I.D. Weeks Library’s Archives and Special Collections (University of South Dakota)

In 2003, I. D. Weeks Library’s Archives and Special Collections at the University of South Dakota acquired the entire collection of images by former university photographers. This collection is the largest and most comprehensive surviving photographic history of the university. Within this collection of more than 600,000 images, cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate negatives from the 1920s to 1950s account for 20,000 to 40,000 negatives in advanced states of deterioration. Because they emit harmful gasses, nitrate negatives are fire and health hazards.

Placing cellulose nitrate negatives in freezers reduces the chance of fire and virtually stops chemical deterioration that over time destroys the reproductive quality of the negatives. Cellulose acetate negatives suffering from deterioration also must be kept in sub-zero storage so they do not continue to decay at a marked and steady rate that eventually leads to the buckling away of emulsion layer from the film base. Also, due to the storage of this collection for many years in unventilated proximity to photographic chemicals, the entire collection is now at risk for chemical deterioration from absorbed residual chemistry.

Thanks to funding by the Mary Chilton Daughters of the American Revolution and the University of South Dakota Alumni Foundation, and with the help of student workers, important work has begun to stabilize the collection.The photographic negatives are now being resleeved, placed in archivally safe packaging, and housed in freezers. Once in proper storage, identification of the images, selective scanning of images for access and the creation of a database will begin. Estimated time needed to fully complete this project is 10 years or more. In securing this collection and by using sub-zero preservation, the library provides future generations with limitless opportunities to digitize or reproduce images from original negatives. The images in this historical collection have already been the subject of numerous news features, and an exhibit of 50 of the photographs is touring South Dakota.