Digital Scholarship @ The Libraries

Inspiring innovative digital scholarship at the OSU Libraries and beyond

Category: Digital reformatting

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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Digital scholarship and the public domain

How the public domain promotes scholarship: Engaging Columbus uses 1922 OSU thesis to map Columbus neighborhoods | Copyright Corner

Looks like it’s cross-post Tuesday here on the Digital Scholarship blog! This second link is to a post on the Copyright Resources Center’s Copyright Corner blog. Maria Scheid writes about Engaging Columbus, an interesting collaborative project that makes use of digitized images from a 1922 OSU thesis. She uses the opportunity to talk about the important role of the public domain, but it’s also a great example of how digital technology can enable transformative scholarship, and a reminder of the curious life of online collections. When we digitize our content, it can be used in wonderful, creative ways that we never imaged when we put it on a scanner or submitted it to a repository. Read Maria’s post to learn more.

HathiTrust and the OSU Libraries Partnership (link)

HathiTrust and the OSU Libraries Partnership | Information Technology

The post linked here is one by Michelle Gerry on the Libraries’ Information Technology blog. I’d been meaning to post something about the Libraries’ participation in the Google book scanning/Hathi Trust digitization project for a while, so I was delighted to see that Michelle had done the heavy lifting. Click over to the IT blog to learn about how many things we’ve digitized and how we’re making them available.

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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Demystifying ETDs: Digitized theses and dissertations

This is the second of three posts on demystifying electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs). The first post looked at the process for submitting, approving, and making available current ETDs by OSU students. This one examines the process used to provide access to older, print theses and dissertations.


Several years ago, OSU implemented a program to digitize “pre-ETD” theses and dissertations.  Although there are several factors and flows involved, the main drivers for this program are increased accessibility, preservation, and interlibrary lending. The university makes these works available for the purposes of research and scholarship.

Digitizing and submitting

The basic flow for digitized ETDs is this: A document is requested for interlibrary lending or otherwise identified for digitizing. A copy is pulled from the stacks, notes are entered into the record for that copy, which is then made unavailable for further requests. It is scanned to a PDF file, which is then submitted by a Libraries staff member to the OhioLINK ETD Center using the same process that current ETD authors use for theirs. The Graduate School sees that it is an older document, checks for machine-generated errors, and releases it to the ETD Center.

Making discoverable

Catalogers receive notification emails for the digitized ETDs just as they do for the current ones. These older documents already have records in the catalog and WorldCat, so these records are updated to include the URL for the online copy.

Next time…

The last post in this series will look at the anatomy of an ETD record in the OhioLINK ETD center.

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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Selecting Content for Reformatting from Analog to Digital

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Nena Couch and Wes Boomgaarden.

The Ohio State University Libraries’ Strategic Plan clearly articulates the intent of the Libraries to “increase the scale and scope of distinctive and digital collections and enhance access to and usage of these materials to support research and anytime, anywhere learning.” [Strategic Focus Area 4] It accomplishes this through its supporting initiative (4.3) to “build OSU programs and projects that digitize and make accessible high value high impact works in library collections.”

OSU faculty meeting minutes from 1875, from the OSU Archives

OSU faculty meeting minutes from 1875, from the OSU Archives

The focus and initiative are administratively located in the Libraries primarily within the purview of the Associate Director for Collections, Technical Services and Scholarly Communication.   In that structure, the Collections Reformatting Review Sub-Committee (CRRS-C) of the Collection Development and Management Committee is charged “to review and set priorities for the generation of digital content in the Libraries where analog content is being digitized.”   The CRRS-C develops and maintains a regularized process for calling for and reviewing proposals within the Libraries.   As project proposals are vetted and approved, the many tasks involved with digitization and delivery of content are handed to the Digital Reformatting Working Group (DRWG) for implementation.

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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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Why We Digitize

The answer to the question about why we digitize materials from the collections of the Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program (BPRCAP) is actually quite simple – and that is, to let people know what we have.    In case you are unaware, the Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program was created officially in 1990, after acquiring the Papers of Admiral Richard E. Byrd and Sir George Hubert Wilkins in the mid- 1980s.  The first year that the Byrd and Wilkins collections were open to the public was 1994/95 – reference requests totaled 41 for the year.  In 1999, the Polar Archives launched its first website, and the reference stats went to 198 for the year 1999/2000.  We have seen a steady rise in reference activity every year since, with a leveling off at around 350-400 requests annually.  In this time, we have continually added more and more information to our website.


Admiral Byrd’s dog, Igloo

All of this digitization has been well received by our patrons, though admittedly confusing to them at times.  For example, “I found your finding aid online to the Byrd papers, but when I clicked on it, nothing happened.”  And, that’s when we have to have a discussion about choices.  The Byrd Papers alone are more than 500 boxes of materials; we will never digitize it all.  But many times people do indeed find what they are seeking on our website – such as various museums who borrow artifacts to enhance their own exhibitions.  They really love that they can see the artifacts online, rather than simply look at a list of what we have.  I’ve also had family members tell me how excited they were to see documentation of their relative on our website, whether it be an oral history, or an image collection, or a reference to their family member in a finding aid.  Just this week, we were contacted by an author who found us online, and will be coming for an extended visit to research our collection for a book she is writing.  And the History Teaching Institutes uses one of our lesson plans on an ongoing basis in their hands-on workshop where they teach teachers how to incorporate primary resources in the classroom.  The list goes on.  Digitization does not in fact decrease the use of our collections – it increases it.  After all, they can’t use it if they can’t find it.  And isn’t that the whole point?

With each various project, we have used whatever tools were available to us at that given time.  I like to say that the Polar Archives has stuff stored in every digital orifice on campus!  But not to worry – we will help you find what you are seeking!  Here is a rundown of a few of our many digitization projects, where they live, and in some cases,  why they live where they do.

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