What does your historical collection look like? Perhaps you have a box of bound manuscripts you’d like preserved for future generations, or maybe you have a library full of historic publications and loose papers that need organizing before you can even think about what the next steps are. The histories humans choose to save and share are vast and varied, and not every approach to digital preservation is going to be the right approach for your collection.
Collections of all shapes and sizes have come through Anderson Archival’s doors over the years. We’ve seen everything from re-processing poorly digitized collections to an oversized map from WWII. Some of our clients had a collection they knew they wanted digitized, but felt overwhelmed trying to start because of all the planning and physical work involved. If you have a bound paper collection that’s been sitting around for a decade and aren’t sure where to start, there are a few options available to you, including the solution of employing professional archivists to take the work out of your hands and get it done right.
Paging Through Paper Collections
Assessing the scope, time allotment, and potential snags beforehand can help your project run smoothly. For those tackling a smaller, loose paper collection, you may find a digitization solution under your own roof. If you own a combination printer/scanner, that may be enough to handle your loose papers. But scanning individual pages using a flatbed scanner is a more time-consuming process than many collectors expect it to be. It requires constant oversight and handling of the materials.
It may be tempting to utilize the auto-feed feature of a scanner for loose materials, but watch out for rips, snags, paper jams, and pages that are stuck together and not digitized. Auto-feeders should never be used for one-of-a-kind or fragile documents.
Collectors rightly expect their materials to be handled with the highest quality care standards when in the custody of a digital archivist.
Scanning bound materials is another matter altogether. Anyone who’s tried to scan a page of a book in a university or library setting knows how difficult it is to capture the entire page in an image—forget about trying to get an exact replica of a page using this method. Page scans will appear crooked, shadowed, blurry, or otherwise obscured by the limitations of a flatbed scanner.
For an accurate capture on a flatbed scanner, bound books would need to be split at the spine, damaging the original in order to capture high quality scans. Pressing books into a flatbed scanner is less risky in terms of damage to the book if the spine is well-bound, but often results in a lower-quality image. Fortunately, there is no need to resort to destructive methods of digitization. Alternate scanning technology is the best solution for collectors who have not digitized for fear of causing damage to their physical materials. You need not compromise the integrity of the original to preserve it.
Cradle Your Collection
A great addition to any digitization setup is a V-cradle scanner, which allows the capture of high-quality images with much less damage to the physical material compared to a traditional flatbed or auto-feeder scanner. A V-cradle scanner allows archivists to fully scan bound materials without splitting the book’s binding or damaging delicate originals.
These scanners, like all technology, vary in specifications and end results. The more elaborate and expensive scanners possess innovative constructions of cameras, lights, mechanical design, and image capture software. Full-spectrum light creates a reliable image that reflects the original exactly.
V-cradle scanners can boast superior image quality, robust software, and modular imaging technology that’s easily adaptable for materials with specific constraints. Any industry-grade scanners should be able to meet FADGI guidelines for quality images. The intuitively-shaped V-cradles come in a variety of sizes with adjustable settings and can support most standard-size books, enabling digitization of many kinds of books depending on the chosen cradle size. For institutions or archival companies who have this type of scanner, the power, specs, and flexibility open the door to a wider variety of project opportunities.
V-cradle scanners can boast superior image quality, robust software, and modular imaging technology that’s easily adaptable for materials with specific constraints.
Compare this system to that of the Afro-American’s Project Gado, which allows the newspaper to employ an efficient digitization process for their overwhelming amount of photographs saved over the years. Of course, a bespoke solution like Project Gado isn’t a feasible option for the individual collector who wants to digitize their bound materials, and neither is permanently damaging an entire collection just to make digital copies on a traditional scanner.
Collectors rightly expect their materials to be handled with the highest quality care standards when in the custody of a digital archivist. The collections themselves need a safe and confidential storage area, especially for old or delicate materials susceptible to damage from environmental factors. Collectors often know from experience that storing materials in a damp basement or drafty attic will have an effect on paper materials, so an archival storage area free of mold, pests, and light pollution is essential.
Professional archivists have the space and knowledge to keep your collection as safe as possible during every step of the digitization process. They understand the storage needs of paper, which can be volatile depending on age and condition. They’re also trained in handling old or fragile materials, preventing accidents that may occur with less experienced collection custodians.
Investing in the right equipment, hours of organization and scanning, and the education required to process a collection the right way often isn’t feasible for individuals or busy organizations. Digitization professionals come with the right tools for the job. Reaching out for help from a firm with the right resources and know-how takes care of everything.
What does your bound collection need? Let Anderson Archival know how we can help fulfill your vision for your digitized collection! Call 314.259.1900 or complete a free consultation form to introduce your history to our solutions.
For years, the city of Salem, Massachusetts has been collecting, preserving, and slowly digitizing historical records dating back 400 years. Salem, most notable to laypeople as the location of the infamous witch trials, is home to a rich variety of historical organizations. Many of these organizations have digitally shared their own collections, but in October 2020, this collection of official city records was made publicly available on the internet for the first time. For genealogists, historians, and city officials, this new resource provides easy access to data about the property, people, and town.
What is the best way to make your collection the most useful to the biggest number of people?
If you’re in the business of discovering and utilizing sources like the new City of Salem archives, then you know that not all digital archives are created equal. Searching a poorly-made digital archive can take just as long as rifling through cabinets of paper. Accurate, faceted search; clearly imaged documents; and remote access can mean the difference between a frustrating hunt and a satisfying find.
For archivists on the other side of this seek-and-find equation, it may feel daunting to look at piles of documents and wonder what is the best way to make your collection the most useful to the biggest number of people? The answer may appear so insurmountable that it halts the process of digitization and preservation before the first page is scanned.
The first step toward a digital archive, as with any historical project, is research. It’s best to come to digital collections from all directions. New and existing archives provide examples of what’s possible, and by looking at these archives with a critical eye, you can make note of what characteristics work and what doesn’t before beginning an archive of your own.
The Salem Archives
At first glance, the City of Salem digital archives pose an unassuming figure. Considering their focus on facilitating government access and research for those who already have an idea of what they’re searching for, this isn’t particularly surprising. Lots of color, graphics, and curated tours were never the goal here. For a researcher used to traversing digital archives, this might be refreshing. But for a casual genealogist or family historian just getting started, Salem’s stark entry may feel overwhelming and leave them turning to another source.
With thriving digital libraries in and about Salem already in existence, the City of Salem likely considered what audience was deemed most likely to utilize their site and for what purpose. This type of survey is one that should go into any preservation project, including digitization for public access.
In their new archive, the City of Salem prioritized powerful search tools over appealing design. Faceted, full-text search offers highlighted, detailed results in the primary source documents. A researcher or government official who comes to this library with a question within the collection’s scope, won’t need to look long before they find an answer.
Understanding the scope of an archive also helps the creators decide just how much post-scan processing is needed for a collection. The City of Salem archives feature impressively accurate OCR, but close examination of the results reveals that the searchable text layer was not corrected to match the original—some searches for exact numbers or phrases will not be fruitful. Handwritten text is also not recorded digitally.
Once a digital archive is live, it may reveal shortcomings as well as successes. Depending on how the choices made in its inception affect intended use or if the archive finds a new audience needing different features, the City of Salem may choose to revisit the collection to accommodate the new demands.
Interconnective Digital Libraries
Just as there is an art to building a digital collection, there is an art to finding the right resource for the answers you seek as a researcher. What answers does the collection provide? What is the scope of the documents included in a given collection? Who is the expected user of the digital library? There is an understanding, too, that no digital library exists in a vacuum. Each is piece of a virtual community, a web of information and sources.
Reviewing other Salem-focused archives brings this into focus.
Even without drilling down into collections and search features, the home pages of these digital libraries provide a degree of instant understanding.
Historic Salem and The House of the Seven Gables, for example, would pair nicely with the City of Salem archives as deep dives into the architecture, ownership, and history of key locations. In addition to some full text historical works, Salem Public Library’s Local History section offers visual history that could go hand in hand with their Oregon Historic Photograph Collections. These, along with the more hyper-focused Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project, are all clear in scope and what they have to offer the curious researcher. Together, they provide a more comprehensive picture than any could separately.
Just as there is an art to building a digital collection, there is an art to finding the right resource for the answers you seek as a researcher.
Pondering these questions and investigating existing digital libraries will help your soon-to-be digital library take shape. And if you’re ready to move forward towards digitization and want a partner in your efforts, the experts at Anderson Archival are ready to help.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ voyage to the new world. The hardships they endured included half of them dying during the first winter. In modern times, 2020 has been an unprecedented, difficult year. Even so, we have much to be thankful for and are especially grateful for our wonderful clients and every member of our dedicated team. We love our work family.
Wishing you all a lovely Thanksgiving!
Image Credit: Howland Overboard (cropped) by Mike Haywood
Earlier this week we enjoyed a snowy Christmas gathering at our office complete with a fun gift exchange. This year we added another table for our luncheon, and it gave us an opportunity to look back on the progress we’ve experienced. Many of your organizations are growing, and we love working together to help you streamline your systems.
We are pleased to officially announce that at the end of January, we’ll be moving to a new larger state-of-the-art office (just down the street), enabling us to provide even better assistance. It’s currently under construction, and during Thanksgiving week, Farica gave our daughter, Hadley, a tour. Seeing the walls come up on this strong new foundation to support our team and our clients, we recognize all this is possible through the trust each of you have placed in us.
Wishing you all a season of joy and love!
Last Saturday, Amy and nine members of the Anderson family gave a presentation to the Missouri Mayflower Society. Mark directed AV while Amy created content and coordinated with family members. In preparation, they reviewed quite a bit of history and continue to be inspired by the lives of these resilient and tough people we know as the Pilgrims
The Pilgrims had a bold plan with small odds of success based on Jamestown losing 70 of 108 settlers during their first winter in 1607 and 440 of 500 settlers the next. All other attempted European settlements of North America had failed. Their conviction God called them to pursue freedom to worship was exceptionally strong.
When they reached Cape Cod on a cold November day, they determined that in order to survive the frigid and desolate American wilderness, they must work together. The Pilgrims drafted and signed the Mayflower Compact, a document that ranks with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in importance to our country’s history. This compact specified a civil government with elected officials and was key to their survival. Considering their lack of food and adequate shelter during that first brutal New England winter, it’s no surprise half of them would be buried before spring. Without the peace treaty with Massasoit and the help of the Native Indians—who taught them how to successfully plant crops in this new land—it’s unlikely they would have survived at all.
As we reflect on this history, we are filled with gratitude for the freedoms and opportunities we have today. It is a pleasure and privilege to help each of you in your organization. The American spirit of working together lives on.
You have big dreams and your organization has a big impact on communities, but sometimes you run into big roadblocks when funding your projects. Some of your projects include protecting and preserving documented history, which is our mission as well, so we know how important it is to be able to fund those projects. Asking for money can be hard, and can be a daunting task, especially when you need to raise a substantial amount.
However, you aren’t alone in this process! When you partner with a trusted archival company, they will be with you every step of the way. Here’s the three-step path we recommend for funding your archival projects.
- Tell Your Story
This is the single-most important foundational factor when funding your project. Telling your story establishes who you are and why you exist. What problems are you solving in your community, and why can’t it thrive without you? What resources do you make available? What collections are you preserving for historical research and future generations?
Don’t just tell your story. Share it in such a compelling way that your readers will want to jump on your band wagon, hail their friends, and enthusiastically dive into the work you’re doing. For this, social media can be incredibly productive. Creating videos, online events, groups, and pages will help capture interest and followers. Many archival companies can also assist in creating a web presence that matches the upcoming project or archive!
Part of telling your story is listing your goals for the future. When you ask for funding, make sure you explain why you need money and how it will be used, which is something your archival company can help you with. Be specific. Why do you need it to impact the community? And don’t forget to tell why your partnership is important.
- Ask for Donations from Private Donors
Whether it’s time or money, people are more likely to give when asked directly. Review your donor list and identify a handful of friends or donors who align best with the goals of the project. These are the donors who are moved by your mission and purpose. Use the old-fashioned method of mailing personal letters. Call potential donors on the phone and set up a meeting. Tell your story, explain your need and tell them why you thought of them, how their values align with yours, how they can help, and that they will directly impact a need.
People want to be needed. If you can outline exactly how a prospective donor can help, they will be more likely to invest, and personally asking people and being prepared to answer their questions will establish a foundation of trust.
Historic works are always at risk of damage due to accidents or simply handling the documents, which makes digital library preservation imperative. Explaining that preserving these documents is of utmost importance, and laying out exactly what will be lost if these documents aren’t preserved digitally will paint an honest picture of why you need the help of donors.
Partner with a trusted archival company who will help you communicate with those outside of your organization. They will help educate and energize your key donors on the possibilities and benefits of your digital archiving project.
You are not alone in this process. Your archival partner can provide demonstrations, presentations, and education. They will explain the importance of archival quality and doing your project right the first time.
- Apply for Grants
Did you know that both the private sector and the government have grants available for library preservation?
Applying for grants might be a little intimidating. A grant proposal is involved, and there are so many, many grants to apply for. Where should you start? How does receiving funds from foundations work?
Applying for grants takes more specialized expertise than marketing. In fact, it might be helpful to hire a grant writer. Again, you may have to spend money to make money. Charitable requests, whether government or not, aren’t just for giving away free money. Your mission must be aligned with their mission, and a grant writer will help you apply in a way that appeals to this connection. If you still want to go through the process yourself, you can find many guides, including this simple step-by-step guide.
Grants can be worth incredibly large sums, and there are a surprising number of grants available for nonprofits and libraries.
Don’t stop there!
You can use any or all of these strategies. Some build on each other, and each compliments the rest. Now all you have to do is continue to build your relationships. Make sure you thank your donors and invest in working relationships with them. This will remain important for future projects. You want your donor to take ownership of projects and be just as dedicated as you are. Don’t just use their money. Show them how they’re directly helping, which can be as simple as sending out regular newsletters or taking time to have personal conversations.
At Anderson Archival, we know how important preserving historical collections is for future generations, and we want to help you create the best digital collection possible. On occasion, our customers ask us to meet with significant donors to explain the benefits of creating a digital library and we have found this to be effective. Call us today at 314.259.1900 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on ways to fund your archival project and how to build a digital library!
Check out Anderson Archival’s recent contribution to bloggERS! The Blog of SAA’s Electronic Records Section. Digital Archivist Shana Scott presents a case study from Harvard University’s preservation of night sky photographs.
Scott tells the story of astronomer Dr. Henry Draper, his wife Anna, and the women of Harvard’s Observatory who were dedicated to the preservation of this incomparable collection.
Do you have a historical document collection that you’d like to make more accessible, relevant, and impactful? Anderson Archival uses proprietary methods to digitize collections so they are easily searchable, ultimately accessible, and even more meaningful to as wide an audience as possible. Let us help you today! Give us a call at 314.259.1900 or email us at email@example.com.
What are Quotables? This is a category in our posts to highlight any professional publications that benefit from our expert archivist experience and quote us in articles for their readers.
Imagine you are a retired scientist who lives down the street from a library that houses valued historical documents. You’ve always had a fascination with maps of streams, lakes, and tides, and the ecology around them, and since your retirement, you enjoy more time sifting through the historical research and analytics.
One day, you see a dumpster outside, cardboard boxes littering the walkway in front of the building. Pedestrians are riffling and collecting items from them. But you don’t think anything of it because all libraries renovate, don’t they?
And then, not long after, the library is closed.
This is what happened to Canada’s Libraries of Fisheries and Oceans. When? Not 100 years ago and not 50. Between 2012 and 2015, the government cut funding from these libraries, causing 7 out of 11 to close and recklessly disperse their documents. Scientists refer to this incident as a modern-day Library of Alexandria because so much knowledge, information, and research was lost.
The Tyee journalist Andrew Nikiforuk says, “Established in 1973, when foreign governments hailed Canada as a world leader in freshwater science and protection, the library housed tens of thousands of reports, maps, charts and books, including material dating back to the 1880s.” A treasury of information!
So what happened to those historical documents?
While many books and papers were relocated to a federal library in British Columbia, Gloria Galloway of The Globe and Mail says that books and research documents were given away, sold, or discarded into dumpsters. The only documents kept were “remains pertinent to the department’s mandate.” Much of the literature was not widely published material nor was all of it digitized. Some of it was, but the government refuses to answer how much.
In fact, CBC’s Max Paris says, “Critics said it was to get rid of environmental elements of the act that hindered the government’s plans for resource development and export.” Some allege that the retention of select data alludes to a political agenda that might otherwise be hindered by complete and long-documented research.
What was lost? The science behind water conservation is incredibly important because of how it affects habitats all over the globe. Canada contains 20% of the world’s freshwater, and research pertinent to the conservation around freshwater and saltwater and whole-lake experiments is now lost. This endangers not only Canada’s natural resources, but the world’s since the research was used to conserve and safely maintain global water sources.
The Time to Digitize Is Now
There is no “safe place” for indefinitely preserving historical documents from decay or other damage. However, you can make sure information kept in those documents will remain available for generations to come by digitizing them.
Consider these five crucial reasons to digitize your historical documents now:
- You never know when tragedy may strike in the form of a natural disaster. Files, folders, and cardboard boxes stacked in the attic or shelves in a warehouse is not safe storage. Even a historical library or society is at risk. Floods, fires, or vandalism can happen at any moment.
- Human negligence happens. Insurance will compensate you, but it cannot recover lost or accidentally destroyed artifacts.
- How many times have governments destroyed books to further their agendas, instill fear in citizens, gain control of education or other jurisdictional departments, or rewrite history? It can even be as mundane as lack of funding. The Libraries of Fisheries and Oceans is not the only modern book burning. History shows that it regularly happens on almost every continent, in almost every country around the world.
- Once lost, those historical items are gone forever. In many cases, there are no replacements or backups. Who could replace the journal of George Washington if it was lost? Future generations would never have this personal insight into our first president. How can we learn from history if it isn’t preserved for our knowledge?
- Most importantly, information lost can have a major impact on life today. For instance, Nikiforuk says, “The ELA [Experimental Lakes Area] cost $2 million a year to maintain, but its research saved governments around the world billions of dollars by preventing water contamination.”
Don’t let such a tragedy befall your collection. Digitize your historical documents today or make a case for your local historical society, library, or historical research facility. Digitizing historical documents properly can be time consuming, but it is well worth the investment.
The Benefits of Carefully Digitizing Historical Documents
If you are passionate about history and preserving knowledge and historical documents, digitization can keep them accessible for the foreseeable future. Here are five reasons why you won’t regret digitizing your historical documents.
- Multiple Backups. Digitized documents can never be lost if correctly mirrored onto physical hardware and cloud storage. Making multiple backups means that you can store them in different places, and cloud services allow you to access the documents from anywhere.
- Organization. Now you have a way to systematically organize files with search tags, creating a logical and efficient way to quickly research and locate the most relevant information.
- Search Capabilities. Do you have older typeset documents created before the advent of Microsoft Word? Your documents can be optically recognized through optical character recognition (OCR). While many vendors provide OCR services, very few strive for accuracy like the experts at Anderson Archival. Our OCR verification process ensures the finest accuracy for search. Instead of sifting through boxes and file cabinets, you’ll be able to simply enter your keywords into the search box, and let the computer do the work for you!
- Ability to Share. Not only will you be able to access the documents in an organized fashion with search features, but you can also offer a publicly accessible online reference database on your own website. If you want a more private approach, your database can be shared only with individuals behind a password-protected account management system or locally stored on your organization’s network.
- Peace of Mind. Is there any greater benefit than peace of mind? You will know that your historical documents, whether research materials, letters, or other historical data, are safe from whatever the world may throw at them.
Picture this: you’ve spent a long time saving for an expensive tailored suit. Late nights at the office finally paid off, and now you’re prepared to invest in a sleek bespoke suit customized exactly to your specifications.
When you need that suit to be styled and fitted, would you trust just any tailor listed at the top of your search results? Or would you take time to research who will handle your prized possession with the utmost care and caution?
It’s important to find a vendor who will keep your digitized collection safe from time’s unforgiving decay—one who cares about how your materials are handled during each step of the digitization process and beyond.
Materials in your collection are confidential, delicate, and unique. There’s no cookie-cutter approach; every collection is fulfilling a specific community’s needs. Whether that community is the entire world or only for your eyes, ethical values matter. Care and confidentiality should direct every decision in the preservation process.
The Society of American Archivists (SAA) provides resources and guidelines for archivists across the country. This includes a detailed set of core values and a code of ethics that archival experts should use to steer their individual missions.
You need a vendor who incorporates SAA’s ethical standards—professional relationships, judgment, authenticity, security and protection, access and use, privacy, and trust. This not only affects the client-vendor communication, but it dictates how each element of your collection is treated in every phase of the project.
Storage and Destruction
Handing over your unique collection is no easy task. Like in the case of the Harding Affair Letters, you may have struggled to keep certain materials safe from people who wanted to hide or destroy timeless resources. Even if you trust the archivists you’re leaving your collection with, what guarantees they’ll treat the materials in a way that reflects their worth?
Find a team who lets you call the shots on how your materials are handled and stored. You need archival experts who are trained in working with fragile and sensitive documents. Additionally, the restoration techniques and equipment used by your vendor should be focused on maintaining the integrity of each artifact.
The rare client may ask that certain materials be permanently destroyed after preservation. In these cases, ensure your partner has a plan in place! Destruction processes should include responsible, secure methods to dispose of documents and hardware, taking careful consideration to maintain both the client and project’s privacy as well as taking into account environmental standards.
Privacy and intellectual property are paramount. You should ensure every set of eyes or hands that touch your collection have signed a binding nondisclosure agreement (NDA). This includes archivists, office personnel, and perhaps even janitorial staff who have access to the premises. If there’s any chance someone could stumble across evidence of your collection, a strong confidentiality agreement protects your data at every conceptual step of its digitization.
Along with strict NDAs, make sure your selected vendor sets rigid internal guidelines about handling the intangible aspects of your collection. Staff should be told only the amount of information about a client needed to do their job—that part’s up to you. Your anonymity can be protected just as well as the physical collection.
Every project requires unique documentation, but setting general standards for record-keeping is a strong first step. Successful documentation ensures successful accountability, which is one of SAA’s core values.
At the start of every digitization project, make sure the vendor analyzes each item and the collection as a whole to assess what each task will entail. Have your original manuscripts or photos seen better days and need an extra round of cleanup in the digitization process? Are there torn pages, handwritten notes, or other text obstructions? Standardizing processes keeps the team on the same course, achieving uniform quality on each page of your collection.
Equally important to accountability is providing examples while the project is in progress. Need weekly reports on the development of your future online collection? Want a mockup or wireframe of the database or publication? Care to test the search functions or capabilities of your custom software? Make sure you have a partner committed to transparency and open communication.
Balancing Privacy and Access
Drawing again from SAA’s code of ethics, one of archiving’s ultimate goals is providing access and use. More often than not, if you’re investing the time and funds to preserve a collection it’s because you wish to share it with others. That’s why it’s at the top of SAA’s list of core values. Making your collection accessible is hard to do when it’s limited to boxes of papers or file cabinets in one physical location.
But good access and privacy don’t always play nicely with one another. Finding that middle ground is always possible, but this depends on you and your collection’s individual needs. If you want a database that’s for your organization’s internal use only, your digitization partner should approach your project differently than if you plan to market your collection for public use or charge users for access. Copyright laws, content, and protection of intellectual privacy put additional limits on the scope of access and use of your collection.
Just as you might wear a beautiful custom suit to a large public event or save it for a private party, you should be able to rest assured that your collection is tailored and fitted to perfection, crafted for its specific purpose. You should also feel confident that your measurements won’t be shared with anyone without your permission!
At Anderson Archival, we treat every step of a digitization project as a new challenge, letting your collection’s individual goals guide our path. This includes safeguarding your information and putting the privacy of your collection first. For more information about how we value confidentiality in our archival process, contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org or 314.259.1900.