CIT pilot for host institution scanning: Wildlife Conservation Society Archives

During June and early July, the pilot for the METRO part of Culture in Transit was completed. We decided early on to make our first site visit a pilot for the project, as a way to test out our equipment and the workflow of on-site scanning.

Maddie Thompson, Archivist at the Wildlife Conservation Society Archives located in the Bronx Zoo, graciously agreed to host the project for our pilot and I spent a total of 8.5 days onsite scanning items from the WCS Publications and Ephemera Collection.

The WCS headquarters are located at the Bronx Zoo - a wonderful working environment!

The WCS headquarters are located at the Bronx Zoo – a wonderful working environment!

The WCS Archives hold a wealth of treasures and document’s relating to the history of the New York Zoological Society (as it was known from its inception in 1895 until 2003 when it became WCS). Its collections reflect the Society’s activities in managing the 4 city zoo’s – Bronx, Central Park, Prospect Park & Queens – the New York Aquarium and also activities relating to its history of international wildlife conservation field work.

The Publications and Ephemera collection is a large collection that is continuously being added to, so I focused on a small part of the collection – items relating to the New York Aquarium and the Bronx Zoo.

Set up and ready to scan material at the WCS Archives

Set up and ready to scan material at the WCS Archives

The items I digitized were an interesting mix of material – from promotional pamphlets and brochures to special event material and delightful little books; “My First Trip to the Aquarium” and “Inmates of the Aquarium: A book of views of the New York Aquarium” – which, whilst having a questionable title is actually a a great book from the early twentieth century about the Aquarium when it was located at Battery Park, with wonderful artwork on the cover. Material from the collection covers important milestones in WCS history such as the relocation of the Aquarium to Coney Island in 1957 and the opening of many of the exhibits at the Bronx Zoo during the latter part of the twentieth century including African Plains, the Carter Giraffe House and the Children’s Zoo.

The beautiful cover for "Inmates of the Aquarium" Image: © Wildlife Conservation Society

The beautiful cover for “Inmates of the Aquarium”
Image: © Wildlife Conservation Society

Some of the types of material I digitized were;

  • Brochures
  • Invitations
  • RSVP cards
  • Souvenir programs
  • Postcards
  • Maps
  • Books

I have been involved in digitization projects previously that used a flatbed scanner however I have not had prior experience of using a copystand setup to digitize. We have in our mobile kit, a tripod that inverts and Canon DSLR camera (more on our equipment to come in a later blog!) so this was a good opportunity for me to test the equipment and my workflow out. It worked well with just a few issues noted – the main one being that as I shoot through the laptop using the camera’s EOS Utility Software, the camera battery drains in as little as an hour. So whilst we troubleshoot and work out ways to improve our copystand, I’ll also be ordering some spare camera batteries!

For all of the stats fans out there – I was able to;

  • Digitize 119 unique items
  • Produce 402 master images
One of the highlights of my scanning - promotional material for a new exhibit at the zoo.

One of the highlights of my scanning – promotional material for a new exhibit at the zoo. Image: © Wildlife Conservation Society

Since finishing my onsite work, I have completed the post production tasks of conversion of TIFFs to JPEG, cropping JPEGs for web delivery and completion of the accompanying metadata spreadsheet. Now, the content will be readied for upload in METRO’s digital platform – Digital Culture of Metropolitan New York and eventually harvested by DPLA.

I’m extremely glad we were able to undertake a pilot for the project as it has allowed me to get a better understanding of all the facets of the project from transporting the equipment, how long it takes to set up and crucially what work I need to do onsite versus what work I can leave for back in the office. As well as the obvious scanning I have to do onsite, there are some metadata fields that need to be completed whilst I am scanning such as object type, file name and identifier, title, description, genre and extent. After the event, I am able to complete subject access terms and other fields that can be populated without needing the physical material in front of me.

The case could be made that as I’m scanning the material, I don’t need to complete any metadata onsite and could do it all after the event, however populating some of the key fields onsite allowed me to better understand and remember the collection and to also feel I have control over the organization of the material, which actually helped with the post production work. Plus, from a time management perspective – as there’s a delay whilst the scanner produces the master image, I found that time very useful for populating some fields.

For those interested in the metadata we produce for the METRO part of CIT, I am using the same template as those who contribute to METRO’s digital platform DCMNY use; more information can be found here.

Working with the WCS Archives also had the added advantage of being a great working environment, with lunchtimes spent wandering around saying hi to the resident animals!

Some of the zoo's residents!

Some of the zoo’s residents!

Thank you to WCS Archives for getting METRO’s Culture in Transit project off to a great start!