Ten Years, Ten People: Oscar Arias, Digitization Specialist

Oscar Arias has been at Duke University Libraries for eleven years. Six months ago he joined the staff of the Digital Production Center as a Digitization Specialist. The DPC digitizes rare and fragile items to make them available in digital format.

Oscar is usually involved in any of the three main stages of the digitizing process: assessing the collection to develop a digitizing work flow and digitization guide, the actual scanning or digitizing of materials (using a variety of scanners or video digitizing equipment), and the quality control phase.

When asked to describe an interesting project he has worked on, Oscar replied:

One of the most interesting collections I’ve worked with is the collection of papers of Marshall T. Meyer. Dr. Meyer was an American activist Rabbi who worked in Argentina in the 1970’s, during the period of military dictatorship and repression. This period gave way to what came to be known as “La Guerra Sucia,” or the Dirty War, as it came to be known, in which thousands of Argentine citizens were “Desaparecidos,” or disappeared and presumed dead, or incarcerated without trial for suspected opposition to the government.

Rabbi Meyer was an activist and advocate for human rights during this dark period of Argentine history, and he personally advocated for the release of political prisoners. As part of the collection that we had to digitize, there were many original hand-written letters from prisoners and other original documents filled with gut wrenching testimonies of arrests, incarcerations and torture, and the desperate plight of family members of those disappeared or incarcerated.

I remember reading in school in some distant history book about the military dictatorship in Argentina in the late 1970’s. But being able to browse and read some of these hand-written, first-hand accounts in Spanish (my native language) was a profoundly different experience. It helped to remember that behind the news headlines of some distant conflict or behind the title of a chapter in a history book, there are real human beings with names and faces and real stories of tragedy during times of war and oppression. I look forward to the time of the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 4:2)

Note on image: Correspondence to Rabbi Meyers from Deborah Esther Benchoam, a political prisoner who was held in cell 55 of the Villa Devoto women’s prison during the repression. From the RBMSCL Marshall T. Meyer Collection.

We Are Winners!

Heritage Preservation, the sponsors of May Day 2010, has pulled our name from a hat and awarded us a prize for our May Day blog post. Four winners from all of the participants were randomly drawn by members of the DC 16 firehouse, Heritage Preservation’s local firemen. Very fitting, no?

A list of all the participants finds us in good company. The other winners were Lycoming College’s Snowden Library, the Toy and Minature Museum of Kansas City, and the Balboa Art and Conservation Center.

Our prize is six Rescubes, perfect for those days when you come into work after a long summer holiday weekend only to discover that a water fountain pipe burst sometime at the beginning of that three day weekend, and there are three floors of wet carpeting and a small mold issue to deal with. Not that we would know from personal experience. [It’s all cleaned up now and dehumidifiers and carpet fans are on scene.] Happy Tuesday!

Preservation Underground Word Cloud




access ago aic alcts alex artifacts avoid best beth blog book box care case center choose clean collections comes comments conditions conservation contents controlled damage days department digital disaster display documents doyle duke dust e-forum enclosures environment family foil food format fragile give handling hands hang home humidity idea information items keep labels library light lot manuscript materials mold national original page paper people ph photographs photos plan plastic pollutants posted preservation production project protect provide pt quality rare read recommend relative resources safe sensitive store sure temperature ten textiles things think tin tips tools university web week work years
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ALCTS e-Forum on Web 2.0 Tools

We are participating in an ALCTS e-forum today called “Using Web 2.0 Tools to Enhance Technical Services Work.” The question is “how can you solve problems within technical services using Web 2.0 tools?”. Anyone have good ideas to share? I’m listing some of the more interesting ones on our Face Book page.

You can sign up for future ALCTS e-forums at this link, you do not need to be an ALCTS member to participate. The forums discussion is via email.

So far, some of the ideas including using social media for outreach and education (my first post to the discussion), using a wiki for your instruction manual, and using blogs for current events, and using instant messaging for large group projects.

Ten Years, Ten People: Alex Marsh, Digitization Specialist

Alex Marsh is a Digitization Specialist in the Digital Production Center. He has been with us for five months and works primarily with rare and fragile materials from a variety of collections. He has recently worked with the Ethiopic Manuscripts collection, Duke University Herbarium materials, and American broadsides from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections. Many of these will be made available through our digital collections portal.

Alex works with several different cameras to digitize the collections. Large materials or those that are particularly fragile go under the Phase One Camera. The Zeutschel 14000 A2 scanner is best for those items that are smaller and flat, like manuscript collections or typescripts. We also have a new SAMMA Solo migration system for digitizing our rare and aging videotape.

When asked to describe one of his favorite projects he said:

“The most interesting collection I have worked with so far are the Ethiopic manuscripts. They are very old and fragile and I cannot read the text, so I feel like an archeologist when I am handling them. Photographing the pages is tricky because they often do not lay flat, which causes focus issues, and, because I cannot read the text, it is possible to inadvertently miss a page or photograph the same page twice if I am not careful. It is exciting to work with such rare material and I look forward to seeing the project in digital format after completion.”


Images from Ethiopic Manuscript #35
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Preservation Week: 10 Tips For Your Collections (pt. 4)

Tip 8: Access and Preservation Go Together

A great amount of ink has been spilled when it comes to the “dilemma” of “preservation vs. access.” I, however, think access and preservation depend on each other for success. If items are not used, how do you know what condition they are in? Without access, digital files can become corrupt or disappear without notice. Friends, it’s two sides of the coin. Some tips to improve access and thus promote preservation:

Provide who/what/when/where for photos and documents.
You can write on the back of photos or documents lightly with a pencil, or take a digital image and add the information to the digital file. Be sure to put these in a safe location, or transfer the files regularly.


Inspect items regularly
Take things out occasionally and inspect them for mold and insect activity. Be sure they are clean and have no damage.

Organize and identify items
Label enclosures adequately so you know what is inside. This will also reduce rumaging through boxes to find what you need.

Give displayed items a rest
Rotate displays to give items a break from being out, and to show off other items. This gives you a chance to inspect items regularly, too.

Document your documents
Document items for insurance purposes should disaster strike (describe valuables and take pictures of them, perhaps part of a home inventory).

Tip 9: Be An Informed Consumer

There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to preservation information and conservation instructions. You need to be an informed consumer when you are searching the web or watching television. There are some excellent online resources out there that offer solid advice including these:

Library of Congress Preservation Directorate
Northeast Document Conservation Center
Conservation Online
National Archives and Records Administration
Lyrasis
American Institute for Conservation
ALA Preservation and Reformatting Section
National Archives of Australia
British Library’s Collection Care Department

Tip 10: Leave the Repairs to the Professionals

Sure, you can tape book pages together or attempt DIY book repair, but if your collection is valuable to you sentimentally or monetarily, it is best to consult a professional conservator. A good conservator will give you a range of options from an enclosure to full treatment and should be able to discuss with you, in plain English, what your choices are and how they will affect your material. Do not be afraid to ask questions. We conservators love to talk business. We also love to talk food…but that is a completely different blog post.

Thanks For Reading

We hope you have enjoyed our Preservation Week blogging. If you have learned something new or taken any advice, we would love to hear from you on what you did to protect your personal collections.

Duke University Libraries Preservation