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

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!

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.