In October 2003, the entire surviving photographic archive of Ames’ newspaper of record, the Ames Tribune, was permanently deposited with the Ames Historical Society. Under the agreement of transfer, The Tribune retains ownership and copyright of the archive and the Society assumes custody for preservation, organization, indexing, and access.
The Archive contains both published and unpublished photographs taken by Tribune photographers to accompany local news stories. These photos are often the sole surviving originals. As such, they document the community’s accomplishments and failures, business and commerce activities, triumphs and disappointments of sporting events, as well as countless examples of individual joy and pain.
The Archive consists of :
This wrinkled surface characterizes deterioration of early safety film.
The 4 x 5” negatives suffer from varying degrees of deterioration. Approximately 2,200 are in an advanced state of emulsion/base separation with consequent wrinkling.
Although the film base is cellulose acetate, the thin, adhesive layer binding the base to the gelatin emulsion is cellulose nitrate. When this type of negative is stored in warm ambient temperatures, deterioration occurs. The base shrinks and separates from the emulsion in channels, creating random ripples in the film. Nitrate dioxide in the middle layer combines with residual moisture to form nitric acid, and gas bubbles form that are trapped between base and emulsion layers.
About 11,000 negatives have not yet reached emulsion/base separation, but do exhibit the classic “vinegar syndrome.” This term is applied to a type of deterioration found in acetate and triacetate safety film. When cellulose acetate replaced cellulose nitrate as a film base for safety reasons around 1951, it was thought that the acetate base would also be less vulnerable to deterioration. Although this was mostly the case, in the 1980s scientists began researching obvious film base deterioration and accompanying vinegar odor. Essentially, the chemical reaction that created cellulose triacetate from cellulose and acetic acid occurs in reverse (deacetylation). By hydrolysis, acetate reacts with moisture to form acetic acid with its identifiable vinegar odor. Once this reaction starts, it cannot be stopped, and in fact, speeds up. Besides damaging the base, the acid can cause deterioration of the image as well.
It is essential to stabilize the negatives and slow deterioration by lowering the ambient temperature. Current best practice involves placing affected negatives in acid-free envelopes and boxes and keeping them in a cool environment. To further extend the life of the film, a “molecular sieve” is included to absorb moisture and acetic acid. Seriously deteriorating negatives still off-gassing are kept in a separate room with constant ventilation. As negatives are sorted, identified, labeled, and given ID numbers, important images are selected for digital scanning. Scans are saved onto working and archival CDs. For added security, remote hard drives are stored offsite. The advantages of digitization are obvious. Digitized images may be improved in appearance by tweaking contrast, intensity etc. and removing minor surface debris. Digital reformatting also allows considerably enhanced access by users for research, exhibits, publication and programming, particularly PowerPoint presentations. Importantly, images made available through the Internet may be accessed remotely by researchers and users anywhere there is connectivity, thus revolutionizing historical and genealogical research.
The downside of “digital preservation” is not quite as obvious. While commonly believed to be the ultimate process for extending longevity, realistically it is much less. In fact, pundits have come to cite the term as an oxymoron. It’s well known that digital files can be corrupted, and that the technology for reading them can rapidly become obsolete. CDs, often thought to be indestructible, are adversely affected by oxidation, stray magnetic fields, humidity and decomposition. Without vintage equipment, some audio and video media are unplayable, e.g. 8-track audio tapes, Betamax videos. Even computer files may need obsolete equipment and software to be readable, e.g. 5 ¼” and 3 ½” disks. Thus, archives must either constantly migrate files to current storage media or eventually lose content. For digital photos, paper prints created using stable ink on archival lignin and acid-free paper are still considered as having the longest life span. Therefore, the most significant images in the photo archive are being printed to meet archival standards.
The collection is in the process of being preserved and cataloged as time and funding permit. All information obtained through examination of the negatives and comparison to any published images is noted. Microfilm reels of The Tribune are searched at the Ames Public Library to discover any articles using the photos, and printouts are made and filed. PastPerfect Museum Software, approved by the American Association of State and Local History, is used for cataloging the images. Headlines, captions, descriptions and index terms are entered for each photo. Patron requests are addressed by a mediated search of the online file of scanned images and the cataloging database by authorized staff.
Most of the early images lack identification. Volunteers are therefore being solicited to help identify people, places, events, etc. in the images. Volunteers may personally recognize someone or something in a negative, but can also help by searching the microfilmed Tribune by date and recording captions for corresponding images. This type of sleuthing is always exciting and rewarding since the results leave a legacy for the cultural health of the entire community, and enhance our sense of place.
Images are shared with the public via our website, exhibits, programs and publications, especially The Tribune’s weekly historical photos published as part of the “From the Archives” series. The Tribune retains sole and exclusive copyright interest in all photographs, but this does not exclude individuals from obtaining images for their personal use. Prints may be made from negatives in the collection by filling out the request form (pdf) available online or at the Society’s headquarters. Typical options are digital or print.
Commercial use or publication may be possible upon request by writing in advance to The Tribune. If approved, commercial use or publication of a photo may be subject to additional restrictions and fees imposed by The Tribune. The prescribed credit line will read: “Ames Tribune photo by xxxxxxxxxxxx, courtesy of Ames Historical Society, © Ames Tribune. All Rights Reserved.”
Ames Historical Collection - Rural Life Heritage Collection