Digital Scholarship @ The Libraries

Inspiring innovative digital scholarship at the OSU Libraries and beyond

Author: amy mccrory

Photographing Manuscripts



Greetings from the OSU Libraries Preservation & Reformatting Department, Digital Imaging Unit. The department is dedicated to cultural heritage imaging, an umbrella term for scanning and photographing historical materials. If you’re unfamiliar with our work, check out one of my previous posts for some background on what we do.

Digital imaging allows libraries to share rare and unique materials with a worldwide audience, increasing the visibility of  collections while protecting the original objects from excessive handling.  The goal is to capture images that reveal the significant details of rare books, manuscripts, artifacts, and other materials, giving researchers the next best thing to seeing the original.  Today’s post shows some examples taken from the library’s collection of Medieval and Renaissance manuscript fragments.

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New Technology Meets Old


Image courtesy of

The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute (TRI) at OSU Libraries owns a remarkable collection of glass slides from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The Joel E. Rubin collection of “pose slides,” unique to a type of theater now largely forgotten, offers a fascinating subject for researchers in the history of theater, and a meeting of new technology with old for the Libraries’ Digital Imaging Unit.


Image courtesy of

Glass slides, covered with hand-painted or photographic images, were projected with a device called a magic lantern projector.  Magic lanterns were used in many types of public shows, in lectures, and in people’s homes.

TRI Curator Beth Kattelman offers some background on the use of pose slides in theaters:

“The pose slides are artifacts from a vaudeville entertainment known as the ‘pose plastique,’ an early form of ‘living slide show’ that was very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These were acts in which performers would strike a pose recreating a famous sculpture or painting. Sometimes the pose plastique performer(s) would be costumed in and surrounded by white fabric, with only his or her head showing. The performer would strike a pose while a pose slide was projected upon them.  The white costume and stage functioned as a blank screen, thus allowing the projected image from the slide to ‘fill in’ the costume and scenery.”

Photo reference 1  C12 Salome

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Conservation and Digital Imaging–Part 2

My previous post showed some of the ways in which Conservation specialists repair and restore items, making digital imaging more successful. This time, I’ll talk about items that are taken apart in order to ensure the best image capture.

Disbinding of books is a somewhat controversial subject. In part, this is because of the practice, sometimes used in mass digitization projects, of completely chopping off the book’s binding and stitching. It is a very efficient method, and results in a stack of loose pages which can be scanned much more quickly than a bound book. However, it is not the method used when the goal is to both digitize the book and preserve the original.

Before going on, I should point out that for some books, no type of disbinding, or even loosening of the binding, is acceptable. Rare books, artists’ books, and other books whose physical characteristics are significant must be digitized exactly as they are, without altering their condition in any way. Their stitching, binding, and covers are as important as their textual and illustrative content.

Other books, however, are of interest solely for the text and images printed on their pages. For example, many serials were sent to commercial binderies during the 1950s and 60s. These publications were bound together for the sake of convenient shelving and browsing. Their covers are the standard buckram and boards used in high-capacity industrial binderies. In some cases, they are bound so tightly, the text near the inner margins is difficult to read. Altering or removing these bindings provides better access to the printed content of the books.

For materials like these, we employ non-destructive disbinding: careful techniques are used to loosen up the bindings and spread out the pages; as much as possible of the book’s original structure is kept in place. Here are two examples of projects done in the Preservation & Reformatting Department.

Loosening pages
When the Libraries took on the project of digitizing 100+ years of the student newspaper, the bound volumes presented a problem.  The stiff spines were reinforced with cardboard, making it impossible to open the pages flat.  The pages curved toward the center, and in some cases the text was extremely close to the binding.  Successful digitization requires getting as flat a page image as possible.


The stiff binding and carboard spine liner prevent the pages from lying flat.

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Conservation and Digital Imaging–Part 1

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.



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Meet the OSU Libraries’ Digital Imaging Unit

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.

SmallBook     UnusualFeatures3

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