While most of my Bitstreams posts have focused on my work preserving and archiving audio collections, my job responsibilities also include digitizing materials for display in Duke University Libraries Exhibits. The recent renovation and expansion of the Perkins Library entrance and the Rubenstein Library have opened up significantly more gallery space, meaning more exhibits being rotated through at a faster pace.
Just in the past year, I’ve created digital images for exhibits on Vesalius’s study of human anatomy, William Gedney’s photographs, Duke Chapel’s stained glass windows, and the 1793 Yellow Fever epidemic. I also worked with a wide range of materials spanning “books, manuscripts, photographs, recordings and artifacts that document human aspirations” for the Dreamers and Dissenters exhibit celebrating the reopening of the newly renovated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The digital images are used to create enlargements and facsimiles for the physical exhibits and are also used in the online “virtual exhibits.”
Working with such a variety of media spanning different library collections presents a number of challenges and necessitates working closely with our Exhibits and Conservation departments. First, we have to make sure that we have all of the items listed in the inventory provided by the exhibit curator. Secondly, we have to make sure we have all of the relevant information about how each item should be digitally captured (e.g. What image resolution and file specifications? Which pages from a larger volume? What section of a larger map or print?) Next we have to consider handling for items that are in fragile condition and need special attention. Finally, we use all of this information to determine which scanner, camera, or A/V deck is appropriate for each item and what the most efficient order to capture them in is.
All of this planning and preliminary work helps to ensure that the digitization process goes smoothly and that most questions and irregularities have already been addressed. Even so, there are always issues that come up forcing us to improvise creative solutions. For instance: how to level and stabilize a large, fragile folded map that is tipped into a volume with tight binding? How to assemble a seamless composite image of an extremely large poster that has to be photographed in multiple sections? How to minimize glare and reflection from glossy photos that are cupped from age? I won’t give away all of our secrets here, but I’ll provide a couple examples from the Duke Chapel exhibit that is currently on display in the Jerry and Bruce Chappell Family gallery.
This facsimile of a drawing for one of the Chapel’s carved angels was reproduced from an original architectural blueprint. It came to us as a large and tightly rolled blueprint–so large, in fact, that we had to add a piece of plywood to our usual camera work surface to accommodate it. We then strategically placed weights around the blueprint to keep it flattened while not obscuring the section with the drawing. The paper was still slightly wrinkled and buckled in places (which can lead to uneven color and lighting in the resulting digital image) but fortunately the already mottled complexion of the blueprint material made it impossible to notice these imperfections.
These projected images of the Chapel’s stained glass were reproduced from slides taken by a student in 1983 and currently housed in the University Archives. After the first run through our slide scanner, the digital images looked okay on screen, but were noticeably blurry when enlarged. Further investigation of the slides revealed an additional clear plastic protective housing which we were able to carefully remove. Without this extra refractive layer, the digital images were noticeably sharper and more vibrant.
Despite the digitization challenges, it is satisfying to see these otherwise hidden treasures being displayed and enjoyed in places that students, staff, and visitors pass through everyday–and knowing that we played a small part in contributing to the finished product!