This is the third post in our series concerning the reunion of the Finley and Bohlman papers at OSU and OHS. Brian Davis manages the daily operations related to digitization, digital preservation, and Oregon Digital projects within Special Collections and Archives at Oregon State. He deals with questions concerning digitization of analog resources including text and audiovisual materials, the accessibility of digitized resources, and digital preservation.
Have you ever worked on a project of this type/scale before? How did the Finley Bohlman project from others you have worked on in the past?
Yes, I’ve worked on a number of large digitization projects similar to this at other institutions. I lead a couple of large glass plate digitization projects that proved to be beneficial as I helped get the glass plate negatives digitization process going for the Oregon Historical Society. Newton’s Rings are something that you definitely want to avoid when you scan negatives and my recommendation to use Plexiglas supports that raise the negative off the surface of the scanner eliminated that issue. As for the manuscript side of things, I have done a fair amount of digitization of those but nothing at this scale.
This project was challenging for a number of reasons and many of those were separate from the materials themselves, having more to do with our environment. For example, we were scanning on multiple scanners in two different locations and it was challenging for me to get the scanning equipment calibrated in a coherent way. There should be a uniformity with the color regardless of what scanner was used and having two different scanners in two different lighting situations made building the color profiles rather complex. It’s not something that calibration software can auto-magically do.
As with all digital collections projects, our digitization workflow is dependent on the time and schedules of others since materials need to be prepped before coming to us. There were occasional delays in this process. Knowing that we had quarterly targets that we were trying to hit, there were times of panic when there just weren’t any materials available for us to scan. When boxes of manuscripts were made available to us, we put it into overdrive so to speak. I also stepped in and did some scanning myself just to stay on track.
Paper-based materials from this era are somewhat fragile, so there were bits and pieces of debris occasionally falling off as we pulled the materials out of the boxes. Cleaning was something that we had to do in between almost every scan. While it doesn’t take an inordinate amount of time to wipe the scanner down, when you multiply that times 8,000 it does add up. There were also structural issues with some of the materials and we had to use a bit of ingenuity to get certain pages properly imaged. This was also true for the oversized items, most of which were about four times larger than our scanning equipment. DPU digitization techs Valeria and Roxanne both did a great job handling all the non-standard items.
Finally, the sheer size of the digital objects we were working with pushed well beyond the capabilities of our underpowered and aging computing equipment. All of the files were scanned at 600ppi and each file is over 100MB. Not terribly large, but when you combine a hundred of them into a single PDF things can get complicated. The digital preservation part of it was even more complicated, but that’s a topic for another time. In total, there were 8,005 pages of manuscript materials that we processed/assembled/OCR’d down into 1,418 PDFs. The final file size for the manuscript materials is 1.12TB.
What was it like to collaborate with the Oregon Historical Society on this project?
At times it can be isolating doing the work that we do in DPU, so it was nice to make connections with others doing similar work. I set up a Slack channel for the group and that made the collaboration a lot easier for the day-to-day questions that came up. It was also fun to go up to Portland for the occasional meeting/tour of the OHS facilities.
What do you see as the largest the success of the project? The largest challenge? Why?
I think that the ultimate success was getting all the materials available online. In total, the Reuniting Finley and Bohlman collection in Oregon Digital has over 7,000 objects. You’ve heard the expression that too many cooks spoil the broth. That didn’t hold true for this project because it really took a lot of us to make this project a success. From writing the initial grant and overall project management down to the metadata and digitization processes, each of us did our part and did it exceptionally well.
Aside from the challenges I’ve mentioned, it was also no small feat keeping the other projects going in the Digital Production Unit. Although we focused on this project, we didn’t halt our other work or say no to other projects.
What was your favorite aspect of the project? Did you have a favorite item?
The professional relationships I’ve built with the Oregon Historical Society staff have been the best part of the project. As for a favorite item, I’m going to be diplomatic and pick one from OSU and one from OHS.
On the OSU end of it, I like the Getting Our Goat film. It wasn’t something that we digitized for this project, but I think that it has a certain light-heartedness and it definitely shows an underlying sense of humor that you can see throughout the collection.
Almost all of the photographs are great, but I really like this image from the OHS collection of an ostrich chick standing beside an egg. Aside from being a nicely exposed negative, it also shows that sense of humor.
What is the LSTA and what did it mean to you for the project to win this award?
The Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) allocates funding for a library grant program in the US. It’s administered at the federal level by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and at the state level by the Oregon State Library. The Reuniting Finley and Bohlman project won the state library’s LSTA Project of the Year.
It was a great feeling to be acknowledged, alongside our colleagues from OHS, for our year-long journey through the ups and downs of this project. Larry Landis and Shawna Gandy accepted the award on the project teams behalf.
It’s my hope that this award will shed some light on what the Digital Production Unit does and how our work is key to expanding access to the library’s unique materials.