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 cultureintransit@metro.org

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 cultureintransit@metro.org 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:
2.7”x9.5”

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.

Training for Small Scale Digitization Projects

Over the course of December, I conducted two trainings with local community groups that are beginning digitization projects: the Breezy Point Historical Society, and the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council. These two trainings were a great opportunity to bring together the technical resources of Queens Memory and CIT into a two hour workshop teaching technical skills and project management for a digitization program. The trainings also served to bring new volunteers and organizations into the Queens Memory project!

Breezy Point Historical Society

Breezy Point Historical Society at a digitization training with Queens Memory on Dec 9th, 2015.

Breezy Point is on the tip of the Rockaway Peninsula, which experienced extensive flooding during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Many families lost everything in their homes, including family photographs and records. The Breezy Point Historical Society formed to gather and digitize the surviving materials that document the unique history of the small community. Consisting of long-time residents, the Historical Society has gathered photographs and newsletters and already has a small office, a computer and scanner.

The Greater Ridgewood Youth Council (GRYC) provides educational, recreational, cultural and employment programs for youth in Western Queens. Currently 19 youth participating in the GRYC’s “Work, Learn & Grow Employment Program”, are undertaking a community documentation project in collaboration with Queens Memory. The youth will conduct oral history interviews with local residents, as well as digitizing and cataloging materials from the archives at GRYC. All these materials will become part of the Archives at Queens Library.

Both trainings focused on the digitization process and workflow. In both trainings, I included a lot of information about resolution, bit-depth, color space, compression and file format. These are all setting that you need to know about in order to create high quality preservation files. Although I also supply a list of recommended settings, I think it’s really important for people to learn WHY we are choosing these settings and actually understand the technology behind the process. At the beginning of my training in Breezy Point, no one in the room knew what resolution was, and by the participants not only knew about resolution, but could also come up with multiple great analogies to explain the difference between lossy and lossless compression!

Metadata for Teenagers

Slide explaining metadata to teenagers at GRYC on Dec 17th, 2015.

The trainings also include sections on metadata, the use of metadata schemas, and the importance of file naming conventions. These can be really useful moments to talk about the value these collections can hold, and how others might interact with the material now or in the future. I also talked about how to collect and record metadata for the material being digitized. Finally, we always end by talking about the importance of backing up!

In both these cases, participants left with a basic but comprehensive understanding of the decisions and processes for a small-scale, local digitization project. At the end of the training at the GRYC, one teen told me that it had been “kind of cool” and it made her “feel smart” to know how to use the computer to digitize material. And that is really the most I can hope for!