Let’s Digitize! Building the Library’s Digital Lab

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital

If your materials cannot take a trip to an external digitization lab to be converted from analog to digital, then you do what all aspiring DIYers do: you bring the lab to your materials. The New York Academy of Medicine Library has an amazing and significant collection of rare and unique materials that will benefit both researchers and the general public once digitized.  Thus, our goal is to develop a robust digital infrastructure to support the creation and preservation of our digital assets internally, particularly rare, fragile and unique materials.

The Federal Agencies Digital Guidelines Initiative (FADGI), a collaborative started in 2007 to create sustainable guidelines for digitization, is the gold standard for cultural heritage digitization. In 2016, FADGI’s Still Image Working group released an updated “Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials,” which updates the specifications for being FADGI compliant.  Establishing a robust digital infrastructure means being FADGI compliant while integrating the needs of our users and the strategic goals of the Library.

Inventory & Solution

We began the process by conducting an inventory of our resources.  The Library has multiple scanner setups and each is good for its purpose.  However, no setup was best for digitizing rare materials.

  • Flatbed Scanner: Our Epson Perfection v700 Photo flatbed scanner, used in earlier digitization projects, was good for small flat materials. Prior to our digital setup, we used it to digitize additional items for our William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards.
  • Book Scanners: We have two Bookeye scanners: a Bookeye 3 and a Bookeye 4.  Our Bookeye scanners were used to create images for patrons, but posed complications when thinking about scanning rare books. Our Bookeye 3 scanner with a glass platen is best for large flat materials. Our Bookeye 4 scanner with v-cradle is a workhorse, but posed problems for items with tight bindings that were unable to open 90 degrees. Our Konica Minolta Scan Diva scanner stopped working due to a problem with the software and the company was unable to replace it.  As a result, the scanner was no longer usable.

The inventory revealed the need for a solution that followed FADGI guidelines for digitizing rare materials, considered the binding of the item, made sure digitization would not damage the item, and used equipment that could be easily maintained.

Library Digital Lab

Thanks to the generous support of the Gladys Brooks Foundation, we created a digital lab that combined the old and the new.

The digital lab is illuminated by two Profoto strobe lights that flank an old copy stand sitting on a production workbench. Attached to the copy stand is a refurbished Phase One 645DF camera with 80mm lens, and a Mamiya Leaf 50 megapixel digital back.  Just off to the right is the digital workstation, which includes a Mac Pro, Eizo monitor, and Capture One Cultural Heritage (CH) software used in the digitization process.

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Photos courtesy of the Library’s Digital Team.

 

Discussion with our digitization working group and other cultural heritage organizations with digitization labs led to the digital camera setup that was modular and best for digitizing rare materials. Modularity offered the opportunity to grow and develop as the technology changed while making it easy to replace parts as necessary. Thus, if the lights needed to be replaced, we would not need to replace the entire setup, but rather just the lights.  The digital camera setup also offered flexibility because there was no set angle at which to open an item.  Using book cradles, we can adjust the angles based on the object for best shooting and handling.

A recent report from the Library of Congress, “Library of Congress Lab: Library of Congress Digital Scholars Lab Pilot Project” provides great recommendations for digital lab design.  The research conducted and the recommendations from the report are a model for a digital lab that can benefit us all in our own efforts to digitize and make rare materials accessible to a wider audience.

This blog post is the first of series of post from the digital lab.  We will share our process and activities, so stay tuned.