Located in the Preservation & Reformatting Department on west campus, the Digital Imaging Unit digitizes the rare and distinctive items found in the Libraries’ collections. We typically handle objects that are difficult to scan or photograph, or that need something special: high-resolution close-up shots to reveal small details, for instance. Often, the features that make rare books, manuscripts, and other cultural heritage objects so interesting are the same things that make creating digital images a challenge. They may be extremely fragile, very large, very small, faded from age, or encased in heavy and ornate bindings.
Why is digitization important to scholarship? Digital imaging provides two services: access to library collections and preservation of those collections. These services are equal in importance and go hand-in-hand. Digital images can be shared online, providing worldwide access to rare texts and objects that cannot leave the library. Making digital images accessible also reduces the need to handle the original objects, which helps to preserve them.
Digitization practice in cultural heritage institutions such as libraries, archives, and museums places an emphasis on showing the unique properties of items. This means capturing materials exactly as they are—without doing digital cleanup, brightening colors, erasing blemishes, or otherwise “improving” the appearance of items. The physical properties of a document, work of art, book, or other item can tell a good deal about its creation and its history.
Sometimes this tendency runs counter to other priorities of libraries. For instance, making a page more readable by digitally removing pencil marks, or brightening backgrounds and sharpening text, is sometimes more important than showing what the book itself looks like. At other times, the information most needed by researchers resides in the physical characteristics of the book—yellowed paper, faded ink, folds, tears, and all.
Decisions about digital capture, editing, and presentation of an item or a collection are made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the aims of the project. We consider: what makes the item distinctive or unique? What aspects of it do researchers most want to see? What kind of image will most effectively share this information? Input from other Libraries and University faculty and staff informs these decisions.
This is just a brief introduction to the Libraries’ Digital Imaging Unit. Check back for upcoming posts with an in-depth look at how we do our work!
Items featured (in order):
- Psalterium Sancti Ruperti, ca. 850-75. OSU Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.
- New Testament, 1633. OSU Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.
- Oxford Bible Pictures, ca. 1250-1275. OSU Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.
- Geneva Bible, 1594. OSU Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.
- Leaf from a decorated Medieval Bible, ca. 1250. OSU Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.
- Cover, football program, 1918. OSU Archives.
- Watercolor sketch, early 20th century. OSU Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute.
- Page from the Book of Martyrs, 1594. OSU Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.
- Scrapbook image assembled from magazine clippings, late 19th/early 20th century. OSU Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute.
- Diary, 17th century. On loan from private collection.
- Register, 1873-1881. OSU Archives.
- Report of the Geological Survey of Ohio, 1874. OSU Orton Geology Library.
- Taverner’s Bible, 1551. OSU Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.