Tag Archives: Digital Production Center

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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Celebrating 10 Years of Preservation: 10 years, 10 People

This year marks the Preservation Department’s tenth year serving the Duke University Libraries. We are planning several events to mark the occasion which will include exhibits, an open house, and interviews with staff members.

We will start our staff interviews with our longest-serving team member Winston Atkins, Preservation Officer for the libraries. Winston came to Duke from NC State a decade ago and was tasked with starting the Preservation Department. You can also find this and other videos at our Duke University Libraries You Tube channel.

We would love to hear from you if you have favorite Preservation, Conservation or DPC story to share, or would just like to give us a shout out and let us know how we are doing. Contact me and I’ll compile them for a blog post later.

The Internet Archive Arrives at Duke

It happened this week. The library has been contributing content to the Internet Archive through the Scribe Project at UNC as we mentioned in a previous post. On Tuesday we got our very own Scribe. We were giddy with excitement, until it wouldn’t fit in the door.

How many librarians does it take to get a 36″ piece of equipment through a 35″ door? Our head of Shipping and Receiving to the rescue! Thanks to Charles we got the door off its hinges and the Scribe into the Digital Production Center. Hoorah!

Stacy, Emily, Robert and Abigail from the Internet Archive went to work getting the system up and running. Soon it will be humming along, creating digital content at the estimated rate of up to 3,000 items per year. We will be focusing on materials from the Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collection Library. With luck (and technical skill) the first books should be under the camera by the end of the day.

Update: Read more on the Scribe at the Devil’s Tale, the blog of the Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collection Library.

‘From Caricature to Comic Strip’

On Monday we helped install the new exhibit in the Perkins Gallery. “Abusing Power” is curated by Neil McWilliam, Walter H. Annenberg Professor in the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, and several of his students in his course “From Caricature to Comic Strip.” It coincides with another exhibit now at the Nasher Museum called “Lines of Attack: Conflicts in Caricature,” on display until May 16, 2010.

We love working with Meg Brown, Exhibits Curator for Perkins Library. Conservation creates many of the book supports you see in the exhibit space. We also help install the exhibits, being sure the items are well supported and in good condition for viewing. It’s great to work collaboratively in this way, and so much fun to see the new exhibit take shape. I especially enjoy seeing all of the students, faculty and staff stop to see what is happening in the space and what’s coming next. Frankly, I just love getting out of the basement and into the thick of things for a change.

I invite you to come by and see the wonderful display of 19th Century materials and learn a little about the evolution of caricatures as an art form. Be sure to check out Devil’s Tale for more on this exhibit. The online images from the exhibit were made in the Digital Production Center.

What’s in the Digital Production Center?


Yesterday we started digitizing our collection of Ethiopic scrolls. Last year these were sent to Conservation for rehousing. They had been rolled up tight and were difficult if not impossible to use. Conservation created large cores out of buffered corrugated board wrapped in buffered paper (photo left). The larger cores will help relax the tightly wound scrolls which should make them easier to use.

Now they are in the Digital Production Center (DPC) to be imaged. DPC is working closely with Conservation as these are pretty tricky to handle and to photograph. The scrolls are made of either vellum or leather which stretches and gets distorted when stored under less than ideal conditions (that would be prior to them coming to RBMSCL of course). That is a nice way of saying these things are not at all flat nor easy to photograph.

First, we had to create a mechanism to hold the scrolls in place under the camera while at the same time allowing us to unwind them from start to finish (photo left). We are using two corrugated cores, Ethafoam strips and magnets to hold everything in place. Since the scrolls are too long and distorted to image unrolled in one shot, we have to photograph a few inches at a time.

The process goes like this: the conservator unrolls about eight inches of scroll, the camera operator takes an image and makes sure the image is in focus or as close to it as a very wavy piece of vellum can be. If the image is a little blurry, he adjusts the camera and shoots another photograph. If that image passes quality control, the conservator unrolls another section and the process continues until the scroll is imaged from top to bottom. We can take between 8 and 15 images per scroll depending on the length and condition of the vellum.

Our first day went well and we learned a lot. It can be a slow, painstaking process because of the condition of the materials, luckily we know a little something about working efficiently under these conditions since we do it every day. We love challenging projects like this one because we get to work collaboratively, handle amazing materials and really put our skills to the test.

There are a few more images on our Flickr page as well as our FaceBook page if you are interested in seeing more of the scrolls.

Christmas Comes Early to the Digital Production Center

Remember when you were a kid counting the days to Christmas and the closer Christmas got the longer the days seemed to be? When Christmas finally showed up I was just like most other kids on Christmas morning…up at 5 a.m. waiting for my parents to wake up so I could open the presents Santa had left. I didn’t realize at the time that Santa was exhausted and had just gone to bed a few hours before I woke up. I must learn to be patient my mother would say.

Well, that patience has paid off and Christmas arrived a little early this year in the Digital Production Center. In November, after a month of testing, the Library purchased a Phase One camera system. This camera is built for speed and achieves a similar quality to the camera it replaced. Then, in early December we purchased a Zeutschel 14000 A2 camera system which is also built for speed, replacing the slower flatbed scanners. The space age look of this camera system reminds me of a Transformer from my childhood days. And to top it all off we have recently purchased a SAMMA Solo video digitization unit. This unit allows us to digitized analog video, which is something we were not able to do in the past.

It’s like Christmas morning in the Digital Production Center putting everything together and trying to figure out how everything works. While we are experiencing some growing pains we are excited with the challenge of mastering the new equipment. We have been focusing on developing new workflows to accommodate a much faster production rate and adjusting to new software that automates some of the process.

With two new full time staff members we will be able to use the new equipment to it’s fullest potential. With all that is new in the Digital Production Center we will be much more efficient and able to focus on the Libraries Strategic Plan to provide more digital content.

Thanks Santa!

Written by Mike Adamo, Digital Production Center

Welcome to the Team

We have two new members of the Digital Production Center starting work today. Oscar Arias has been with Duke Libraries for a long time. Lately he has been working for the Center for Instructional Technology as an Instructional Technology Lab Coordinator. In that capacity he helped students and faculty with lab resources, conducted workshops, and provided project assistance to language instructors.

Alex Marsh is new to Duke University Libraries. He brings a lot of experience in high-end digital imaging, photographic archiving, web content production and A/V digitization.

Both Oscar and Alex are Digitization Specialists in the DPC. Their primary responsibility will be producing digital surrogates of books, manuscripts and a/v materials from our collections. With Mike Adamo and Rita Johnston, we now have four staff (and many students assistants) in the DPC working diligently to safely reformat our rare and unique collections.

Preservation Is Interdisciplinary

Academic research has become more and more interdisciplinary. Whether you are studying the Brain and Society, or you are Engineering World Health, it is not enough to stay in your ‘silo’ for four years and hope for the best. That is true for the Preservation Department as well.

We work across the Duke University Library system to preserve materials from all subject areas so they can be accessed by patrons on campus and around the world. We have worked on model airplanes and pink dragons from the Hartmen Center, football programs from the University Archives, Louisa Whitman letters to her son Walt Whitman from the Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collection Library, and of course thousands of items from the circulating collections.

The Preservation Department is breaking new ground in the types of services it can provide for the Library. The newly named Verne and Tanya Roberts Conservation Lab has equipment that enables us to do conservation treatments on paper based materials such as books and manuscripts. With the equipment in the Digital Production Center we can now help provide easier access to non-print media such as photographs and moving images.* Our strong tradition of caring for paper-based materials has expanded to include providing access to collections through the digitization process. We take an interdisciplinary approach to our work so that you, our patrons, can do the same.

*See Duke Digital Collections for more online collections.