Pictures in Print
In an ideal world a digitisation project should be carefully planned out before it starts, but few of us live in such a world, and the exigencies of getting the work done often leads to less than ideal, but practical solutions. The circular problem of planning and completing a project like this is that until the collections have been catalogued it is impossible to have an accurate picture of what the quantity and state of the documents will be. The following account does not reflect the ideal but gives some indication of the nature of the problem.
Planning the project
One of the reasons for choosing the range of material for this project was that it was a finite group: whereas manuscript maps from the region are to be found in various situations (many land transactions are accompanied by a map) the rough number of printed maps was known, and while some unknown ones will turn up this should not dramatically change the quantity. The same held for topographical prints, which meant that a rough estimate of the work involved could be made. A survey of materials was carried out at the bid stage, which produced an estimate, but this was unable to predict the exact overlap between the collections. The greatest area of uncertainty proved to be extra-illustrated or grangerised volumes, which could contain large groups of unidentified items, some of which might fall outside the scope of the project (such as photographs or random prints that had taken the fancy of the compiler).
Preparing for the project
The greatest requirement for this project was space: even working with small items can soon fill the available area, but maps exacerbate the situation. Just to compare two maps side by side requires several tables. Aside from open space to work in, the project called for a great deal of additional space for temporary storage and clearance around the scanning area to minimise possible damage to items being digitised. We were fortunate to be able to assemble the County, Cathedral and University Librarys' collections in one place, which required extra storage space, but made the comparison of possible matching items far easier.
For a largescale digitisation project a carefully sequenced workflow is vital to its smooth running. Ideally a system rather like triage would pre-process the material sorting out duplicates and damaged items so that all conservation work was done on the objects before digitisation. The items would then be fed on to the cataloguer, who would pass them on to be scanned. This sequence conservation - cataloguing - digitisation did not prove viable however, for several reasons. The most obvious of these was time. Conservation work was fitted into an already busy general repair schedule (the project funding did not include additional conservation staff), so although most repair work was done quickly (such as preventative mending of tears around the edges of items) the short timescale of the project made it impossible to delay cataloguing. Repair, and ideally cleaning of every item would be desirable before digitisation, to give the best result: fortunately the lack of time for this compounded with other compromises dictated by the project, which was not going to be capable of providing a pristine copy of every item in any case, as this depended upon the state of the documents in the partners' collections.
With the additional danger of mixing up distinct collections in mind, it proved simplest to work through each partner's collection in turn. For scanning, loose items are easiest to process and so these were done first. For cataloguing, it makes more sense to start with the standard volumes of county history and the major sets of prints issued in bound form. This is a good introduction to the broad range of material for the cataloguer, and often includes the items that will reappear most frequently throughout the rest of the groups of loose items or albums. This approach will inevitably lead to some cases where a less perfect item is scanned, but should at least give the cataloguer a set of uncropped images to catalogue. As they are preserved in their context, they are also easier to catalogue quickly, as less research is required to date the items or speculate as to the possible context in which they were published. It will be necessary to revise catalogue descriptions in the light of other versions of the same print found subsequently, and possibly to re-scan a few items.
This approach will deal with loose items and albums or extra-illustrated volumes. There is however, no easy way to track down the many items that appear in books on the region, the country, or topics such as industry or social history. These will have to be added to the database as they are found, although some may be traced by selected browsing through likely subject categories.
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Page maintained by Richard Higgins
(e mail - firstname.lastname@example.org). Last revised: May 2004