So, You Want to Build a Digital Program? (Part 2)

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital and Audrey Sage Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Specialist

This is the second in a two-part series on the creation of the Academy Library’s Digital Collections and Exhibits website. Part 1 is here.

Sometimes opportunities arise that you just can’t pass up. In late May 2017, our Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Anne Garner, suggested a digital exhibit of items from our collection that would showcase the history behind many of the magical elements from J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter series; and suggested its launch coincide with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone‘s 20th anniversary on June 26. While we were a new digital team of two with new digitization equipment, we were up for the challenge. That is how we wound up creating the online exhibit, “From Basilisks to Bezoars: The Surprising History of Harry Potter’s Magical World,” in a mere 6 weeks.

Leo, Astronomicae Veteres_watermark

Leo from Aldus Manutius’ Astronomici veteres (1499).

Our first stop was to Garner, who, within a week and a half, handpicked two objects (including our infamous bezoar) and 34 images from over 20 different books  for us to digitize. While we were hustling to photograph these items in the lab, Garner was busy creating robust image metadata for us to ingest into Islandora. Next, we got to work churning out XML records through the use of OpenRefine and an Apple script, and then we were in the quality assurance phase. Once everything was checked, it was time to launch!

Of course, there were bumps along the road, too. At one point, we realized we had digitized the wrong phoenix! At another point, we had to go into all of our XML records and manually add in a download button. There were also some late Friday and Sunday nights spent working on our laptops to make the collection as perfect as possible. Bumps notwithstanding, we launched on-time, and the collection received a lot of great attention.[1]

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Anne Garner takes us through the images she has selected for digitization for our Harry Potter-inspired collection.

So, what did we learn from the launch of our digital program? We quickly discovered that it takes time and skill to create metadata. Both Garner and our Head of Cataloging, Rebecca Filner, expertly provided us with extremely detailed metadata for our current collections. Even in its quickest iteration, metadata-creation takes weeks![2]

We also learned that no digitized image is wasted. As we mentioned in Part 1, many of the digitized rare books with which we launched our Digital Collections were photographed for a separate project the Library had completed a few years earlier. The photographs were impeccable, so why double the work? Instead, we used what the photographer, Ardon Bar-Hama, gave us and co-opted these previously-shot images for our Digital Collection site. (Some notable examples are the Apicius and the Guy de Chauliac.)

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Our Head of Digital, Robin Naughton, trying out the new equipment.

And finally, we learned that the easiest part of the digitization process is photographing the items. As long as your equipment works, you are good to go! We received training by our expert Conservation staff in how to handle rare items, and we hit the ground running.

For those wishing to start a digital lab in your library, we have some hard-earned advice, all of which focuses on communication and outreach (the tech is the easy part!):

First, reach out to local colleagues who have been doing this longer than you. We visited many digital labs before our launch, including the beautiful labs at Columbia University, The Frick Art Reference Library, and the Museum of the City of New York. Each lab had a different setup, different workflows, and different amounts of staff with unique backgrounds. Without this exploratory research, we have no doubts our lab would not have done as well as it has.

Second, join listservs. Without the listservs to which we subscribe, we would not have gained nearly as much knowledge as we did before launch. Two great listservs to join are ALA’s digipres listserv and the ImageMuse Yahoo group’s listserv. We even reached out to a wonderful colleague from Coastal Carolina University because we admired how he used OpenRefine and the command line to batch-create and –export XML metadata records. He shared his script with us, and the rest is history. We now use his workflow in our lab for nearly every project.

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Now we are even sharing our knowledge with others!

Third: join or create a digitization-related community in your area. By way of using the free, open-source Islandora platform for our digital collections, we became part of a very active and supportive network of Islandora admins, managers, developers, and vendors around the world. While that is incredible, it is also nice to have a support system in your own backyard. So, we co-founded the New York City Islandora Working Group with some colleagues from other institutions. Our group is open to anyone, regardless of whether they currently use Islandora. We meet once per month and share skills, ask each other questions, and, of course, eat pizza and sip wine together. It’s one of the most worthwhile professional endeavors we have been a part of, and our members have been instrumental in getting our lab up and running.

The secret to success really is communication. Talk to people, and you will learn so much!

Footnotes:

[1] “Study for your O.W.L.s with Library’s Harry Potter-Themed Online Collection” (DNAInfo); “There’s a New Digital Harry Potter Book Collection from NYC’s New York Academy of Medicine Library” (untapped cities); “Celebrating 20 Years of the Philosopher’s Stone Inside the Mini-Hogwarts in New York City” (The Verge); “Attention Harry Potter Fans: There’s A Mini-Hogwarts In East Harlem” (Gothamist)
[2] For those library-science fans among you, why didn’t we just pull the metadata from our online catalog? We did! But we encountered a lot of library-speak that we did away with for our Digital Collections audience and wanted to add some new metadata.

So, You Want to Build a Digital Program? (Part 1)

By Robin Naughton, Head of Digital and Audrey Sage Lorberfeld, Digital Technical Specialist

There is a moment before a system is officially live when all the pieces align to create perfection. That moment arrived for us on June 5, 2017, when we launched our Digital Collections and Exhibits website. The launch represented the culmination of 18 months’ work towards implementing a new digital software system (Islandora), migrating content, digitizing new material, and building an internal digital lab.

We took a structural approach to this undertaking. The first structure we wanted to tackle was our software. We selected Islandora, an open-source software framework, which offered an active community and support for small institutions. The community was a major driver in our decision. We wanted support from a diverse group of people who included librarians, software developers, and administrators.

To get our Islandora instance set up, we opted for a vendor-hosted solution. Since we were new to the system, and had a small team with no developers, this was the best move for our institution. Out of a few different vendors, we selected DiscoveryGarden. They were instrumental in getting our system up and running (including customizing our theme to align with the Academy’s branding). We ended up with an amazing homepage that shows users all the resources the Library has to offer.

Wireframe for new theme development (Left). Design mock-up for theme (Right).

Next, we shifted our focus to the content: what would fill the pages of our Islandora repository? A few years prior, courtesy of George Blumenthal, photographer Ardon Bar-Hama took photographs of some of the Library’s rarest books. We determined that co-opting already-digitized content would be the perfect first project for our new system.  Better still, Anne Garner, the Library’s Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, had already written descriptions for these images. With the help of digital assistants, volunteers, and interns, the images were cropped, separated, and augmented with robust metadata. This project alone gave us 13 rare books to showcase in our repository without requiring any new digitization.

For our next project, we explored migrating an older digital collection from our legacy system, ContentDM, to our new Islandora system. We chose the William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards because the digitization that took place almost a decade prior had not captured the entire run of the collection. So, not only could we migrate the old content from ContentDM, we could also add new content.[1]

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The previously-digitized cards from the William H. Helfand Pharmaceutical Trade Cards collection on ContentDM.

Armed with lots of digital images at this point, we began the long-awaited test and launch phases of this process. Such questions as will the system render correctly? Will it handle the large number of users? What are the load times? went through our heads frequently. There were many hours spent performing quality assurance on everything, but that is necessary. Do it right once, and you will be set for the future.

At the same time as all of this pre-launch processes were taking place, we were also building our physical digital lab. We purchased a refurbished digital, medium-format camera, strobe lights and Capture One software for cultural heritage institutions, dusted off an old copy-stand we found hiding out in the Library, and outfitted it on top of a workbench to serve as our digitization environment.

Building a digital program takes time and resources. We are fortunate to have a supportive institution and to be part of a very active community that has done, is doing, and planning to do the same or similar digitization projects. On the morning of June 5, 2017, everything worked. The launch was a success, and the feedback we received was stellar.

Coming up in part 2, we will take you through the creation process behind our Harry Potter-inspired digital collection; go over general lessons we learned over the past 2 years; and share some recommendations for those of you thinking of starting a digital lab of your own.

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Our digital lab setup. We’re ready to digitize everything!

Footnote:
[1] For those of you who like to get into the nitty gritty of digital asset management, in order to migrate these legacy Helfand scans from ContentDM to Islandora, we exported the ContentDM metadata into Excel spreadsheets, conducted an inventory of these original images, added to the inventory data related to the new items we were putting into the collection, and voilá!

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.