Stephanie Tuszynski is Director of the White House Historical Association Digital Library in Washington DC, USA

The White House Historical Association was founded in 1961 to "enhance the understanding and appreciation" of the White House by offering educational resources to students, teachers, scholars, and the general public to help them learn about the building and its history. The WHHA Digital Library is a key piece of our outreach strategy, with more than 10,000 images and documents in our growing collection available to the public for free at

The "Cloud-Enabled Preservation of Life in the 20th Century White House" project is making previously-inaccessible images of the White House available for the first time. The Association has thousands of photos covering public and private events at the White House from the Kennedy era through the current administration, which we are adding to the Digital Library with the help of Amazon Rekognition (a cloud-based facial recognition technology) in the processing of our collections, and by using Amazon Glacier cloud storage for the long-term preservation of these materials.

From our founding through the 1980s, the WHHA worked with photographers from the National Geographic Society to take pictures of major events and day-to-day life in the White House. Those images were preserved on more than 20,000 35mm slides, which were placed in cold storage, remaining there for more than two decades. As most people did in the 1990s, we switched to using digital photography, which generated a legacy collection of nearly 300,000 discrete files as of 2017, roughly 7TB of data stored on external drives and not searchable. These born-digital materials were in need of a preservation plan just as much as the physical slides.

When the Library team was formed in 2015, we adopted a holistic approach to preserving the entirety of the WHHA's legacy collections, both physical materials and born-digital files, following best practices available and leveraging new technological innovations. The evolution of digital asset management systems (DAM), combined with the relative low-cost of cloud computing technology provided the best approach to digital preservation for a small, private non-profit like WHHA.

Thanks to an agreement between WHHA and Amazon Web Services, the large-scale slide digitization project began in March of 2017 with our partners Digital Divide Data and Creekside Digital. At the same time, the Library team ingested the 7TB legacy backlog into our Fotoware DAM using an Amazon Snowball device. The team uses Amazon Rekognition, a facial-recognition software that runs in the cloud, to explore the legacy digital backlog. By creating a sample set of images, Rekognition is able to compare other photos against the sample set and identify facial matches in the targeted folder. This allows us to find images amid a sea of randomly labeled folders quickly, which has greatly sped up our processing and response times.   

Within both the slide collection and our legacy backlog, we have already found a number of amazing pictures that have not been available to the public before, including Gemini astronauts and their families enjoying a dip in the White House pool by invitation of President Lyndon B. Johnson; former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower with Mrs. Nixon after the former received an award in the Diplomatic Reception Room; Mrs. Kennedy surprising a group of tourists visiting the White House, and many more, all of which are accessible via our website's projects page and the Digital Library.

To ensure the long-term accessibility of all these images, WHHA utilizes Amazon Glacier, which is a cloud computing equivalent of cold storage. Both camera-raw versions and archival TIFF files are being kept in Glacier. Should a freezer stop working, or an external hard drive fail, WHHA will no longer be at risk of losing its unique collection documenting life in the White House during the last half of the 20th century.

Going forward, as well as creating more interactive tools in our WHExperience app and on our website for visitors to explore the project's collection, we will continue to assess and invest in the most appropriate tools and processes to safeguard and maintain sustainable access to these important images for generations to come. Through our work with partner institutions, we hope to build the most definitive resource for the history of the White House on the web, and we are continually looking at ways to incorporate new technologies, including the mobile app, the voice interaction tool that powers our WHHA History Chatbot, and hopefully in the future, augmented and virtual reality exhibits. We understand the need to guarantee our materials can be accessible by anyone at any time, and that we are gifted with a unique record of events in one of the most famous buildings in the world, which we have a duty to protect and preserve for future generations.

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