A significant milestone was reached this week, with 100,000 images of Crick papers photographed. The Crick collection, previously described, includes around 285,000 images – over half the total amount to be digitised as part of the Archives digitisation project over a period of 20 months by Laurie Auchterlonie and Tom Cox in the Imaging department.
Laurie and Tom use Canon Mark II digital SLR cameras mounted to columns attached to two copy stands. These allow the cameras to be automatically raised and lowered according to the size of the items being digitised. This is a fairly typical imaging set-up for this type of material. However, with a project this large, it is important to ensure that the minimum amount of time is taken to photograph, edit and manage the images. In spring 2010, the photographers spent time developing a workflow that would allow them to digitise the highest number of items possible, whilst not compromising on quality or care in handling. It was in fact found that time-saving measures actually resulted in higher quality images, and minimised the amount of handling required.
For example, “live view” screens allow the photographers to easily see and adjust the alignment of each item on the copy stand, and the degree to which it fits the frame of view. This saves time as the photographers do not have to look through the viewfinder (difficult when the camera is 6 or more feet above the ground), or take multiple shots to get it right. Post-processing work has also been almost completely eliminated, as has the need to reshoot items at a later date.
Purchasing higher columns limited the number of times lenses had to be changed. Larger items require the cameras to be raised quite high, and if the column isn’t high enough, the photographer has to change to a different, shorter or wide-angle lens. The flexibility built into the workflow by these measures is highly advantageous when dealing with heterogeneous materials such as personal archives.
Other aspects of the workflow that had to be specifically tailored to archival collections was the storage and foldering of images so that they could easily be found and identified. Using the existing archive catalogue hierarchies, the foldering system allows the user to pinpoint the exact file or item to be viewed to create copies for users, or to carry out QA against the original items (a sample of images is checked against the originals by Julia Nurse, who prepares the items before photography, to ensure that filenaming is accurate and that items aren’t being missed). Eventually, these folders will be rendered obsolete, as we implement a digital asset management system that will restructure the archive storage of our images on ingest. But it is important not to underestimate the need to access images during the pre-ingest process of digitisation and QA. And if you do not have a digital asset management system, it is even more important that ease of access is factored in from an early stage.
A bit of preparation and testing makes a huge difference when setting up a new workflow. Even a minute saved per item means a large overall time saving when spread over hundreds of thousands of images.