Guest blog post: Digitising early printed books at the Wellcome Library

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By | Digital Developments

Karine Larose and Jeremy Uhl are working on the Early European Books digitisation project at the Wellcome Library. They are empolyees of Diadeis, a digitisation company based in France, and work on site alongside the rest of the Wellcome’s digitisation team. In this guest post, Karine and Jeremy explain what they do here at the Wellcome Library:

Hello, Karine and Jeremy here from Numen. We are the production team currently working on the digitization project for ProQuest at the Wellcome library. The following will be a sort of ‘day in the life’ of our department. We hope you enjoy it and would love any comments, questions, or suggestions.

Each day, when we start, new books are delivered to us by Matt Brack, the Digitisation Support Officer, for digitisation. We then register them in the database (also known as the check-in process). First we assess the books to determine if they are suitable for scanning. We might need to refuse a book if

  • the book is too big or thick for the scanning machines to handle (usually higher than 42 cm and wider than 30 cm)
  • the book cannot open more than 100 degree (later in the project these books will be scanned using different equipment)
  • The book is too fragile and we feel that we cannot scan it without causing more damage.

Also during the check-in process we might notice other minor problems with the books but not so severe as to refuse them. In that case we usually put them on hold. An example would be if most of the pages are stuck/glued together. ‘Problem books’ on hold are placed on a separate shelf, and we later consult with Matt as to what action has to be taken. Simultaneously, the books we scanned on the previous days are given back to Matt and we update the database to show that they have been returned to the library.

Before scanning the pages of the books, the spine and edges are photographed first. This step is to show the condition of the book before we start the scanning. We do our best during the scanning process to be careful with the books, to return them in the state they were delivered. The books are scanned using two main scanners, one for restricted angles and one for opened books. A few problems we sometimes have when scanning books are:

  • Huge fold-outs that cannot be scanned with the current equipment
  • missing pages
  • pieces of a book coming apart (usually the spine)

Our most common problem is dust! This includes tiny book pieces, occasionally hair, once we even found tiny bits of cereals in a book. There are lots of surprises and we never know what we may find in between pages of a book. Sadly we have yet to find any money in any of the books ;). Several times during the day we have to clean the glass panel; for that we use a special cloth and a vacuum cleaner. The archive office kindly supplied us with alcohol wipes which has a disinfection effect. Also because some of the books have leather covers, our hands can become oily after handling them and we have to wash our hands regularly.

Once the scanning day is over, we pack all the images in a packaging software and send them off to the indexing team for quality control, cropping and indexing.

Working on this project at the Wellcome library has been fun and exciting because we get to see rare books every day and provide digital access to them to people all over the world. We are pleased to be given the chance to explain our daily routine to the followers of this blog and look forward to any comments they might have.

We would like to thank Matt for being so flexible with our timetable and bringing us lots of books everyday and Christy for her support and giving us the opportunity to write for the blog. For those of you who work for the Wellcome library do come along and say “hello” to us, the room may be dark but I assure you we are here!

Authors: Karine Larose and Jeremy Uhl

NB: The first batch of 400 books can now be seen on the EEB website (do a Quick Search for Wellcome). These are freely available to Wellcome Library members and everyone in the UK.

Christy Henshaw

Christy Henshaw

Christy Henshaw manages digitisation at the Wellcome Library. @Chenshaw. Linkedin

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