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July 2020: Updates from the Archives: Morton Family Correspondence

An old black and while photograph of Jean and Morton Lattner in the winter with a dog named Ming.

A photograph of Jean and Morton Lattner with their dog, Ming. This photograph was found in an envelope within the Collection of Morton Family Materials. 


Updates from the Archives: Morton Family Correspondence

One of the prominent collections housed in the Sterling Morton Library is the Collection of Morton Family Materials. This collection includes biographical information on the family of Arboretum founder Joy Morton, including his parents Julius Sterling and Caroline, and his brothers Paul, Mark, and Carl Morton and their families including chronologies, correspondence, speeches, clippings, scrapbooks, ledgers, photographs, and family objects. 
With the Arboretum’s centennial approaching in 2022, library staff and volunteers have been making a concerted effort to digitize and make accessible an assortment of materials related to the Morton family and the Arboretum’s infancy. 
Even though the collection has already been processed into the archives, there are still three major elements left in making the materials visible on ACORN, the library’s collection management system. These three steps include: scanning individual documents/materials, cataloging the materials, and then transcribing materials that were either handwritten or illegible. 
Prior to scanning, cataloging, and transcribing is processing. Archival processing refers to how a collection is prepared for physical use. In the case of the Collection of Morton Family Materials, this included rehousing the materials into acid free folders and boxes, organizing their contents, and inputting metadata into a finding aid that users could reference to find materials within the collection. 
After processing takes place, the next step is scanning the materials for access and preservation purposes. Scanning, in this case, involves using a flatbed scanner to individually digitize each item in the collection. The person scanning (either a library staff member or library volunteer) goes through each item in the box and scans them one-by-one, ensuring that a digital file is created for each individual document or material. 
The next step in the process of getting these materials available in ACORN is cataloging them. After scanning an entire folder (each archival box contains anywhere from 20-75 folders) a library staff member will ingest the digital files into ACORN. When originally ingested, the only information that the record will contain is the file name of the material ingested and its digital file. It is up to the cataloger (usually a library staff member or practicum student) to derive additional information, or metadata, from each material ingested. When cataloging an item, the primary focus of the cataloger is to create or reiterate an item's title, provide a description of the item, note any dates on the material, and identify any specific individuals involved in the item (author, photographer, etc.). After the basic level cataloging is complete, a library staff member will go back to verify the accuracy of each of the records, then add information that standardizes each record and makes them searchable, and finally set access restrictions that allow the record and its media to be accessible.  
A screenshot of what a record looks like from ACORN's back end, Collective Access.
An example of what it looks like to edit a record from the back-end of ACORN
After the record is complete and accessible, the final stage that takes place for some of the materials is transcription. During the time period that many of the materials in this collection were originally created, handwriting was still the primary method to write letters, notes, journals, etc. It is the job of the transcriber to decipher what was written and type it out so that it can be added to the item’s record and make it easier to find in a search. 
A screenshot of a handwritten document from 1923. The handwriting is in cursive and the paper is browning.
Page 1 of a letter written by Joy Morton in 1923 to John McDorman. To view the entire record, click on the image above.
So far, there are over 500 pieces of Morton family correspondence and over 300 Morton family photographs available on ACORN, with hundreds of letters left to go! If you are interested in volunteering to help catalog these letters and documents, please contact Danielle Nowak, Digital Assets Librarian, at dnowak@mortonarb.org