Going Digital: An Interview with Lisa Mix

by Davis Erin Anderson, Community Engagement Manager, METRO

METRO's Digitization Grant program has helped dozens of METRO members create digital collections containing the treasures held in their libraries and archives. While we are gearing up for the 2015/16 cycle of METRO grants with a pair of workshops with Tom Clareson from LYRASIS, we thought we'd chat with previous recipients to learn more about how their projects came to be.

For the second interview in this series, it's our pleasure to speak with Lisa Mix from The New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. METRO's Digital Conversion Grants funded their project Documenting Health Care in NYC: Publications from the NY-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center Archives in 2014 and Documenting Women’s Health Care and Graduate Education in New York City in 2013. Digital files from both projects can be found on Internet Archive

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with METRO's audience! Can you give us a bit of background on your project? What was it about this particular collection of documents that motivated you to share them with the world?

The New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center has a long and rich history. Our hospital is the second-oldest existing hospital in the US and the oldest in New York City. Several smaller maternity and children’s hospitals merged into it in the early twentieth century. So the history of the medical center is bound with the social history of New York City.

The hospital annual reports and the medical college announcements also had high reference use. Often, researchers studying the history of the medical center start with these to get the big picture or to get names or dates, and then move on to more specific primary sources. Having these documents available online saves time for researchers, especially those not here in NY.

Soon after we put our first items up online in the Medical Heritage Library, a colleague emailed me: “I just had a Belgian graduate student here last week who was thrilled that the Hospital annual reports were in MHL – it meant she could spend more of her precious time in NYC on the things that weren’t digitized.”

20150304_GoingDigital_Mix.jpgThe records you've shared through this project highlight an interesting time in women's history in medicine as well as advanced education. In working with these documents, was there anything in particular you learned about these subjects that surprised you?

Once I looked at the reports and announcements online, it became more apparent to me that they can be a resource for myriad research projects. One striking feature of the early hospital reports is a list of all of the diseases and ailments treated that year, with the number of cases. I was surprised to see that syphilis was the most prevalent disease treated at the New York Hospital for much of the nineteenth century.

I find the reports from the maternity hospitals especially fascinating. They present aggregate data on demographics such as the national origins of patients and the occupations of patients’ husbands. I love looking at the list of occupations and seeing jobs that no longer exist, such as “egg handler.”

Some of the hospitals include reports of “cases visited” that tell evocative stories of tenement life. From 1914: “Third Child. Family very poor, living in two dark rear rooms...Woman trying to make a living by taking lodgers, who pay her one dollar each, per month, for privilege of sleeping on floor.” I find it amazing that sleeping on the floor was considered a “privilege!” This is truly an eye-opening account of life in lower Manhattan a hundred years ago.

For this project, you worked with Internet Archive to convert your records to a digital format. What did you learn about the process of working with Internet Archive (IA) that might be beneficial for those who are looking to do the same?

Communication is key. On our first micro-grant, METRO paired us with a consultant, and she was of great help in working out our partner agreement with Internet Archive and getting our first shipment set up. We couldn’t have done it without her.

Once we had our processes and workflow established, things went pretty smoothly with IA. I would also note that the quality control process took a lot longer than I thought it would, so project planners should be sure to allow sufficient time for that. The IA allows 30 days to review a shipment. Within this time your staff needs to review all of the online materials and then get back to IA with needed corrections. With this in mind, it is best to make your first shipment a small one, and send larger shipments once you’ve gotten your workflow down.

If you're interested in applying for one of METRO's Digitization Grants, we recommend checking out a pair of events led by LYRASIS's Tom Clareson: Grant Writing for Digital Projects on Monday, March 23, 2015 and Evaluating Digital Projects on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

More information about our 2015/16 Digitization Grants will be announced in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!


The image above comes from the Annual Report of The Society of the Lying-in Hospital of the City of New York 1900. Click the image to view a larger file.