Today, the State Archives of Florida reached a major milestone: Resident cataloger Tony Conigliaro officially cataloged the 200,000th digitized photograph from the Florida Photographic Collection on Florida Memory. In commemoration, we are digging into the Archives for a look back at the colorful history of the Florida Photographic Collection. We also interviewed Tony, and he explained more about his role in expanding digital public access to one of the most-used photographic collections in the country.
200,000 Copyright-free Images Online
All photographs available on Florida Memory are now offered under the Public Domain Mark Creative Commons license. Members of the public are encouraged to download and share the digitized archival images, provided they credit the State Archives of Florida. Higher resolution scans or prints of images can be ordered online using the shopping cart feature or by contacting staff at the Florida Photographic Archives via email FloridaMemoryStore@dos.myflorida.com or by phone at 850-245-6718.
About the 200,000th Photograph
For the symbolic 200,000th image, Archives staff selected this print of Harriet Beecher Stowe walking up the steps of Florida’s Old Capitol on April 10th, 1874. Though a copy negative of this photograph has been repeatedly used in publications, the original image was only recently discovered in the State Library. Stowe was an author and abolitionist who wrote the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851. After the Civil War, Stowe purchased a winter home in Mandarin, Florida, on the east bank of the St. Johns River, now a neighborhood of Jacksonville.
In April 1874, Stowe traveled with a group of Northern businessmen to the capital city of Tallahassee to encourage development and investment in Florida. Floridians graciously welcomed Stowe to the capital despite their general disagreement with her political opinions. This meeting on the Capitol steps was meant as a gesture of the South receiving the North. The photograph of the occasion was taken by Irish photographer A. G. Grant, who was hired by a Boston publishing company to capture images of interest for an upcoming publication about Florida.
The Florida Photographic Collection
Florida State University, 1952-1982
The Florida Photographic Collection dates back to 1947, when Allen C. Morris, the self-taught historian and well-known Associated Press political columnist and reporter, started writing the Florida Handbook as a reference for the Florida Legislature. The biennial publication, which is still published in a digital format today, contains current information on the history and government of Florida. Tasked with compiling an inviting and educational manual, Morris found himself on a constant quest to illustrate the book with corresponding pictures.
He sought out new images of all types whenever and wherever he could, often using his vast network in journalism, state politics, and industry to make new acquisitions. Within a few years, the collection had exceeded 50,000 photographs.
“The helpfulness of people, both in Florida and elsewhere, has been extremely gratifying,” Morris told the Miami Herald‘s Jeanne Bellamy in 1972. “[Donors] have cooperated to an unusual degree, placing their facilities at our disposal because of the rather general recognition that we are racing against the erosion of time to preserve scenes of lasting human value.”
In an effort to better preserve and organize the many priceless photographs, Morris established the Florida Photographic Collection at the Florida State University Library in 1952. There, Morris, along with other faculty and graduate students, began cataloging the photographs. He soon became known among the press, academic publishers, and the general public as the go-to-resource for printed images of Florida history. The video clip below documents officials from the Florida Development Commission donating promotional films to the archive at FSU in 1964.
Morris continued his oversight of the Florida Photographic Collection throughout the 1960s. In the middle of the decade, his first wife, Dorothy, who was dying of cancer, urged her husband to take a job with the Legislature. She reasoned that a change in careers would ease the longtime journalist’s transition after her death.
In 1966, Allen Morris became clerk of the Florida House of Representatives. That year, he also met graduate student Joan Perry while working in the photographic collection. The couple wed shortly thereafter. Wanting to focus more of his attention on his responsibilities at the Capitol, Morris eventually stepped down from his role at the archives. In 1970, archivist Joan Perry Morris became the director of the Florida Photographic Collection.
State Archives of Florida, 1982-Present
During Joan’s tenure, the collection grew to include over one million images of Florida-related people, places, flora, fauna and other items of interest. As the collection continued to grow, Morris sought a new space for the photographs. In 1982, the State Archives of Florida acquired the entirety of the Florida Photographic Collection.
At the state repository, Joan Morris, her photographic assistant Jody Norman and many other archivists on staff continued the work of building and preserving the photographic record of Florida’s history and culture.
The Florida Memory Program, 1994-Present
By the early 1990s, the photo collection had become so popular that requests for copies and scans of photographs accounted for over half of all reference requests at the State Archives. The solution? The internet and its unprecedented ability to provide remote access to information.
In 1993, Joan and her team applied for federal grant funding from the Library Services and Construction Act (now known as the Library Services and Technology Act) and launched the Florida Photographic Collection Electronic Imaging Project in 1994. They developed a plan for digitizing the Florida Photographic Collection and making the photos searchable online. During the digitization project’s first year, over 5,000 images from the Florida Photographic Collection were scanned and put online.
In 2000, the project was renamed the Florida Memory Program, and it has been hailed as one of the state’s best resources for connecting Floridians with their history.
Florida Memory has received several awards in recognition of its public value, including the Society of American Archivists’ 2015 Archival Innovator Award.
As the speed and precision of technology improves, Florida Memory continues to increase access to the historically significant holdings of the State Library and Archives of Florida.
Today, the program keeps an impressive pace, digitizing 100 new photographs each week. And in addition to featuring 200,000 searchable Florida photographs, the website has also expanded to include over 300,000 documents, 250 videos and 2,900 audio recordings, as well as online educational units. Because of Florida Memory’s wide reach, the Florida Photographic Collection receives daily requests from newswires, magazines, interior designers and average citizens from all every corner of the country. They even have a large international customer base.
Our Cataloger Tony on the Ins and Outs of Florida Memory’s Photographs
The ability to quickly search through our online catalog of images is a huge time saver, especially compared to the tedium of thumbing through a traditional card catalog. But, real-life archivists like Tony Conigliaro are usually sitting on the other side of the screen, researching, fact-checking, and cataloging images to optimize your search results on Florida Memory. Here’s what he has to say about how it all happens:
- How long have you been working as a cataloger for the State Archives?
[About twenty years.] I started work as a part-time scanner in 1997 until I became a cataloger in 1999.
- What is your academic background? How and why did you first become interested in cataloging work?
I have a master’s in library and information science from Florida State University. I think my interest in archives [grew] over time. I’ve always liked libraries since my youth (they’re so quiet and clean!) and I enjoyed scanning images and learning Photoshop.
But when I began cataloging I thought of myself as kind of an information conduit/provider and more data-entry librarian than archivist. I’ve never done any collection/preservation work but appreciate the fact that these historical items are being made more readily available for researchers and the general public.
I suppose [that as my] appreciation grew, my interest in archival work and the great efforts of archives staff also grew. I’ve heard a few times of patrons who have come across an image, of an ancestor, they never knew existed which just makes my appreciation and interest grow all the more!
- What steps are involved in cataloging a photo on Florida Memory?
It’s really just a matter of filling in each field with appropriate data and adding additional fields when needed or subtracting fields if there are too many. For instance, every record should have data in the fields for “Title” & “Date”, and they do, but each record ought to have data in the “Subject” field to describe what the photo is about and provide keywords, based on a controlled vocabulary list provided by the Library of Congress (or other authorized source), for users to retrieve the digitized image.
- How do you identify people and places in photographs?
Fortunately the overwhelming majority are identified by donors. [O]thers are just from familiarity — once Jody [my former boss] was weeding through some political images and held one up to ask me who it was, I looked over and said “Dewey Macon Johnson,” who was State Senate President in 1959.
[Sometimes] I’ll also grab the loupe (a small magnification device) to look for clues, like road signs, store signs, or any other identifying information. Then I scour the internet, check out the city directories, newspaper microfilm or other library resources. The loupe also helps [to determine] the date of the image as well, especially if it shows an automobile as I can find out the date it was first manufactured. I also make extensive use of the expertise of the smart people around me!
- How many photographs do you think you’ve cataloged for Florida Memory?
I think I have scanned about 88,000 photos. I’ve never done less than 5,000 per year since 2001.
- What is the biggest challenge of your job? What do you like most about your job?
The most challenging aspect is researching images with a lack of accompanying identifications or cryptic/incomplete info. These sometimes also happen to be the most fun.
I suppose I find getting answers to be the most satisfying. Fitting in pieces of information like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes just tracking down the make and model of a car to pinpoint the earliest start date of an image, other times locating a store’s sign in the city directory to pinpoint the street location. I like getting the answers most and being able to provide that information to interested users.
- What is your favorite photograph in the collection, and why?
[That’s] like asking me to pick my favorite kid – no way! I have a bit of fondness for Political, specifically 1950s, as that’s where I began and was trained. They’re real concrete with bios and dates and over the years some of the faces have become somewhat familiar. Some of the humorous/odd photographs are interesting: C660217, Rc04621 (diner title), C003016 (not where I’d want to find myself!) The Tampa skyline and aerial shots I think are attractive. Appears to be a good looking city. The Dale McDonald collection – it’s the first collection that I’ve been the sole cataloger of so it’s kind of special to me and he was a great photographer. Festivals & parades come to mind as they seem to be held just about everywhere in the state so they kind of include something for everyone which I find to be rather special.
- Why do you think the photographs in the Florida Photographic Collection are so significant? In your opinion, what are the benefits of digitizing so many of them on a website like Florida Memory?
They are unique, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind treasures documenting historical facts! I don’t think I can even fathom all the ways they may be able to touch or affect users if given a chance.
I believe digitization improves accessibility immensely and each image can present a new perspective and provide additional information for users. I don’t think there can ever be enough digitized photographs.
For more information about Stowe’s visit to Tallahassee see Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Stowe’s Visit to Planter Florida,” in Calling Yankees to Florida: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Forgotten Tourist Articles, ed. John T. Foster Jr. and Sarah Whitmer Foster (Cocoa, Florida: The Florida Historical Society Press, 2011), 85-91.