Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Project Update: Social Media

I've been trying to nail down what happened with the two schools Robinson designed in 1914 for Arlington. Specifically, his commission list shows the Ballston School in February and the Barcroft School in March, and both were identified as being in Alexandria County, which is what Arlington was called then. I had planned to go back to the library in Arlington to see what the school board minutes said.

But then earlier this week, the Arlington Historical Society posted this on Facebook.

This is a digital history class and we've discussed using social media for research, so how could I resist? I posted what I knew and asked for suggestions on the Barcroft School. Not only did I get a response but also a link to some digitized maps.

Then AHS posted a fine image of the former Ballston School after it had become a restaurant and an explanation with sources!

Earlier in the semester, I might have been willing to see what others came up with but I really did have to figure out quickly what the deal was with the Barcroft School. So I went to the library today and found my answer, which I posted.

But what a great response from AHS and its helpful Facebook fans! Love how one person asked what my documentation was and added that it "may be a bit optimistic," because that was dead on. I had said that the schools were built in 1914 but really what I knew is that the plans were commissioned then.

I "like" Arlington Historical Society!

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Well, good timing on the copyright lesson! The next day I met with a representative of Alexandria's community band which will be celebrating its centennial next year. I'm going to be working with her to put some of the band's history on our website, using historical photos, music programs, photos of their awards and hopefully a recording of one of their upcoming performances.

When I expressed some concern about what musical selections we could use because of copyright and royalty issues, she pointed out that a Sousa march would work since those works are all now in the public domain. She had studied music law and quickly rattled off the years 1923 and 1976 and spans of 28 years and author's life plus 70. It was good to know that she was right.

One thing we talked about was sampling because it had been a big topic when she was in school. The number of notes, a phrase, a bassline and a loop could all be interpreted differently. And since I'm musically illiterate, my only contribution to that part of the conversation was that I only recently recognized the bassline from a Will Smith hit as being from a '70s disco song. While I'm sure that Smith's writers and producers knew that it was and maybe even got permission to use it, it occurred to me how much from the massive realm of popular culture is protected and that we may not even recognize it, especially when the newer use becomes so prevalent that we can't recall the original product.

Or in the case of one of Sousa's most familiar marches, where we recognize the spirited patriotic music, yet may not have a clue that the name of the song is "The Washington Post March" or know that it was actually written at the request of the newspaper's owners.
Courtesy: Library of Congress
No worries though since this song is in the public domain, but what published by the Washington Post is? Not as much as I want.

The Post began publishing in 1877 when copyright lasted 28 years and could be renewed for another 28. So what was published before 1923 should be in the public domain but that depends how it is accessed. ProQuest digitized the Post from 1877 to 1994 as part of its Historical Newspapers Collection and ProQuest makes its terms of use very clear to users:

"This Proquest® product is made available to you solely for personal or internal use.You may not publish, broadcast or sell any materials retrieved through the product or use the materials in any manner that will infringe the copyright or other proprietary right of ProQuest® or its licensors. Downloading of all or parts of the product in a systematic or regular manner so as to create a collection of materials comprising all or part of the product is strictly prohibited, whether or not such collection is in electronic or print form."

This means that ProQuest owns the copyright on its version of the Post, even for the content that the Post doesn't own anymore and is now in the public domain.

But not all photos published by the Post could be included in what ProQuest digitized. Some, like wedding announcement photos, would still be owned by the studio that shot them, shared them with the Post but never transferred rights to the Post. Not all photos taken by Post photographers were owned by the Post like they are today. Louis Johrden, identified as the Post staff photographer who took a photo of a fallen Alexandria police officer's funeral procession in 1928, may have actually retained the rights to his photos. His work is blocked in the ProQuest version of the article, which I'm posting part of below, with no intent to violate ProQuest's terms and conditions of use.

Courtesy: ProQuest Historical Newspapers Collection
Today I received a copy of another Alexandria police photo taken by James Thresher and published by the Post in 2007. I paid $19.95 to a service called Pictopia to get a 5x7 print for "personal use only" and was reminded on the packing slip that I "do not have permission to duplicate or republish in any medium" this image "without the written permission of The Washington Post." So I'm not going to but I will post this link to the image.

To use a photo, article or other content for other purposes, you have to get permission from the Post or its agent. What you want to use and how you want to use it determines where you go and what you ask for. The Post provides a page with the appropriate contacts for these rights and permissions.

Life plus 70 is extreme, unless it's a murder sentence, and I don't like it but I get it. My dad worked in publishing for most of his career. When I was little and he would read me a book, he would start at the title page and then turn to the copyright page and read it out loud. I think he did it to annoy my mom but I always remembered it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Project Update: Visit to Richmond

Thursday's trip to Richmond was a very good one. I had planned to check out the School Buildings Service collection and books related to Robinson's work at the Library of Virginia. Then I got a call the day before from Bob Boynton of Boynton Rothschild Rowland Architects, the firm that has Robinson's plans and records, and he said I could look at the materials they have in their office.

I didn't expect to find too much with the School Buildings Service records since most are stock plans developed by the Commonwealth in the 30s and 40s, but I hoped some of the records with renovation plans would have a layout for Robinson's original building. I did find one for the Bailey's school but the best thing, especially for a digital history class, were the new microfilm scanners!

The film gets loaded into a reader that displays on a monitor. The images on the screen can be scanned and saved to a flash drive as a PDF. Here's still of the display but a YouTube video on the ScanPro 2000 shows a lot more.

The quality of the images is excellent! This is how the floor plan for Bailey's turned out.

I can only imagine how helpful this will be for newspapers and handwritten records.

The visit to the architect office was a great surprise, too. The plans are stored off-site and retrieving them would be expensive and time-consuming for the firm, but I was thankful to see what they did have -- photographs of Robinson's schools in Richmond and Tidewater, a scrapbook of clippings from the 1920s, a list of school building commissions and an index to school drawings.

These helped me positively identify two of three schools I thought were Robinson's work. Both Herndon and Round Hill were listed, although Floris wasn't. Floris looks like a Robinson school, but maybe a contractor simply modified the plans of the Herndon design by removing a floor to build Floris.

The records also added a couple that I just can't figure out -- Ballston and Barcroft schools in Arlington. According to the records, these schools were commissioned in early 1914, but the research I've done indicates that these schools were built at different times. Ballston was built in the 1890s and looked just like the Hume school. The Barcroft school was established in a church building in 1908 and a new school building opened in 1925. I'll need to check the school records again to see if I can find anything to explain what was going on in 1914.

The last question I had was the Lucketts school which is a frame building that has some similarities to Robinson's schools at that time but I just haven't been convinced that it's his. The records show "Lucketts School (Stock)" with no date. Since I've seen two other Loudoun schools that look like the Lucketts school, perhaps Robinson provided stock plans for a frame building that Loudoun used for more than one schoolhouse, with Ashburn (below right) being built in 1911, Lucketts (below left) in 1913 and Aldie in 1915.

Always easier driving back home in crappy weather and slow traffic when you have lots to think about and new info to work with!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Project Update: Altoona High

In 1904, only a couple years before he moved to Richmond, Robinson designed a new high school in Altoona, where he was a partner in the firm of Robinson & Winkler. I've been curious if to know if it looked anything like his schools in Northern Virginia. After seeing these early postcards of the Altoona High School, I would have to say it doesn't.

This grand three-story brownstone with an ornate dome cost an estimated $250,000. It was demolished in 1974.

Time to focus on Virginia!