Here in Rubenstein Library Research Services, we always strive to fulfill our researchers’ wishes to use our inspiring materials in their work. However, rare materials often come in formats that pose a challenge to standard modern imaging equipment. We frequently receive requests from researchers to digitize books and maps that are too big or too tightly bound for our scanning equipment. Researchers also seek digital files of obsolete audio and A/V formats, such as records, VHS tapes, and audio reel tapes, but our ancient VHS players and reel tape decks went the way of the dinosaur, even as we kept pace with the latest technology for imaging paper, discs, and microfilm.
Thankfully, the buck doesn’t stop here in Research Services. We have an amazing digitization resource right here in the Libraries: the Digital Production Center, or DPC, as it is fondly known. DPC staff are highly-trained digitization experts, and their lab is filled with the latest digitizing technology. Mostly they digitize collections (hence our wonderful online Digital Collections!), but when we have a Rubenstein request that can’t be imaged on our equipment, the DPC takes up the challenge and works their magic.
I was invited to train with the DPC wizards recently, studying how they fulfill these challenging requests. Although I learned a lot about how the digitization process works, I still think it’s partly magical.
For visual images such as maps or books, the DPC’s computer monitor must first be calibrated to render the colors with absolute accuracy, or the scanned image might end up with an undesirable color cast. This is done using a color target, X-rite Photo Pro software, and the i1 PhotoPro 2 spectrophotometer, which optically “reads” the colors on the monitor in a magical fashion, just by touching the screen.
The lighting in the lab uses true full-spectrum daylight bulbs. Even the walls in the imaging areas are painted the exact shade of 18% grey used by photographers to achieve accurate white balance; in this case it also helps to prevent color casts from affecting the image.
For most paper originals, the DPC uses a Phase One camera capable of producing 1200 dpi images. Softboxed sidelighting on two sides provides even illumination. To capture large items, the camera must be raised high on a stand. Too high, and the image will be too pixelated; too low, and the edges of the image could get clipped. Like Goldilocks’ porridge, the height has to be just right.
The DPC can also digitize the many obsolete audio recordings on reel tape, records, or cassettes found in our twentieth-century and newer collections. This kind of magic is especially astonishing: sound vibrations are captured as magnetic density on the tape, which the audio analog-digital interface then samples electronically and translates into 1’s and 0’s. The computer then renders this data visually on the monitor, before assembling it back into sound as an mp3 or wav file.
Of course, we can’t forget about the ever-popular medium of video. Rubenstein collections include video on several types of exotic tape cassettes, such as VHS, U-matic, Betacam and Hi-8. The DPC rises to the challenge, with media capture decks that play obsolete tape formats and send their signals through analog-to-digital converters to create a tidy video file.
After stringent quality control checks, logging of the work done, and backing up to the server, the digital file is uploaded and shared via a media sharing service, and Abracadabra! The millions of zeros and ones reassemble themselves on the researcher’s computer into a perfect facsimile of the original object.
Now, that’s just plain magic.
To see the DPC’s take on the training sessions, check out the Digital Project Team’s Bitstreams blog post.
Post contributed by Megan O’Connell, Reproduction Services Manager