Digitizing Entire Collections: Chapter 4, For Scanning Technicians

Page Contents

Characteristics of Archival Collections
Preparing and Reviewing Collections
Special Problems

Characteristics of Archival Collections

Archival and manuscript collections usually consist of a full range of formats and sizes, such as typed and handwritten correspondence, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, diaries, original and copy print photographs, photograph albums, pencil and watercolor sketches, prints, sketchbooks, rare and contemporary printed exhibition catalogs, annotated catalogs and books, exhibition announcements, calling cards, printed illustrations, journals, address books, calendars, account books, ledgers, posters, maps, etc. Some of our collections even contain fabric samples! The list is seemingly endless.

AAA scanning technicians must be adept at identifying, handling, and successfully scanning a multitude of widely varying types and sizes of materials, usually filed side by side within each folder.

The task is further complicated by the physical characteristics of the material itself, such as brittle and crumbling newsprint or letters, damaged spines or spines that could be damaged with handling, onionskin letters, onionskin letterpress books, documents with heavy ink bleed-through, scrapbooks with multiple types of documents layered on one page, scrapbooks with items that have fallen off or are loose, oversized material, and extremely fragile documents, artwork, and photographs.

Your goal is to produce digital images that are reasonable reproductions, without enhancements.

The entire document must be captured in each image, including all edges. Images captured on the Zeutschel equipment may be cropped to ¼ inch or a thin band surrounding all sides of the document. Images captured with the Digital Transitions equipment should contain a Golden Thread 9 ¼” or 18 ¼” target.

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Preparing and Reviewing Collections

The processing archivist prepares the collection for scanning, creates the finding aid which serves as the descriptive metadata, and reviews and approves the final online site for the collection after scanning. She/He is the most familiar with the materials and formats unique to the collection.

The processing archivist will have completed a Scanning Information Worksheet (see Appendix A: Scanning Workflow Forms [PDF]) that notes special scanning instructions and issues throughout the collection, and will schedule a meeting with the scanning technician and digital assets manager.

The processing archivist will also have filed special scanning instructions throughout the collection. Typical scanning instructions might include notes that 1) clearly identify materials not to be scanned either because of limited research value, privacy issues, inappropriateness, size, or because they are duplicates or blank pages, 2) direct the technician to oversized storage containers for oversized materials that must be scanned in sequence, 3) identify special instructions regarding partially scanned items and folders, and 4) clearly identify materials that should be scanned by another scanning technician due to format. These notes are in addition to our regular scanning directives for technicians outlined below.

In the past, there were special directions about what materials should be scanned in color within the collection. However, in 2010, AAA purchased new equipment and color scanning is now the default mode for all scanning. We may still outsource grayscale scanning for some collections; this will be determined on a collection by collection basis.

The first folder (B 1.1) of the first box of each new collection to be scanned will contain the Scanning Information Worksheet. The worksheet provides the name of the Processing Archivist and a copy of the finding aid container listing (box #s, folder #s, and folder titles). The Archivist should have noted any special materials or special handling issues on the Worksheet, in addition to the instructions that may be filed throughout the collection. The Scanning Technician should follow and consult the printed container listing from the finding aid when scanning–it is a good way to check the progress of the job and make sure that folders have not been skipped, etc.

The scanning technician, processing archivist, and digital assets manager will have a short meeting prior to each new assignment and consult throughout the assignment–clarifying instructions and discussing concerns about legibility, fragility, condition, or size.

The Scanning Technician should never hesitate to consult with the Processing Archivist during the course of scanning a collection.

After the collection has been scanned and the images processed, Part B of the Scanning Information Worksheet is to be completed by the Scanning Technician and returned to the archivist. The worksheet includes a section for the technician to note individual images or groups of materials that may not be clear or fully legible–despite best efforts.

The Scanning Technician will also complete the Digitization Internal Note (see Part C) of the Scanning Form when the job is complete.

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Handling AAA’s historical collections with care should be the Scanning Technicians first priority. Capturing the best possible image is second. There will be problematic materials which could include fragile scrapbooks with tight bindings; crumbling newsprint; newsprint in a very small font size; bound volumes; letterpress books; poor and low contrast materials; bleed through; onionskin paper; fragile and brittle materials; oversized materials; photographic materials (usually we do not scan negatives and slides for Collections Online); art work, such as drawings, sketches, sketchbooks, prints, etc.

Never fold, crease, apply undue pressure, or roughly manipulate any documents in order to capture a better image.

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Special Problems

Mutilated, torn, or holes in document

  • Use a black background to ensure that the hole or damaged area is clearly visible. The goal in scanning historical documents is to present the document as close to the original as possible.

Show Through/Bleed Through

  • Use a white piece of paper to back the original.

Onionskin or Transparent Paper and Onionskin Letter Press Books

  • Use a white or cream piece of paper to back the original. For Letter Press Books, use the blank paper for each leaf.

Black Documents

  • Use a white or cream piece of paper to back the original to provide a contrast between the scanning table and the document’s edges.

Poor Contrast

  • Contrast can be adjusted somewhat during capture and through post processing. The scanning technician should adjust if possible. If this is not possible, then the scanning technician will bring this to the attention of both the processing archivist and the Digital Assets Manager. If the image is totally illegible, please note it on the worksheet for review.

Bound Materials

  • Bound materials take many different forms in manuscript collections–diaries, sketchbooks, books, catalogs, ledgers, letterpress books, scrapbooks, etc. Some are thick with spines, and others have sewn bindings.
  • Use particular care with most bound materials, taking advantage of the various book cradles, particularly for larger volumes and fragile spines. You may also use non-glare glass or plexiglass to help flatten the material with care. For small thin volumes, often the glass is enough. However, when flattening any bound volumes, handle lightly, use care and do not press too hard. Sometimes it is difficult to get a good image of the inside margin area without flattening, however documents should never be creased or forced with your hand or other device.
  • Scan bound volumes opened when the size is less than 8 x 11 inches or when the depth/binding interferes with a good image when open. Otherwise scan each page of the opened volume separately. Scan the front cover and back cover from the closed volume. Do not scan blank pages.
  • Some bound volumes, such as ledgers or sales records, have name indexes either in the front or back of the book. The index may be separated by an expanse of blank pages, so be careful not to overlook handwriting in the front or back of the volume, even if the archivist did not note the blank pages.

Scrapbooks and other Layered Documents

  • Scrapbooks should be scanned much the same as any bound volume, with care, using a book cradle if needed and glass.
  • Commonly, a scrapbook will have multiple pieces taped or glued on one page that partially obscure other pieces, as well as multi-page brochures and pamphlets glued to the scrapbook page. First, take one image of the scrapbook page as found. Then take as many multiple images of the same page as needed to capture all of the contents of the individual components of the page, reading from left to right and top to bottom. Take images of all of the pages of brochures, catalogs, or pamphlets affixed to the scrapbook page.
  • Sometimes items that were once affixed to the scrapbook page become detached. You can often determine where it’s original placement was and if you can, scan the page with the detached item in its original “place” on the page. If it is a multi-page item, scan as outlined in #2 above.
  • Individual items may be loose and filed within the pages of a scrapbook–they were never attached - scan those items individually after you have scanned the entire page and all of its components.
  • Other bound materials, such as diaries, ledgers, account books, notebooks, address books, etc. sometimes contain documents or bits of paper glued or taped to the pages. Never force the removal of taped or glued items. There may even be documents filed within envelopes taped or glued to the page. Again, it is important to take an image of the page as it appears in its original format, then as many shots as needed to capture all of the documents.
  • Loose items are commonly inserted within bound materials as well, and should be scanned separately and immediately following the page where they were inserted. These are slightly different than items that have become detached from a scrapbook–it is not necessary to capture the “look” of the insert on the page.

Rotated Handwriting and Annotations

  • Nineteenth-century letters often have handwriting in varied rotations on one page, and other materials may have annotations written in margins that are rotated from the rest of the writing or printed word. Only one image is necessary.

Multi-Page Folded Handwritten Letters

  • Nineteenth-century letters were often written on folded stationary and when the document is unfolded, it is sometimes difficult to determine the proper sequence of the pages. Usually you can tell by the salutation (Dear…) or the date of the letter, which often is written on the first page. Regardless, do you best to scan the letter in reading order if possible. If it is difficult to determine the reading sequence, simply scan in physical order by first scanning the top page as one image, then open the document and capture the next two pages (or more) “open face,” and finish with one shot of the back or last page. Consult with the processing archivist for help in determining the best scanning sequence.

Glued Items on Letters or Other Material

  • You will occasionally find letters or other documents that have other documents or pieces of paper glued to them, and you can’t see the writing underneath the glued piece. Usually, this is a form of editing. Leave the glued piece as is and simply scan.

Fragile Documents and Bound Volumes

  • As mentioned above, scanning historical archival and manuscript collections is very different than scanning contemporary material.Your first concern is to handle the materials with care and maintain the order of the collection. Speed, while important, is not our only objective. If you handle materials that are brittle and breaking, please be extra careful not to further damage the documents. Be particularly careful with bound volumes– rare and fragile bound volumes should be scanned with the book cradle and never flattened with force. Documents should never be creased or forced with your hand or other device in order to get a better scanned image.
  • If at any time you feel uncomfortable handling an item or are concerned about getting a good image, please consult with the archivist, digital assets manager, or one of the supervisors.

Flagging Items for Conservation

  • If you find items within the collections that you feel are in URGENT or CRITICAL need of conservation, please bring this to the attention of the archivist or a supervisor, and report it in your post-scanning worksheet.

Mylar Encased Documents

  • You may encounter mylar encased documents within collections. If possible, try to capture the image with the mylar. If this is not possible and there is too much glare, carefully remove the mylar.

Matted Documents and Photographs

  • You will encounter professionally matted and mounted documents and photographs. As many of the mats were done as part of a conservation project, do not remove the mat. In most cases, you will have to scan the front of the photograph with the mat attached. However, be sure to check if the mat covers important notations or titles and be creative in trying to move the mat out of the way to capture all of the photograph, including the reverse if it includes any written information.
  • Always scan the verso of un-matted photographs if there is any writing at all, even if all versos contain the same information. Do not scan blank versos of photographs.
  • Do not scan more than one photograph in each shot.

Interleaving Materials

  • Most of the Processing Archivists interleave acidic or fragile materials with blank acid free paper for preservation reasons. Sometimes this is done after scanning, but often you will be scanning collections that have a significant amount of interleaving. Please do not scan the blank paper and be very careful to put the interleaving materials neatly back in the proper place.

Blank Pages

  • Do not scan blank pages, documents, or interleaving papers. Do not scan the reverse of documents or photograph with no handwriting. DO scan any document, page, or reverse if there is handwriting or printing with content.

Negatives, Slides, and Transparencies

  • Generally, we do not scan negatives, slides, or transparencies as part of the Fully Digitized Collections. If the processing archivist desires these photographic materials scanned, notify the digital assets manager.

Document Size

  • Documents measuring 9.5 x 15 inches or less should be scanned at 600 ppi. Documents measuring between 9.5 x 15 inches to 18.5 x 27.5 inches should be scanned at 300 ppi.

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