By Ray Bankoski
At Gale, part of Cengage Learning, we preserve history through the digitization of millions of pages each year. Using our extensive experience, we’ve developed what we like to call the three C’s of digital imaging, a guide to the industry’s best practices.
To take primary sources from their original paper format into easily accessible digital files, we employ two types of scanners. The number of each is carefully determined based on the type of material included in project.
The preferred type of scanner is of the semi-automated variety. Semi-automated scanners have become mainstream in the industry because they allow for quick capture while treating the material with care. They utilize air pressure to assist the operator in turning pages without damaging the original source document. Any bound material in good condition can be scanned using this equipment. These scanners have the benefit of turning the pages from the middle without having a person grab the edge of the paper which can cause damage.
The second type of scanner is known as a flatbed. Source materials that are oversized, feature foldouts, contain loose pages, or are otherwise overly fragile get scanned using this method. This process requires the operator to place materials flat on the scanning surface and manually take digital pictures with an overhead camera. Although using a flatbed takes time, doing so is the best way to preserve our most delicate pieces of history.
Of course, scanners sit idle when source materials are not properly maintained and thus require repairs. We have developed a three-step process to ensure these repairs do not result in a workflow bottleneck.
First, the entire collection undergoes a general assessment. Items easily identified as requiring conservation get put aside. The pieces are again reviewed—this time with careful detail—before being placed on the scanners, providing another step in the quality control process. If any damage is discovered during digitization, scanning is halted, and the documents are brought to a designated conservationist for repair. Minor repairs are performed on a daily basis, thus sending materials back into the scanning queue and keeping the work flowing.
Another best practices tip: conservation and scanning centers should ideally be housed in a single location. Close proximity enables quick decision-making when it comes to marginal damage and allows the process as a whole to complete much faster.
Following the successful scanning of this source documentation, the new digital image files need to be processed for online display. This includes de-skewing, rotating, cropping, and removing unwanted artifacts. While some of these modifications are automated, many require manual manipulation.
Once completed, the edited images are sent off for metadata capture in weekly batches. The typical project takes two to three weeks to fully rev up, producing enough quality images to maintain a steady production flow.
Each project has its own unique set of requirements, but stick to the three C’s, and you will be off to a great start!
About the Author
In his role as VP, Electronic Asset Management, for Cengage Learning, Ray oversees all aspects of the capture, conversion and quality assurance of rare material for the Gale Digital Collections product line.