Culture in Transit Toolkit Now Available!

We’re delighted to announce the launch of the Culture in Transit Toolkit, the culmination of our 18 month project funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, News Challenge on Libraries.

The project has had huge successes, with 3,400 unique items digitized and shared online – in our respective institutions’ online digital collection portals and with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). We have undertaken 52 community events across Queens and Brooklyn, hosted 2 training workshops and worked with 10 cultural heritage institutions across New York City and Westchester County, providing on-site digitization services to expose hidden archival collections, preserve local history and share these collections on a wider platform.

The Toolkit mirrors our main areas of work; there is a section devoted to community engagement and digitization events, a section dedicated to working with small cultural heritage institutions to digitize archival collections and a section on equipment – the link that united our project together to enable us to undertake different forms of digitization work but with the same mobile digitization workstations.

Landing page for CIT Toolkit

Landing page for CIT Toolkit

Our aim was to make digitization achievable in as low maintenance and as straightforward way as possible – both in terms of equipment needed and project execution. We compiled our mobile digitization workstations with this in mind and in our Toolkit you’ll find equipment lists for our Scanning and Copy Stand digitization kits. We also used this blog as a forum to discuss our equipment choices and review certain products.

The Equipment page on the CIT Toolkit

The Equipment page on the CIT Toolkit

An important aspect of the project for us was sharing what we learned and after presenting at various conferences over the past year, we have had the opportunity to connect with a lot of people who spoke of the value a Toolkit could bring to them. With the launch of our Toolkit, we are excited to share the information and experiences we have amassed over the course of the project in a helpful, user-friendly way that we are confident will enable others to undertake such work.

We want to make our approach to digitization replicable by anyone, anywhere. We have, therefore, licensed all of the content in the Toolkit under a CC 1.0 Universal license, meaning the content is in the public domain, with no copyright restrictions. Anyone is free to reuse any of the material in the toolkit.

If you would like to get in touch with a question or comment, we’d love to hear from you! Please email

Culture in Transit Toolkit…. Coming Soon!

Although our project is drawing to a close, we are still working feverishly behind the scenes getting ready for our last, and most important project milestone; the launch of the Culture in Transit Toolkit! We are pleased to say that the Toolkit will be launching in the very near future.

A major goal of the project was to make our approach to digitization replicable by anyone. With the launch of the Toolkit, we believe that goal will be realized. Made up of 3 main sections that reflect our work over the last 18 months, the Toolkit will provide guidance and information on those looking to undertake community digitization work, undertaking digitization work with small cultural heritage institutions and just what equipment you really need to create a mobile digitization workstation! There will be reusable resources available for download throughout each section.

We will be announcing the launch of the Toolkit on Twitter (@DigitizeNYC); go follow us if you don’t already, so you can be the first to know when the Toolkit is up and ready for use! We’ll also be linking to the Toolkit from this website for easy access.

If Twitter isn’t your thing and you’d like to receive a notification via email when the Toolkit launches, then please email and we’ll be sure to notify you on launch day.

Equipment Review: Digitization Solution for Lantern Slides and Glass Plate Negatives

During my site visit to the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen (GSMT), in preparation for on site work there, the Archivist presented some lantern slides and glass plate negatives that they were keen to have digitized. Our scanner, the Epson V600, has the capability to scan transparencies but is limited in scope in terms of size of transparencies it can deal with and I knew looking at the material, they were too large for our scanner.

Epson V600 transparency capabilities:
Transparency size:

Supported film size:
35mm mounted slides
35mm film strips
Medium format strips 6x22cm

GSMT lantern slide size: 8.5x10cm
GSMT glass plate negative size: 35x28cm

Lantern slides and glass plate negatives abound in archives everywhere. They’re easy to digitize (if they’re in robust condition); you just need the right equipment in order to do so. Knowing our scanner could not accommodate them and knowing that I wanted to digitize them during my time on site at GSMT, I spent some time researching additional equipment to add to our kit.

I quickly settled on the solution of camera, light box and Photoshop . We technically didn’t need Photoshop for the lantern slides (aside from some cropping) but we did need Photoshop for the glass plate negatives as it enabled us to turn the negative into a positive.

We already had the camera, tripod and Photoshop; we just needed to add a light box to our kit. However, in this instance we also purchased a new camera lens. We already had a lens that came with our Canon Rebel T5; an 18-35mm lens. We’ve had some issues with lens curvature that’s purely due to the construction of the lens; the curve has been noticeable in some items I’ve digitized and so I’ve been thinking for some time about adding another lens to our kit. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so and I spent time researching different types of lenses, settling on the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens for the job. This lens has a flat field of focus and so does not reproduce the curvature our original lens does. This will not only help with types of material such as transparencies but with other formats that are unsuitable for scanning. However, it does have a limitation in terms of the size of item we can photograph because it is a short macro lens, but overall, it’s addition to our kit really helps with our copy-stand digitization solution.    

Our new Canon Macro Lens

Our new Canon EF-S 60mm Macro Lens

We’ve used B&H a lot during the compilation of our mobile digitization kits and they’ve also given us good advice on a few occasions when we’ve had questions, so it was my first port of call in search of a light box. As with everything in our kits, I needed it to be portable – as lightweight as possible and small enough to fit in my backpack. This need definitely scaled down my available options but I was able to find a product that suited our needs.

Our light box and camera solution for digitizing lantern slides.

Our light box and camera solution for digitizing lantern slides.

I opted for the Porta Trace 10”x12” – it was large enough to accommodate the lantern slides that needed digitizing but small enough to be able to fit in my backpack for easy transportation. The lightsource is LED which gives a more even distribution of light and does not heat up as quickly as other light sources. Purchasing this particular light box discounted our ability to digitize the glass plate negatives as they were too large but luckily, GSMT had a light box that was big enough to accommodate them, enabling their digitization as well – a bonus!

The light box and macro lens worked extremely well for the lantern slides and all 78 were digitized successfully. We are glad of the opportunity we had to work with GSMT and are happy that not only were we able to expand our kit enabling us to accommodate the digitization of different formats but also that we were able to digitize GSMT’s material successfully and allow access of them to wider audiences.

One of the lantern slides digitized with our light box and camera.

One of the lantern slides digitized with our light box and camera.

Wrapping It All Up: Institutional Scanning at Fordham University

All good things must come to an end. And, so it is, that June saw me wheel my mobile digitization kit to the last institution we would be working with as part of the Culture in Transit project.

Fordham University was my last stop. Set in lush grounds, high up in the Bronx, it neighbors our very first CIT institution, the Wildlife Conservation Society – a nice way to wrap up the project; to end where we began!

The items to be digitized were a collection of pamphlets and broadsides concerned with the Italian Unification. This was the political and social movement during the nineteenth century that saw the consolidation of different states of the Italian peninsula form into the Kingdom of United Italy.

One of the broadsides scanned at Fordham University.

One of the broadsides scanned at Fordham University.

The pamphlets and broadsides are an important collection of documents that offer detail into the Italian Unification from the perspective of the Catholic Church. They give a snapshot of the Church at a specific time and place and deal with not only the politics of the Unification but touch on different aspects of the unification process as well as general daily life during this period from a Catholic point of view.

The scanning at Fordham also provided a great new testing opportunity for a new scanner we added to our kit recently; the Epson 11000XL*. This is a tried and tested scanner that is reliably used in many an archive across the country and also internationally. We wanted to add it to the kit to offer more flexibility in the size of documents we could scan as well as the flexibility to be able to digitize a broader range of transparencies compared to the V600.

One of the broadsides scanned using the Epson 11000XL.

One of the broadsides scanned using the Epson 11000XL.

We love our V600 but this addition allows us to offer an even more comprehensive service and certainly, in this instance, allowed us to digitize the Fordham pamphlets with ease. The scan bed was large enough on the 11000XL to scan the pamphlet 2 pages at a time; the V600 would have only allowed for 1 page at a time, so more time would have been spent, positioning the pamphlet on the scan bed, adjusting the filename and doing the pre-scan in Silverfast – only seconds for each page but it would have added up to substantial minutes over all pamphlets scanned. It does take longer to scan with the Epson 11000XL vs. the V600 but I don’t view this as lost time as I was able to work on metadata and derivative creation/derivative editing whilst the 11000XL scanned.

There’s a lot of activity going on behind the scenes now to prepare the collection for ingest in METRO’s Digital Culture. We’ll be, as always, announcing the publication of the collection on Twitter in the coming weeks – so stay tuned!

*disclaimer: The Epson 11000XL is much larger and heavier than the V600. It isn’t our first choice scanner for mobile digitization jobs – but we love it all the same!