Day of Digital Archives: Finding Balance

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Did you know today is the second annual Day of Digital Archives? It’s about celebration but also education: Just what is it we actually do here at Digital Services?

What I like about being a Digitization Technologist is that it’s never boring. There’s always something new on the horizon…or already falling into your lap! A lot of the time, it’s software, but yesterday it was the confluence of archival materials and hardware, namely, a set of old galley proofs and our shiny new Canon lens.

Our new lens is wonderful. It’s got a kind of peripheral vision that makes it perfect for shooting something as long (64 centimeters) as a galley proof. Unfortunately, that eagerness to take in even our largest capture bed also means it takes in a lot more light than we’re used to. So yesterday we spent a good deal of time making adjustments to the lighting stands. We moved them closer to the capture bed…and farther away…then closer again…then at an angle. We closed flaps and opened them again. We maybe frowned and huffed a bit — at the camera, at the paper — but we knew we’d find a way.

We took capture after capture, testing the exposure across the image, but we kept getting a gradient effect: lighter on the ends, darker in the middle. Eventually, we had to move the whole capture stand to get it out of the corner and give the light on that side more wiggle room. The configuration of equipment and furniture we settled on isn’t ideal in the long term (not if one wants to be able to move around in that tiny room!), but it allowed me to make the captures I needed, so I could finish a box and send it back to its home in the special collections stacks. Just as importantly, we discovered what the problem is and that it’s solvable. With time, we’ll figure out a more permanent fix.

When challenges arise here at Digital Services (and they always do!), we have to balance the need to keep faithful, high quality images coming with the desire to get to the root of any technical problems once and for all, so that we don’t have to face them again. Usually, we live squarely on some middle ground: we make things work, then we leave the problem on one of our smaller front burners, letting it simmer to a better solution as we continue on with the task of preserving history for the future.

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