Digitizing Your Collections

This morning I listened to a webinar titled Preparing to Digitize Your Collections: Conservation. The presenter was Catt Baum, Senior Conservation Manager Digitation Services. The webinar got me thinking about digitation, the subject of this blog post.

Before I got my first paying job, I interned at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. One of the several projects I worked on was digitizing photographs.

Are the photographs safe to scan?
The first part of a scanning project is determining (like Baum said in the webinar) if the material needs conservation treatment before it can be scanned. In a digitization project, conservation and preservation is a vital part of the project. All the collections I scanned did not need conservation treatment. But for full disclosure, the Museum’s Collections Manager pulled the material to be scanned.

 Safe Handling
Another thing that was mentioned in the webinar was that the staff who makes the scans needs to know how to handle the material. While I made the scans, I wore white cotton gloves in order to keep my finger prints off the photographs. Also, I made sure to keep the photographs flat and not bend them. Basically, I treated the photograph like fine china.

Equipment/Software Used

In order to scan the photographs, I used an Epson Flatbed Scanner. After scanning each item, I used Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 to crop, rotate, and resize the media record.

I scanned the front of the photograph as a tiff file in order not to lose any quality as well as this file format is an uncompressed file format. Best Practices for digitization of materials state that you should use an uncompressed file format as well as a format where you do not lose any quality. The back of the photograph was scanned as a jpeg file.

File Naming Conventions

I used the accession number to name the photograph. For example, if the photograph had an accession number of 2015.100.001. The scan of the front of the photograph would be 2015.100.001_1 and the back of the photo would be 2015.100.001_2. The individual scans would go into a file folder called 2015.100. Naming everything the same way will help the people that come after you find the files.

Backing up the Data
Now, no blog post would be completed without mentioning backing up your files. This is extremely important and must be done. I promise one day, you will need your backup files. I will provide two examples in order to illustrate the importance of backing up files.

First Example
One Friday night, I backed up my computer. I had not backed up in a couple of weeks and needed to do so. So, I spent a Friday night backing up the computer, which makes for a fun evening. During the night, the electricity went out and then came back on. The next morning, I noticed my computer was off. So I turned the computer back on, but it would not come on. I did not panic because in my desk draw on two different medias (best practices say you should back up your files on two different types of media such as a flash drive and an external hard drive) was all of my important files. Long story short, a part of the computer broke and needed to be fixed. I did not lose any files that morning, but I could have.

Second Example
The IT Department at the National World War II Museum was supposed to back up the scans that were saved to the external hard drive. Each Friday, the Collections Manager would check to see if the images were in fact backed up. Than one day the external hard drive got corrupted and we lost everything. The Collections Manager called IT and said can we have the back up copies, but there was one problem. IT had not back up the files for three months. So we had to start over.

These two examples taught me two things. One backing up files is important. Secondly, that I need to check with IT to make sure that they actually backed up the files they said they did.

One thing that was mentioned in today’s webinar was the importance of speaking with a conservator regarding conservation issues. One would not speak to a barber about fixing your car, you would go to a mechanic who is trained in repairing cars. So, when you have conservation issues, such as mold, speak with someone who has the knowledge and expertise in treating mold. Don’t ask the person who has never treated mold.

What advice do you have for people starting a digitization project? Are they any best practices that you can recommend?
Written By: Blake E Relle Louisiana State Archives



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