Library’s Collections Come to Life as 3D Models

We thank our colleague Eileen Jakeway of the Library’s 3D Digital Modeling, Imaging, and Printing Working Group for this post previously published on the Signal blog. This post has been excerpted from the original; find the complete text here.

Library’s 3D models go live!
Ask anyone what is held in the Library of Congress collections and they will give you the obvious answer: books. Lots and lots of books.

3D model of a casting of Abraham Lincoln's right hand. This model was created by Library staff during their photogrammetry training.

3D model of a casting of Abraham Lincoln’s right hand. This model was created by Library staff during their photogrammetry training.

Up until last month, I would’ve said the same thing. Since joining the Library of Congress 3D Digital Modeling, Imaging, and Printing Working Group, however, I’ve discovered that the world’s largest library in fact houses many three-dimensional objects ranging from casts of President’s hands to banjos to medieval vellum manuscripts. What’s more—you can now see some of them online as 3D objects!

The core purpose of the 3D Working Group chaired by Educational Resource Specialist Stephen Wesson is to explore ways to bring these physical artifacts to life online for users. I was lucky enough to come aboard just as the group launched a pilot project to create and display 3D models of objects held in our collections. To this end, 13 staff from all across the Library’s service units became certified in photogrammetry, a process that combines photography and the use of software to create digital, web-viewable 3D models.

As the week went on, and my photogrammetry skills grew, I became more and more awestruck by the diversity of content in our holdings and how the Library could realistically present them to the broadest range of users. Two-dimensional photographs were clearly not going to cut it.

By working and learning together with open minds and collaborative spirits, our group was able to create 3D models of a bronze casting of President Abraham Lincoln’s hand and of a manuscript from the 12th century in a mere four days. I’m proud to say that the models of Lincoln’s hand and the Exposicio mistica are now available as the LOC 3D experiment on labs.loc.gov . I promise that these 3D models will be far more interesting than the rest of this blog post so, please, take the time to check them out!

Potential Applications for Educators

In addition to viewing the 3D models online, users will be able to download STL files, which can then be used to create 3D prints of objects for use in classroom settings. Wesson tells us that “working with 3D objects becomes a tremendous opportunity for discovery; it allows learners to explore these objects in ways that they haven’t been able to before. And most importantly, it sparks ideas for future investigation.”

Speaking of future investigation, Library staff have already enjoyed the ability to 3D print Lincoln’s hand!

A 3D print of Lincoln's hand made from the digital model created by staff.

A 3D print of Lincoln’s hand made from the digital model created by staff.

Mark Dimunation, Chief of Rare Books, with the original casting of Lincoln's hand.

Mark Dimunation, Chief of Rare Books, with the original casting of Lincoln’s hand.

 

Looking Ahead
Perhaps one of the most exciting outcomes of all is that the use of new technologies can also enable collaboration, illuminate new pathways of inquiry, and serve multiple and diverse audiences.

Please join us by trying out these models, incorporating them into your work and/or using them creatively in ways we haven’t considered! Whatever you do, we’d love to hear about it. Leave comments below or reach us at [email protected].

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