Modifying Our Digitization Standards

In October we wrote about our digitization standards for the project. We developed these standards at the outset of the project, before we had hosted any public events or visited any cultural heritage institutions. We agreed on robust standards, such as including a color target in every image, that would place us in-line with the standards used for in-house digitization projects. Our reasoning was that we both wanted to meet professional standards with our project, and that our community digitization events would be the only opportunity we would have to capture information about the unique materials brought in by the public. Thus it was all the more important that we create robust digital surrogates containing as much information as possible during our community events.

Master file of a photograph donated at a Queens Library event by Dolores Fernandez-Alic.

Master file with a color target of a photograph donated at an early Queens Library event by Dolores Fernandez-Alic.

Even in October, comparatively early in the project, we realized that cropping the color targets out of our Master files during community events to share with donors was really time consuming. As our events became busier, this process became less and less realistic. We didn’t want to end up in a situation where we were turning away donors because we were too busy cropping color targets out of JPEGS. We decided to modify our digitization standards for community events. We now scan one color target for each donor (with the date included in the file name), which is saved in the donor folder. Master TIFF files are created without a color target, which means the items are already cropped (thanks to the great pre-scan functionality of Silverfast). To create the JPEG derivative files that we share with donors, we just have to run a simple action in Photoshop that automates the file transformations. Even for a donor with a lot of material, this action takes under a minute to complete.

Color target, consent form, and digital surrogates in a donor folder (Irene Murphy Wallach).

This modification of our standards allows us to retain professional-level standards and best practices, while also responding to the time-pressured reality of digitizing material during public events.

Equipment Review: Epson V800 Flatbed Scanner

At Queens Library we purchased the Epson V800 scanner, as our department already had access to a V600 model and we wanted to experiment with another scanner model. The V800 also has some extended capability, including a significantly larger scan bed area for transparencies and the ability to scan 4×5 negatives. Many of the thoughts that Caroline summarized in her review of the V600 scanner hold true for the V800 model (it’s a great piece of equipment!). But there are some key differences between the models that should considered, especially given the substantial difference in price between the two models.

Sarah uses the V800 scanner at the Forest Hills Library.

Sarah uses the V800 scanner at the Forest Hills Library.

Size & Weight
The Epson V800 weighs 14.6 pounds, about 5 pounds heavier than the V600 model. It’s also slightly larger physically. While unfortunately this additional size and weight doesn’t mean a larger scan bed, it does mean that you need a larger wheeled case for transportation. We purchased the Pelican Storm Trak iM2975 for the V800. The case is easy to wheel around, but it’s size makes it unwieldy and it requires two people to lift in and out of a car.

The V800 model comes with Silverfast included, and as Caroline has noted, we love using this software.

Negative Capabilities
We haven’t had any donors bringing in negatives to our events, so we haven’t had the chance to test the extended capabilities of this scanner. We do plan to use this equipment to assist with digitizing our in-house archival materials in the future.

The V800 is faster than the V600 model. This can be an asset at a community event, where we are trying to get through material quickly and efficiently.

Overall the V800 consistently produces excellent quality master images, and is a reliable and sturdy piece of equipment. In our experience, the extended transparency and negative capabilities have not been worth the additional $500, but in another situation these attributes  could prove useful! You can see a full comparison of the specifications of the V600 and V800 scanners here.

Facilitating Born-Digital Donations from Cell Phones

A comment about our procedures for accepting born-digital donations from cell phones is long overdue on this blog. Part of our reticence has been that, beyond a custom user interface (more on that later!), our various stop-gap procedures have all left a lot to be desired. However, the reasons for accepting born-digital cell phone donations are multifold:

  • Lots of people are taking lots of photos on their cell phones, including at major life events (weddings, graduations, etc.) Any documentation of events within the last ten-plus years is likely to be solely born-digital.
  • People who have recently immigrated, or experiencing housing insecurity may not have physical photos that have traveled with them, but will likely have kept their cell phone photos.
  • Donors do not need to dig through the depths of their closets in advance of a community scanning event, but can just show up at the library and contribute to the project.
A donor contributing photos from his cell phone, early in the project.

A donor contributing photos from his cell phone, early in the project.

At our early community scanning events, we started accepting donations from cell phones on an ad hoc basis. Library patrons were excited to contribute to the project – photos on their cell phones – and we were happy to facilitate these donations. For those first few donors, we had the donor simply email each photo to us (in addition to completing the standard consent and metadata forms). This method has a few drawbacks. Donors were initially emailing my personal Gmail account, since my official Queens Library account has a very small overall capacity. While this isn’t a huge problem, it’s far from ideal and not very professional. If we were to use this procedure for future donations, I definitely would create a generic email address for this purpose.

iPhone interface to control file size when emailing images.

The iPhone allows you to control file size.

A bigger problem, though, is that different phones have different settings allowing you to control the size of the image file being attached to an email. On an iPhone there is a simple interface that allows you to select “Actual Size” when emailing a photo from the “Photos” app. This interface allows us to ensure that donors are emailing the largest possible file of their photographs. However, this interface doesn’t appear if the donor opens the Gmail app, and then selects the photograph as an attachment – Gmail seems to automatically compress the file size in this scenario. Donors must select the image in the standard “Photos” app, and then email each image individually. Additionally, in my experience, Android devices also do not have an interface to control the file size of attached images. This is controlled from within the “Settings” panel, and our donors are unlikely to be comfortable with a request from us to change the default settings on their phones!

In response to these frustrations, we purchased a variety of phone cords to start pulling born-digital material directly off donor’s phones. Some things to note: there are a lot of different phone cord types if you are trying to compile a comprehensive set, and you need to purchase proprietary cords. Other cords might allow the phones to charge, but can’t be used for data transfer. We purchased cords for the four most popular phones in the US: iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 /6 and Samsung Galaxy Notes 4 and 5. Once the phones are plugged in, permission needs to be granted both from the cell phone, and the computer to view the internal file structure. The computer also needs to be able to install the correct drivers, which should happen automatically if the laptop is connected to the internet.

I might not want everyone to know how many photos I take of my cat.

I might not want everyone to know how many photos I take of my cat.

While this option definitely allows for easier transfer of files and control of image quality, it creates some privacy concerns. Most of our cell phone donors are already in the library, encounter our project, and simply select a few photos from their phones to donate. However, when I plug their phone into the laptop and open up the internal file system, all of a sudden I am looking at ALL the photos on their phone. This can be weird to say the least. And there’s not much of a way around it, other than asking donors to pre-select photos and bring them in on a flash drive. Even if the donors create an “Album” on their phone of photographs to donate, this is not visible in the accessible file structure (at least, of an iPhone).

For now, we are continuing to use a combination of emailing photos to a generic email address, and plugging in phones, deciding which is preferable based on donor phone type and the donor’s preference. However, good news! Queens Memory is developing a photo donation app for mobile devices (iOs and Android), with an initial release date of July 2016. Phase one of the app will allow for submission of digital photos, scanned items and audio recordings (both oral histories and wild sound). The second phase of development will allow for video submissions and uploads from cloud storage services (dropbox, google drive, etc), and will also have an audio recording tool that will generate .wav files for submission and a photo tool that will generate .jpg2000 images for submission.

The tool is being developed in Appcelerator, and what makes this tool really innovative is that public submissions land directly in QL’s DAMS in a submissions queue that our metadata librarians will review, edit and set public.  Unlike other user generated content (UGC) tools that either make UGC immediately public without any staff review/notification or leave submitted content in purgatory in a temporary storage space, this app will put UGC directly into our regular publication workflow. Stay tuned to @queensmemory for more about this app as it rolls out this summer!

Leveraging In-House Publicity

Queens Library publishes a bi-monthly magazine which includes library news, write-ups about thematic programming, and a full listing of all events occurring throughout the branches. The magazine has been a simple way for us to get out news about the various programs and activities that we have be organizing through Queens Memory. In addition to making sure all our events are scheduled in time to be included in the magazine, our events have been included in thematic articles (such as a write-up of Lunar New Year events), and in Queens Library news updates.

We’ve also started a simple feature called “Help Us Solve an Archives Mystery”, which is included in each issue. We select an unidentified or poorly-identified photograph from the collections of the Archives at Queens Library that is reproduced in the magazine. We choose a photograph from a neighborhood where we have an upcoming community scanning event, which we plug below the image. Library patrons who can identify the photograph (which can include location, date, or individuals depicted) are encouraged to phone in with the information, or attend a community scanning event. We’ve solved one of the past two “Archives Mysteries,” in addition to creating a new method to publicize our events!

The "Archives Mystery" from the January-February issue of the Queens Library magazine.

The “Archives Mystery” from the January-February issue of the Queens Library magazine.


Local History with the Urban Memory Project

This past January, Culture in Transit partnered with the Urban Memory Project to develop and implement new engagement activities for our community scanning events. Founded in 2005, the Urban Memory Project (UMP) works with local schools, community organizations, and cultural centers, and ask residents to explore the links between their personal histories and the history of their city. After discussing what happens currently at our community scanning events, Rebecca Krucoff and Ann Fraioli from UMP put together a series of interactive activities to augment our current set-up. We gathered the necessary historical materials and supplies, and put these activities into action at two events at the Dyker Heights Branch Library and the Ridgewood Community Library.

Interactive local history with the Urban Memory Project at Ridgewood Library in January 2016.

Interactive local history with the Urban Memory Project at Ridgewood Library in January 2016.

There were three primary activity stations: community mapping, historic photos and insurance maps. Each station had a staff person to encourage library patrons to engage, and to guide them through the activity. The community mapping station was probably the biggest hit, and the easiest to replicate for future events. This station consisted of a large map of the neighborhood (reproduced from the Neighborhoods of Queens and the Neighborhoods of Brooklyn). The maps were accompanied by sticker dots, on which people were asked to write their first name and stick the dot where they live. This created a really visual and low-bar point of entry into the other activities, and the project as a whole. UMP also provided post-it-notes on which people were asked to write their memories and hopes for the neighborhood. At the end of the events, we had really beautiful community maps of Dyker Heights and Ridgewood!

Using Google Street View to investigate neighborhood change.

At the next station, we prepared large (8 ½ x 11) reproductions of historic photos from the neighborhood, captioned with the location. Participants were asked to examine the photos, and then find the corresponding location on a laptop using Google StreetView. This allowed participants to easily make observations and discuss the way that the neighborhood had changed over the years. This station was somewhat technologically more complicated – getting a sufficiently fast internet connection in the branch libraries was difficult, and we ended up relying on a mobile phone hotspot.

The final station was an examination of a fire insurance map of the neighborhoods, borrowed from our respective Archives. These large maps are visually eye-catching and document neighborhood change in a detailed manner. With the help of an activity guide, participants could explore how specific buildings had changed in their neighborhood, and begin to map the evolution of local development.

At Dyker Library in Brooklyn the patrons were excited to be able to trace the history of their (often overlooked) neighborhood using the provided maps, photographs and Brooklyn Daily Eagle articles. Although these materials are always available to the public online or at the library’s local history archive, many lifelong residents were seeing them for the first time. The ability to touch, pick up and interact with the materials made the event feel more informal; allowing participants to pass around photographs and articles, comparing memories.

The biggest hit of the day was the mapping station, which included atlases from 1921 and 1929. It was amazing to see how the neighborhood grew in only 8 years, and how it was almost unrecognizable in the current, oversized map. Participants used post-its to share their favorite memories such as, “My father and his friends playing cards on the porch during the summer” and “Playing basketball and flirting with cheerleaders.” They were great personal additions, creating a layered visual history of the neighborhood.


Community map at the Ridgewood Library.

At Ridgewood, the community mapping station was a huge hit with library patrons. A crowd was gathered around the table for much of the four hour event, and neighbors shared stories about the neighborhood, provided informal translation for each other and lingered to investigate the historic photos and fire insurance maps. We were also joined by teens from our partnership with the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council, who explored these resources and saw the material they have been collecting displayed for the general public. We will definitely be continuing to incorporate these techniques and activities into our future events!