This is a joint post by Aaron Chaletzky and Julie Pramis.
This past January, the Preservation Services Division (PSD) took on a new Preservation Intern: Julie Pramis. Julie is currently enrolled in the Masters of Science in Library and Information Science program (MLIS) at the Catholic University of America (CUA). She comes to PSD with an interest in digital library and archives preservation work, and has been assigned to work with several of our workflows during her tenure here – predominately brittle books, tangible media, and foreign newspapers. Julie will be with PSD through late May of this year. Here’s Julie in her own words:
I started my MLIS during Covid, so although I initially came to library science for the love of tangible media (aka old books), my classes and coursework were necessarily online and digital. I did not expect I would learn to write code, but I’ve done that for several of my classes now! Over the last two and a half years, as we transitioned back to being in the classroom, I’ve come to combine my new skills in digital media with hands-on work with rare and unique materials. Interning with PSD has been the ideal environment to work with both types of media simultaneously.
Julie came to the Library to learn about all PSD does and gain some practical experience; so we didn’t waste any time and put her to work. She immediately began her training by learning how to collate brittle books and load them into our tracking database. Importantly, Julie also got to work helping to prep a load of books bound for offsite reformatting, by manifesting the contents and updating the tracking database; she also assisted in the transfer of foreign newsprint to the Library’s reformatting vendor, too.
Collating is delicate work: they’re called brittle books for good reason. Before sending them to be digitized by our vendor, we need to know how many digital images one book will produce. That means all numbered pages plus the covers, index and glossary (if applicable), and any front matter or blank pages at the beginning and end of the book. That way when you scroll through the book online, you see every piece of the book just as you would as if you were holding it in your hands.
Books can tell you a lot before you even read them. For instance, I know that this book has never been read in its entirety because it has unopened leaves. These will need to be cut before we send them to the vendor. Keeping the leaves unopened preserves the history of the book, but when digitizing to make a text available online, it’s not so helpful to have missing pages.
Some books are easier to collate than others. One book may have ~300 numbered pages plus a few blank pages at the front and back. That and the covers, with no preface, glossary, or index separately paginated (often in roman numerals), means I can simply check the page count at the end and add the few unnumbered parts of the book and call it done. Others make me work harder. Besides those with separately numbered sections, some books here at the Library are actually multiple volumes of a serial bound together between one set of covers. That means a single book will restart its numbering every 30-40 pages, because that’s how long a single magazine or pamphlet was. These volumes could be several hundred pages – maybe close to one thousand – so collating takes time and patience. And a gentle touch.
Julie was also trained to use PSD’s BC-100 book scanner. Check out what Julie has scanned here:
Before using the BC 100, most of the digitizing work I had done was using flatbed scanners. For brittle books, and really for books in general, pressing the book flat onto a screen is not good for preserving the book itself. You’ll know if you ever tried to scan a book yourself that it’s hard to read what’s in the center of the book (the gutter) unless you press the spine down as much as you can. You might break the spine if you do that, so obviously this won’t work in PSD.
The BC 100 has a built-in book cradle with a matching glass plate to hold the book open at an angle while it takes high-res pictures. Two cameras are hooked up to two separate computers – hence the two monitors in the photo – to photograph both sides of the open book simultaneously. Setting up the machine and Capture One 20 editing software is the longest part of working with the BC 100. Once all the settings are correct it’s simple to take a photo, lift the glass plate with a foot pedal, turn the page, and lower the plate again to take another photo. Before I could do that, though, I had to configure the cameras, set the black reference and get the right white balance, and set up the software to exact specifications. It takes time to get it right. I had to start over at least once on my first time with it.
Once all the pictures are taken, I export the files to an external hard drive: this has to be done twice because remember, there are two separate computers here. This is why getting the pagination right in the software really matters. Otherwise, all of the left pages would show first in the digitized file followed by all of the right pages. That’s no way to read a book. From here it’s image cropping, straightening, and any other minor adjustments in Capture One before exporting the files again as JP2 and TIFF files. I say minor because if the image is really off – white balance too high, book skewed on the cradle, page out of focus – then it has to be scanned again. Which I also had to do after my first-time scanning. The BC 100 has a high learning curve! When the images are good, I hand off the files to someone who will convert the images to PDF and upload it to LC’s website for everyone to view.
An important part of PSD’s work is performing quality review of digital objects. Julie has been on-hand for several deliveries of digitized content, so we made sure to give her a heaping helping of QR! Let’s take a look at some of what Julie reviewed:
Julie was chosen for the Preservation Internship program because she brought a lot to the table in terms of previous experience, interest and education. Julie’s internship is now nearing its end and we can confidently say she has gained a lot of practical experience working in a production setting. After a few months of solid work, Julie will leave us armed with a portfolio of accomplishments and some practical insight into running a digitization program. Best of luck in the future Julie