Archives Outside

For people who love, use and manage archives

Archives Outside - For people who love, use and manage archives

Creating a digital gallery (part 4 – digitisation and transcription)

Behind the scenes of Macquarie 2010

The latest “Day in the Life of…” from an archive in the State Records NSW collection. This informative series focuses on how to add a digital gallery to your website, featuring our latest online exhibition “Lachlan Macquarie: visionary and builder”


Welcome back to Day Four of the investigative report ‘Creating a Digital Gallery’ by Bea Scanned (an archive from the State Records collection). If you have only just tuned in to this series you can catch up with Part One (the planning committee) Part Two (Conservation check) and Part Three (Research) here.

7:49am – I have been brought to “Digitisation”. It’s early, but they start early in these parts. The Project Archivist, Digitisation is Rhonda Campbell. She’s a frequent blogger here on Archives Outside, bringing you the popular series “A Moment in Time…..” where you, the reader, help her to date and locate images from the State Records collection.

Today, however, she is concentrating on tasks relating to the “short-list” for the new online gallery. How do I know? Because *blush* I’m on it.

1. Determine the best scanning methods for documents

7:51am – I watch as Rhonda checks the list for any advice Conservation may have included on scanning methods. Michael, the Digitisation Officer, retrieves the archives that had passed the conservation check and were returned to their ‘home location’.

8:34am – As the documents are brought in to the workroom I can see they are in different formats – in bound volumes and as loose leaf papers. Conservation has advised the use of the overhead camera for several items, including yours truly.

8:35am – Rhonda recommends a flatbed scanner for the loose leaf archives. The bound volumes are to be digitised using the (overhead) SINAR camera, a high-end digital camera that is used in numerous cultural institutions.

8:41am – The “SINAR” camera is impressive!

Michael using laptop with camera and archive in background

Michael operating the SINAR camera via the laptop.

8:43am – It is hooked up to a Macbook Pro. I watch as camera adjustments, such as focal length, are made using the laptop. The laptop tells the user when the image is in focus and ready to be photographed.

The laptop is used to focus the camera. The closer the green line at the bottom is to the red dot the better focused the image will be

The laptop is used to focus the camera. The closer the green line at the bottom is to the red dot the better focused the image will be.

2. R.E.S.P.E.C.T the records

8:47am – I learn that it is important not to place pressure on the spines of the volumes and therefore flatbed scanners cannot be used. For loose leaf documents larger than a flatbed scanner the SINAR is also used – on these types of documents a sheet of glass is placed on top to flatten the paper. Weights are not recommended.

Overhead view of SINAR

View of SINAR with volume sitting on pillows for support.

3. Different digital versions are required for different purposes

Three digital versions of the archival documents are saved:

  1. a Master TIFF file
  2. a 600dpi version (for printing) and
  3. a 75dpi version for the online gallery.

4. Basic post-processing of images for online display

9:31am – As the archival documents all passed ‘quality control’ earlier not much post-processing is required.  But some of these old documents are very dark and the handwriting is faded. Michael carries out some basic light-levels adjustments…after all they are to be displayed online and need to look their best.

Michael using the laptop with camera and archive in foreground

Michael using the laptop with camera and archive in foreground

9:39am – The scanning, photographing and post-processing is time-consuming. My goodness, I’m no longer corporeal..I’ve become ‘electronic’. Or ‘virtual’. Dare I say, digitalicious? After the scans are completed Rhonda notifies the “Exhibition Committee” of their location on ‘the network’. The original documents, including my physical self, are returned to their home locations. I watch my paper ‘body’ be taken away and escorted back to its box, back to the dark.

9:45am – My new ‘digital’ self continues this report.

Magnified image on computer screen

Magnified image on computer screen

5. Is transcription necessary?

11:03am – I may be ‘virtual’ but I’m not a web-savvy surfer and I am surprised to discover that not all web visitors like to read the digital versions of the original documents online. Some prefer to quickly scan the content/context of a digital archive via a typed transcription. My original paper self won’t take offence. It understands.

11:15am – There is a tight deadline for making the gallery available online and Rhonda offers to assist Gail, the chief transcriber,  with the transcriptions. She prints an A3 size copy of all images to aid in the transcription process. 200 year old handwriting is a lot easier to read when it’s magnified.

What an investigation! So far I’ve been discussed, moved, assessed, listed, scanned and transcribed. What next? My digital self is about to go online. Stay tuned.

Category: Digital 2.0