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!

So, What’s in the Bag?

Equipment is one of the main facets of our project. We’ve used this blog as our key communication tool to talk about our mobile digitization kits, what they comprise of and how they’re working out for us. We’ve given a good overview of our mobile copy-stand and how portable the kit really is. But, what we haven’t touched on yet is; what is actually in our backpacks and is it all useful? The backpack holds the laptop and all of  the items that complete our scanning, copy stand and outreach kits. Some of which are heavily used; others not so.

Our backpack that holds all our supporting kit equipment.

Our backpack that holds all our supporting kit equipment.


The backpack itself was a great find and we all love it. We got in on sale from B&H for only $35 (it’s
currently $54.95). It has a laptop compartment at the back and then five other compartments – two side pockets, two front pockets and one main compartment. One of the advantages is the main compartment opens out fully (as you can see in the image below). This is really helpful for packing and unpacking.

The list below is a compilation of everything that makes up the ancillary items in the kit – not everything is in each kit due to divergence of needs between community and institution scanning. Also included, is information about whether we would buy that piece of kit again, given what we know about it now and how the project has evolved since we compiled the kit:

Laptop: Dell Precision Mobile Workstation M2800
We wrote about our laptop, which you can read here.
Buy again? No – we’d opt for a similar model but lighter.

Beike tripod fits nicely into the backpack.

Beike tripod fits nicely into the backpack.

Beike BK­555 Foldable Tripod Monopod with Ball Head for DSLR Camera
A key advantage of this tripod is the fact it folds down small enough to fit in the backpack – great for portability! The tripod for the institution kit is too large to fit into the backpack – you can read about the different tripods we have for the kits here.
Buy again? No – too flimsy for our requirements.

Western Digital My Passport Ultra 2TB Portable Hard Drive
A great, lightweight, small and portable external hard drive used to back up our master images, derivatives and metadata whilst we’re on location. Affordable too, at around $90 for 2TB of space.
Buy again? Yes

Belkin 6-Outlet Home/Office Surge Protector with 2.5 feet Cord & Straight Plug
Essential if there’s not many power sockets available – the laptop and scanner will need power and there may be times the camera batteries need charging on location.
Buy again? Yes – but would opt for a longer length lead.

Extension Cord
Extremely important for community events, as it’s not always possible to set up close to an outlet.
Buy again? Yes

Classics Stainless Steel Ruler with Cork Backing
For measuring dimensions of items to be digitized for metadata.
Buy again? Yes

White Nylon Gloves
Useful for handling photographs.
Buy again? Yes

Rocket Air Blaster Air Blower, Large
Bought as a handy way to ensure lint and dust are not on the documents or scanner glass before digitization.
Buy again? Yes

Kinetronics Digital Scanner Glass Cleaning Kit
One of the most used and treasured item in the kit! When on location, it can be used to ensure fingerprints and other marks are cleaned from the scanner bed glass.
Buy again? Yes

Extremely useful piece of kit.

Extremely useful piece of kit.

Kinetronics Anti-static Microfiber Cloth, 10×18-Inch Tiger Cloth
Always useful to have a backup cleaning cloth.
Buy again? Yes

Phone Cables (iPhone & Samsung)
Used for community scanning when donors bring in images to donate from their phones. We recently wrote about the experience of using them at community events, which you can read here.
Buy again? Yes (depending on circumstance).

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5-Inch Tablet (16 GB)
Excellent for community scanning settings. The large screen tablet is used specifically for outreach activities to display historical slideshows to event participants as a move towards interactive community scanning events.
Buy again? Yes

Close up of the historic slideshow tablet.

Close up of the historic slideshow tablet.

Wireless Computer Mouse
Useful as an alternative to using the laptop touchpad.
Buy again? Yes

Spare Battery: Watson – LP­E10 Lithium Ion Battery Pack
We’ve written about the need for spare batteries when using the copy stand as shooting remotely through the laptop drains the battery very quickly.
Buy again? Yes – an essential!

Backdrop: ePhotoInc 10 x 10 ft Solid Grey Muslin Backdrop Studio Background
The color of this backdrop is great but the material is muslin and as it is carried in the backpack everywhere, it creases very easily which can cause problems when digitizing the material to try and keep the creases out of the master images.
Buy again? No, would likely try and find a material that doesn’t crease as much.

Clamps for Backdrop: Heavy Duty Muslin Clamps
These clamps are used to secure the linen backdrop to a table for copy stand work. They are quite hard to open but extremely useful.
Buy again? Yes

Clamps for securing our muslin into place.

Clamps for securing our muslin into place.

Lens Filter Kit: 58MM Professional Lens Filter Accessory Kit for CANON EOS Rebel
Initially bought to use with the copy stand as a way to filter unwanted light out of the shots but has not been used in any of the kits.
Buy again? No

Color Balance Cards: DGK Color Tools Optek Premium Reference White Balance Card Set
This is a well used piece of kit for setting the white balance on the copy stand before each item is digitized.
Buy again? Yes

The camera remote switch was not a huge success.

The camera remote switch was not a huge success.

Remote Switch for Camera: Vello RS­C1II Wired Remote Switch for Camera
Bought to use with the camera as another option instead of remote shooting through the computer.
Buy again? No. Not this particular model, as it didn’t really work. It could be worth investing some more research into alternative solutions or simply relying on remote shooting through a computer if that option is available.

USB 2.0 Extension Cable
Used as an extension lead to plug the camera into the laptop for remote shooting. Very useful as it allows us to position the laptop away from the copy stand.
Buy again? Yes

Small Spirit Level
Ensures the camera is correctly positioned on the copy stand to allow for an even shot.
Buy again? Yes

Color and Grey Scales: Kodak Color Separation Guide and Gray Scale (Q­13, 8″ Long)
An important piece of kit and whilst quite expensive, is worth the cost.
Buy again? Yes

Kodak color guides

Kodak color guides

Book Cradle
Initially bought for use in the institution kit for small books/pamphlets. Has not been used and unsure if it would prove useful in future scenarios.
Buy again? No

Archival Polyester Book Strips (1″ x 500″ Long Roll)
Used alongside the weight bags to flatten material, if needed, ahead of digitization.
Buy again? Yes

pH Neutral Tape (3/4 x 72yds)
Used for securing book strips to muslin cloth, if needed, to provide greater stability for holding items in place during digitization.
Buy again? Yes

½ lb. Weight Bag (4)
Used to secure book strips down for flattening material during digitization.
Buy again? Yes

Outreach Materials: Forms, Brochures and Leaflets.
Community scanning events require a lot of administrative material such as metadata forms, donor consent forms and donor feedback forms. We also bring brochures about the project and personal digital archiving, as well as flyers with a list of upcoming events.
Buy again? Not an upfront cost but an ongoing administrative cost for printing and development.

Outreach Materials: Pens, Pencils.
Pens and pencils are needed at community scanning events to complete consent forms, metadata forms and feedback surveys.
Buy again? Yes.

You can access our equipment lists here and here which provide links to the products from the websites we purchased them from and also the cost of individual items.

The Hall of Fame for Great Americans: Institutional Scanning at Bronx Community College

When you think of the Hall of Fame, what springs to mind? I’ll admit that when I first saw the application for the Hall of Fame collection to considered for METRO’s Culture in Transit service, I did think it related to the baseball Hall of Fame. However, this Hall of Fame – the Hall of Fame for Great Americans – and its history is infinitely more interesting (to me) than baseball’s equivalent.

The Hall of Fame colonnade

The Hall of Fame colonnade

This collection was the focus of my on-site digitization work for February when Bronx Community College hosted me for 2 weeks. Nestled high in the Bronx, on a plateau that overlooks the Harlem River, Fort Tryon Park and the Palisades, lies a neoclassical colonnade replete with busts of some of the most prominent Americans to have ever lived, honoring their impact on the nation’s history. From past Presidents to scientists, inventors, activists and reformers, the Hall of Fame is a place of reflection and inspiration.

Bronx Community College Library boasts a beautiful painting of the Hall of Fame.

Bronx Community College Library boasts a beautiful painting of the Hall of Fame.

The archive collection brings the Hall of Fame to life; it has a fascinating history that is revealed when you begin looking through the documents. Designed by Stanford White, of the powerhouse architectural firm that was Mckim, Mead & White, the Hall of Fame was dedicated on May 30, 1901. Originally owned by NYU and built as part of their expansion into the Bronx, organizations and ordinary people could nominate members to the Hall of Fame. By the 1970s, NYU was facing financial difficulties and sold its Bronx campus to the State Dormitory Authority, which gave it to CUNY – the last election to the Hall of Fame was in 1976. Of particular interest in the archive collection is this difficult period during the 1970s with documents revealing that NYU sought to relocate the Hall of Fame to different areas in the City. I was interested to see a lot of letters from Robert Moses, an infamous figure in NYC’s history and his involvement in the attempted relocation’s of the Hall of Fame.

Some items from the collection I digitized

Some items from the collection I digitized

From a digitization perspective, it was an easy collection to digitize. I scanned the majority of it, just using the copy stand for a couple of larger items. The challenge was its size – it’s an extensive collection, that was far too large to digitize whole in a two week stretch, so prior to my arrival the archive staff carefully went through the collection, selecting items that would form a capsule collection to reflect and tell the story of the Hall of Fame. This is key when offering a mobile digitization service and working with different institutions – it’s vital to lean on local knowledge to ensure items can be selected that reflect the larger and broader history of a collection. This allowed us to demonstrate the importance and rich history of the Hall of Fame in 142 items. I’m in no way detracting from the importance and rationale of digitizing a whole collection, simply looking at it from a different perspective – some digitized content is better than no digitized content. The items digitized can form the basis to showcase the collection and its importance that could lead to further opportunities down the road. An aside from this collection but something that illustrates this point perfectly – White Plains Public Library, who were our hosts in September when I digitized 246 items from their local history collection, recently used the content I digitized in a Knight News Challenge proposal – Virtual White Plains. This was really exciting to see and we wish them luck with their application!

One of the entrances to the 630 foot open air Hall of Fame.

One of the entrances to the 630 foot open air Hall of Fame.

Thinking back to the rationale for Culture in Transit, which is something I often do when working with a new institution, this type of collection is also a perfect example of demonstrating the value of a mobile digitization service. I’m the first to admit I didn’t know about the Hall of Fame and talking to colleagues and others, it turns out they didn’t know about it either. Cultural heritage institutions are full of collections just like this one – collections that tell vital stories of the City’s history that deserve to be told on a broader platform. This collection isn’t just NYC-centric, it’s USA-centric – it champions the people who made important contributions to the history of America and the world (Alexander Graham Bell has a bust in the Colonnade) and digitization gives us the ability to add not only to our collective memory but to the historical record of New York.

The Wright brothers, inventors and aviation pioneers, have busts in the Hall of Fame.

The Wright brothers, inventors and aviation pioneers, have busts in the Hall of Fame.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter, as we’ll be letting everyone know when the collection is ready and published on Digital Culture!

Digitizing an oversize poster collection: Institutional Scanning at Yeshiva University

In January, I spent almost two weeks onsite at the Mendel Gottesman Library, Yeshiva University digitizing posters from the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) poster collection.

The collection comprised of 177 hand drawn and printed posters from SSSJ. Founded in 1964 by Jacob Birnbaum, SSSJ was a pioneer in the movement to oppose the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union. This cause eventually became a mainstream, worldwide movement, considered the most effective advocacy campaign by American Jewry in the 20th century, lasting until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and resulting in the emigration of over a million Soviet Jews.

Our new LED lights in action.

Our new LED lights in action.

Yeshiva was a great host institution to work with as their material had to be digitized using our mobile copy-stand – its first real challenge. Although I’ve used our copy-stand at Wildlife Conservation Society, White Plains Public Library and the LGBT Center, I have not used it at length or exclusively to digitize a collection. It was also the debut of our new lights; we purchased some LED lights back in December to trial as an alternative to our daylight balance fluorescent lights.

Overall, I’m extremely pleased at how the copy-stand stood up to the test. The new lights were excellent – they provide a much more even distribution of light across the material than our other lights and the color of the light is much better too; I always felt the original lights were too dark. The downside to working with the new lights was their battery power. They only lasted around 2.5 hours before they needed charging – which took approx 4 hours. When this happened early on during my time at Yeshiva, I adjusted my workflow slightly, so I could concentrate on other tasks other than image capture whilst the batteries charged. The camera battery is also a weakness of the copy-stand – it only lasts an hour when you remote shoot through the computer. However, I already knew about this and so had a good system in place to always have one battery in the camera, one charging and one ready to replace the battery in the camera.

The whole process of copy-stand work takes more time than with the scanner – there is definitely more post production work that needs to happen with the images. Positioning the material on the backdrop also takes longer than positioning on the scanner. However, the material that needed digitizing – an oversize poster collection – is really where the copy-stand came into its own; even a larger flat-bed scanner would not have done the trick. To get these materials digitized without Culture in Transit would definitely have involved work from a vendor with a static copy-stand.

The book weights and strips in action flattening out a poster ready for digitizing.

The book weights and strips in action flattening out a poster ready for digitizing.

One other concern I had was being able to flatten the posters adequately enough. A lot of them were rolled and had spent many years in that position. We do not have any plexi-glass/optically pure glass in our kit to cope with this situation – I would like to add it but am still unsure about how to transport it around. A few months back, knowing I would eventually face a situation where I needed the ability to flatten material, I decided to add some archival weight bags and archival quality book strips to my kit. To flatten the material enough to digitize it, I secured the top and bottom of the poster down with a portion of the book strip and the weight bags. Some posters were just so tightly rolled that even this didn’t do the trick and they had to be flattened by the archives staff before we managed to digitize them. However, the majority of the rolled posters were fine to be held in position in this manner – another win for the mobile copy-stand! I had to be careful to ensure the book strips did not catch any of the light as this created a reflection in the digitized image and although this method is not as effective as glass to flatten the whole object, I am pretty pleased we have found a method that does enable us to digitize tricky archival material!

A rolled poster, flattened and ready for digitizing.

A rolled poster, flattened and ready for digitizing.

We’re spending some time now behind the scenes preparing the collection for publication on Digital Culture – we’ll be sure to announce its publication on Twitter once it’s ready for everyone’s viewing pleasure.