The Digital Imaging unit has been a part of the OSU Libraries since November 2005. I’ve always felt lucky that it was established within the Preservation department, which is also home to the Conservation unit. Conservators repair, stabilize, rebuild, and restore books, manuscripts, artifacts and other cultural heritage materials. Although it might not be obvious at first, physical conservation of objects is often crucial to successful digitization.
Conservation treatment enables long-term preservation of items. It also makes access to the items easier, including digital access. For instance, producing a readable digital version of this newspaper from 1929 would be impossible in its initial state. But after repair with Japanese heat-set tissue, it can be digitized and shared online.
In addition to paper repairs, conservators can flatten creased materials, such as maps that have been folded for years, by humidifying and placing them under weights, or by ironing them through a sheet of protective silicon release paper. This avoids highlights and shadows in the digital image, producing a clearer view:
Sometimes, removal of adhesive or other visual obstructions is necessary. A collection of football programs dating back to 1901, donated to OSU’s Archives, had paper glued to the back covers, obscuring the original content. These programs had probably been removed from a personal scrapbook, and the scrapbook paper remained attached to the backs.
This photo gallery, originally assembled by Digital Imaging student assistant Rachael Haupt, shows how the Conservation staff removed the adhesive and paper. When the physical treatment was complete, the programs were digitized, and now are available for viewing in OSU’s Knowledge Bank. Where previously, it was necessary to travel to the University Archives to see the programs, the content can now be accessed, anytime, online. So far, the programs have been downloaded more than 12,000 times by people all over the world. Meanwhile, the original programs are handled less often, helping to preserve them for the long term.