HThe Smithsonian has 20 different museums, each with its own library, and over the past two decades the staff has digitized almost 40,000 of the institution’s volumes. That adds up to a whopping 14 million pages of rich, historical material, covering everything from biodiversity to the history of aeronautics to African art. Problem is, most people don’t realize that this wealth of (free!) information is available to the public.
To stoke public interest in the material, some of the Smithsonian Libraries’ staff have harnessed the magnetism of the GIF. For about a year now, animated versions of the archives have been popping up on the library’s social media channels. It’s a neat little hack: Richard Naples, the technical information specialist who makes them, looks for digitized images with simple backgrounds that can be easily chopped, copied, pasted, and animated into a few frames in Photoshop. Like any good librarian, Naples has a consummate, comprehensive knowledge of the images at hand. From there, it’s just a matter of “browsing through, looking for anything that might be compelling to tell a little story,” he says. “It’s what it was like to be a child, and the way you imagine things coming to life.”
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