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Field Museum's Hit Tumblr Shows Off 'Crazy ... Weird ... or Just Fantastic'

 Karen Bean details the behind-the-scenes process of blogging the photo department's archives.
Field Museum Tumblr
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MUSEUM CAMPUS — As a digital photo archivist at the Field Museum — and the creator of the museum's popular Tumblr page — Karen Bean sees some wild images cross her desk each day.

"I go through 100-plus negatives a week, and there's always something just absolutely crazy, or weird, or just fantastic that I want people to be able to see and search," said Bean, who's worked behind the scenes digitizing the museum's massive archive of hard-copy photos since 2004.

The museum's searchable, online photo archive is a work in progress — it's Bean's full-time job to chip way at the 250,000 photos in the museum's temperature-controlled storage room, some of which are rapidly disintegrating.

 A woolly rhinoceros skull shared for "Fossil Friday."
A woolly rhinoceros skull shared for "Fossil Friday."
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Field Museum Tumblr

So in February 2013, she launched the Field Museum Photo Archives Tumblr page to give people an early peek behind the curtain.

"It's kind of like a 'best of,' basically," the 31-year-old Columbia College Chicago photography graduate said. "A lot of the stuff I've scanned recently hasn't been seen by anybody."

Karen Bean runs the Field Museum's Tumblr page, but the job goes much deeper than that. She chats with DNAinfo Radio:

Every weekday, Bean uploads one striking image she had scanned and cataloged as part of her normal workday.

She quickly developed recurring features like "Mammal Monday," "Taxidermy Tuesday" and "Fossil Friday," which she said are big hits with the Tumblr crowd.

In the nearly year and a half that Bean has been posting, the Tumblr page has exploded with popularity. Most daily image posts get around a hundred "likes" and shares on users' personal pages.

Emily Waldren, the museum's public relations manager, called the response to Bean's straightforward, image-sharing blog "amazing" and "awesome."

"She just got featured ... on the Tumblr main page and like, doubled her following in 24 hours," Waldren said.

In January, the Field Museum Tumblr was named one of the "Big in 2013" blogs on Tumblr's main site.

Bean attributes the Tumblr's success, in part, to chance.

She and the museum's archival team are racing against the clock right now to digitize rapidly-deteriorating cellulose acetate negatives from the 1920s through the 50s, a "pretty great" era well-liked the Tumblr crowd, she said.

"You get a lot of the old fashioned dress on people, and just a different way of life — where there's a Lincoln Park Zoo bear-handler smoking a pipe while he's feeding a bear," she said.

The museum also maintains a Flickr photostream, but Bean said she found Tumblr to be a particularly good platform for social image-sharing, particularly because there isn't much room for comment.

"We didn't want any kind of negative threads to get started with the images," she said. "I found Tumblr to be a lot more positive than things like Facebook or Instagram, where people will just start these crazy streams of comments."

Instead, Bean carefully types in any reference information included with the image, and does her own Google sleuthing to add more information, or identify mislabeled or unlabeled artifacts like a tree branch scarred by a Mistletoe growth.

"That one took a lot of Googling," Bean joked. "It's a fun learning experience for me, and I hope it is for [other Tumblr users] too."