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Digitizing 90,000+ Political Posters from Around the World—SCA Newsletter Feature

The following article was written by CSPG Archivists Lisa and Sam and was originally published in the Spring 2023 Society of California Archivists newsletter, pages 12-14. The entire newsletter can be found here.

Assistant Archivist, Samantha Ceja (left), and Project Archivist, Lisa Kahn (right), digitizing posters about racism at the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.

How does a small, independent archive make its collections widely available? What does an archive do when they are forced to close their doors due to a pandemic? How can research requests be addressed without risking the health and safety of staff?

These questions plagued the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG) in March 2020. Due to the pandemic, the offsite digitization vendor that supported CSPG for more than a decade permanently closed, in-person researchers were unable to visit, and exhibition programs were moved online.

Based in Culver City, CSPG houses over 90,000+ domestic and international human rights and protest posters, dating from the 19th century to the present. Since its founding in 1989, CSPG has been recording the history of activism, protest, and worldwide struggle for justice by collecting and exhibiting political posters.

The past few years of political and economic uncertainty reinforced CSPG’s need to digitally preserve the collection and make it accessible to virtual audiences. The Executive Director and Archives Director envisioned transforming the current website into a more enhanced, customized viewing platform that enables full access to our collection through digital "folders"—almost as if visiting in person. This update will also include the ability to magnify details on the items without compromising the intellectual property rights of the artists.

CSPG was inspired to develop an in-house digitization studio by UCLA’s International Digital Ephemera Project and Lincoln Cushing’s “Docs Populi” (Documents for the Public) digitization project, which included shooting 24,000 posters for the All of Us or None poster collection at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). Cushing also designed and built a 47-inch x 32-inch vacuum table for CSPG. John Kiffe, Lead Photographer for the Getty Research Institute, advised CSPG on the equipment needed and generously guided us in the setup and implementation. With their help, we were able to begin developing an in-house digitization studio in early 2021.

CSPG purchased Broncolor studio lights and flash remote, a Macbook Pro, an Eizo calibrated monitor, a Fujifilm GFX 100S camera with 45mm lens, a license for CaptureOne photography software, and a powerful central vacuum for the vacuum table to flatten curled posters. Purchases were supported by individual donors and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, California Humanities Foundation, Returning Home Foundation, Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, Getty Foundation, Los Angeles Breakfast Club, and California Community Foundation. By the end of 2021, we were finally able to move from development to large-scale implementation of digitization.

With this funding boost, CSPG was also able to hire a Project Archivist in September 2021, and later an Assistant Archivist in March 2022. In addition to these positions, CSPG’s devoted volunteers and interns have all put their efforts into pushing this project forward.

In the first 30 years of its existence, CSPG digitized 10% of its collection in various formats, the largest being 300 DPI at 11-inches x 17- inches. Since January 2022, CSPG has digitized over 30% of the collection as 300 DPI same-size TIFFs according to the Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI) guideline practices, and aims to have another 30% done by the end of 2023. Files this large and numerous come with their own digital preservation challenges. CSPG is not using commercial cloud-based storage due to security, ethical, and financial concerns. Instead, we are currently utilizing the 3-2-1 method of digital preservation using three different sets of 10 TB hard drives. We keep one set off site, and rotate and update it with another every week.

The project as a whole was originally estimated to take five years, but this timeline may be affected by anticipated challenges. From 1989 to July 2022, CSPG received rent-free space for offices and collections storage. Due to building ownership changes, we are now paying rent and considering moving to a more affordable space. If we are evicted before we find a new space, we will need to move the collections into temporary storage. We are therefore putting all of our energies into digitizing, allowing staff to perform post-processing tasks remotely if necessary. We have gone beyond even our own expectations, however. With continued support, movements for social change around the world will be able to access their own histories within the next few years, just by visiting our website.

Lisa Kahn

Project Archivist

Center for the Study of Political Graphics

Samantha Ceja

Assistant Archivist

Center for the Study of Political Graphics



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