At-risk collections are preserved with USHRAB funding

Mahala Ruddell Utah State Historical Records Advisory Board

The Park City Museum in Park City, UT was awarded grant funding from the Utah State Historical Records Advisory Board (USHRAB) in October 2018. The Museum received $7,500 to digitize negatives from the Kendall Webb Photograph Collection.

Kendall Webb was a longtime resident of Park City. Originally from West Virginia, he moved to Park City in 1946 and earned his living as a professional photographer. He documented high school football games, basketball games, dances, and more. For decades he took all the portraits for the Park City’s school yearbooks. He also consistently photographed weddings, parades, church events, and social groups such as the Women’s Athenaeum, the Kiwanis Club, and the Boy Scouts.

High school basketball game
Park City High School basketball game, 1953. Kendall Webb Collection, 1945-1954, Hal Compton Research Library and Archives, Park City Historical Society and Museum, Park City, Utah.

The Museum’s collection of Kendall Webb’s photographs contains a large number of acetate negatives. This format is exceedingly fragile, often crumbling, fading, and releasing acetic acid, which can cause an acrid smell similar to that of vinegar. Because there is no standard for halting or reversing the degradation of acetate film, the first priority for archivists and museum staff becomes to slow the process and preserve the image on the film.

The Park City Museum utilized the funding it received from the USHRAB to contract the University of Utah’s Marriott Library to digitize a portion of their large collection of Webb’s negatives, focusing on the earliest negatives dating from 1946-1954. Museum staff created metadata, and digital preservation staff at the University digitized the negatives, ingesting digital master files into their Digital Preservation System for long-term storage and preservation. The Museum maintains access files and has partnered with the Mountain West Digital Library to host these access files online for the public.

The project was successful and though some of the film had already suffered significant degradation, the images that remained on even the most damaged negatives have been saved. The Museum also prepared the collection for permanent cold storage, which will slow the degradation process significantly.

Portrait of three young children
An example of the type of degradation that can occur with acetate film is visible in this digitized image of the Adamson family taken in 1954. Damage to acetate film is inevitable and cannot be halted or reversed. Cold storage significantly slows the process and digitization preserves the image. Thanks to the Museum’s hard work and support from the USHRAB, this image, though damaged, has not been lost. Kendall Webb Collection, 1945-1954, Hal Compton Research Library and Archives, Park City Historical Society and Museum, Park City, Utah.

The Museum successfully applied for a second USHRAB grant in 2019 in order to digitize the next batch of negatives, dating from 1955-1959, and is currently working on preserving these images as well.

As of February 2020, nearly 3,000 images from the Kendall Webb Collection are available on the Mountain West Digital Library

The USHRAB assists public and private nonprofit organizations throughout the state in the acquisition, preservation, and use of records of enduring value. Its re-grant program is funded through a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.