and put it online

we can take the museum to you and you can start to see the collections and the stories.

The public would be interested to see the collections we have online

because it would help with their research and their educational goals but

also because some of these objects are really beautiful and they haven't been seen before.

There are millions of collectors around the world. We have right now hitting into

our website people from over 150 countries and they want to see rare objects and that's what we have here.

The Sidney N. Shure is a unique collection of Israeli and Palestinian stamps and covers.

Sidney Shure was interested in Israeli and Palestinian

relations during the post World War II era and he collected a lot of contemporary material

from that period and his stamps and covers really tell a history of what was going on in that region.

The Shure collection is a very, very large collection. It's a very, very important collection.

And the question always for us was, "How would you actually take something so big

and digitize it and show it to the world?"

And guess what? We have now succeeded in doing that with this rapid capture project.

Rapid capture is the process of digitizing objects in our collection at a mass scale.

We bring objects out of the self, digitize them, put them into all of our systems through automated processes

and they're all pushed out to our public websites in a matter of a 24 hour period.

To prepare a collection like the Sidney N. Shure collection for imaging

we take the albums out of storage, catalog them, wheel them upstairs,

remove the album pages from the binder, and set up the bar codes for each of those pages.

The camera systems we use for digitization are a significant change in the technology that's incorporated

but that means that the captured time is on the order of a fraction of a second.

For the imaging process, we have a carefully

worked-out recipe that maintains the quality that we're looking for.

We do several checks at least on a daily basis if not an individual object basis,

and that allows us to maintain the quality of those across large number of images that were doing.

So when the images are ready they get uploaded to the Smithsonian's digital

asset management system where it talks to our database and the images are

shared across those two systems and from there they go out to the Search Center.

We were able to image 3,500 album pages representing over 22,000 objects in just a week's time.

The public, when they go on the website, has an opportunity to see high-resolution images,

and also see the stories of each of the objects.

If you had to pick a collection that you want to image

and put online for the world to see, you come running to us.

Although we have a massive collection, and it's huge, you can actually move it through the technology portion of the imaging process fairly easily.

Yea, I'd like to someday see all of our 6,000,000 objects online.

By embarking on such a large digitization project, the Smithsonian is able

to not only preserve the history that we have within our walls, but we can promote it

to the public, make it available, and really look to the future about what sort of

research can continue at this wonderful institution.

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In February 2008, the National Postal Museum received a major Smithsonian grant to digitize its certified plate proof collection. In this video the Smithsonian Channel tells the story from start to finish.


These are absolutely unique.

It's the only set of this material in the world

and so it's really an irreplaceable collection,

a very valuable collection, both in terms of its uniqueness but as a resource for scholars.

A stamp, a little stamp is a window into the

history, heritage, and heroes of the United States.

It's very important, the images.

At one point in time the Bureau of Engraving

were the ones that actually produced all the stamps off of a final plate

and the final plate, it was kinda very important, a lot of people had to sign off

that that was the right image and the right stamp.

We ended up with probably about 40,000 of them here.

In particular researchers love to look at that.

It's hard to see it because it's in the vault and there are so many,

but we're now digitizing it and so they'll be able to do it online at very high resolution.

My name is Emily Smith and I am a contract Register here,

specifically working with the certified plate proof collection.

I'm in charge of the digitizing project.

Due to the large size of these objects it was hard for us to digitize them here ourselves.

So from the 2,000 objects that have been selected,

I break them into object packages and shipping packages.

Due to the extreme rarity of these pieces, they're one-of-a-kind,

they're extremely unique, we have to have a security escort whenever they

leave the building in order to go to the digitizing facility.

So once a week security comes to the National Postal Museum,

they pick me up, they take me to the digitizing facility,

we transfer the objects and we go through our checklist.

That's 5522?

We want to get the entire image,

all the edges and everything so they get the entire sheet.

So when this project is over, all those images will then go live on

and they'll have their own separate collection on there that researchers and the public can view.

But equally important is we're curating exhibits online.

We actually have visitors from 170 countries now.

And we've got an enormous population of visitors coming in online so we're

actually working two museums at the same time.