Aside

Just a quick note to mention that our Bodoni event last week was terrific fun. Matthew Carter regaled a packed auditorium…

Auditorium… with tales of type design, including the pleasure of discovering that you (or at least your typeface) have made the cover of the Rolling Stone and that the designer “got” what you were intending:

Carter Rolling StoneMore photos of the evening are available on the Library’s Facebook page.

And don’t forget that the exhibition will be on display in the Library’s Providence Journal Rhode Island Room (Level 1) until April 19th. And if you want even more Bodoni in your life, send an email and set up a time to come in and look at the rest of the collection, which is not on display in the exhibition but is available for use any time.

 

 

FYI: The RHODI Project

Blog readers with an interest in Rhode Island cultural institutions will want to follow the progress of a project getting started under the aegis of the RI Historical Society. The RHODI Project aims to produce a directory of cultural institutions like libraries and museums in the state. From the press release:

History and heritage are among Rhode Island’s most valuable assets, and there is an urgent need for better public access and inter-organizational coordination . Through technology, it can easily and affordably be made relevant and valuable. RHODI will give hundreds of small local organizations access to audiences ranging from tourists to scholars, as well as to the synergies and benefits of a dynamic virtual network.  Cultural heritage is an essential part of any vibrant local community, providing a strong rallying point and a means to instill civic pride.

 

Learn more at rhodi.org.

The One-Hour Digitization Challenge

(Updated Below)

I recently received a package containing my very first Kickstarter purchase, the ScanBox Plus. The Scanbox is basically a small box with a hole in the top (the “Plus” adds a set of lights powered by a 9-volt battery), designed to be used with a smartphone camera as a portable scanning station. The whole apparatus folds flat and fits inside a paper envelope.

The Scanbox seemed like the perfect tool for some guerrilla digitization, so I set myself the following challenge: Digitize a complete (if small) manuscript collection in an hour. That’s everything from soup to nuts, including installation of software and uploading the images. I decided to use a small collection of manuscripts (34 folders), the correspondence of Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell. The collection itself was recently removed from less-than-archival housing

binder and plastic sheetsand processed by a volunteer (finding aid). Here’s the newly-rehoused Pennell Collection next to the Scanbox:

scanbox and manuscript box

I put an hour on the timer and got to work:

Step One: “Scanning”. Time: 18:54 (Time remaining: 41:06)

Each page with writing was scanned (blank versos were skipped), including envelopes. Items were moved in and out of the box quickly but carefully. The total number of resulting images was 76, which means it took about 15 seconds per image. The scanning process involved nothing more than sliding each item in and tapping the photo button.

Step Two: Setting Up the Online Gallery. Time: 13:14 (Time remaining: 27:52)

While the photos uploaded from the phone to the computer via Dropbox, I downloaded and set up the software I’d be using for the digital collection. I decided on Gallery because it’s the quickest and easiest option I know of. Given the time to add image metadata or create a nicer interface, I might have chosen something else. The quick installation was also a plus: I set up a MySQL database on the server, uploaded the Gallery folder, visited it in a web browser, and that was about it.

Step Three: Image Rotation. Time: 4:14 (Time remaining: 23:38)

No time for cropping or any other image editing, just time to make sure everything pointed in the right direction.

Step Four: Re-Scanning. Time: 7:44 (Time remaining: 15:54)

While going quickly through the images I noticed a few that were just too bad to use. Back to the Scanbox.

Step Five: Uploading. Time: 12:30 (Time remaining: 3:20)

Most of this time was wasted trying to figure out a plugin I didn’t even need to use.

Step Six: Cleanup. Time: 3:20

With all the images online, I still had a few minutes to tweak things a bit. I clicked “Save” on the last edits as the stopwatch reached an hour.


The Results:

The collection is available online at http://pplspc.org/pennell/ for the moment. (In the future I might tweak things a bit more. Update: Tweaking began almost immediately. I soon realized I had somehow uploaded two copies of each image, so I deleted everything and re-uploaded the images.)

Cons:

Image quality isn’t very good: Smartphone cameras are handy, but they don’t currently match the resolution of scanners. And the Scanbox lights were underwhelming. In most cases one side of a letter is illuminated more than the other.

Absent metadata: A great deal of the work that goes into good digital projects takes place in the metadata and the rest of the apparatus supporting the images themselves. This collection is just a pile of images (it’s not necessarily even clear what images represent different sides of the same item).

Limited longevity: Don’t expect any of these images (or the collection as a whole) to be around in 100 years. Or 50. Maybe 10 if we’re lucky. Keeping digital reproductions alive takes a lot of effort.

Pros:

A number of letters by two interesting people that weren’t available an hour ago suddenly are now.

Pennell Collection

If you’re interested in the history of modern illustration, you might be familiar with Joseph Pennell, an engraver/lithographer/author/artist who provided the illustrations for scores of books, including his own works. He and his wife Elizabeth were close to James McNeill Whistler and eventually produced a biography of the painter. And he’s also responsible for an iconic World War I poster envisioning the result of an Allied failure (New York in flames and Nazi German planes flying over a shattered Statue of Liberty – visit to see a copy in our collection of WWI and II posters).

We’ve just finished processing a collection of Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell’s correspondence here at PPL, and a finding aid is now available online. The collection is now available for use, so if you’re interested in Pennell, stop in and have a look.

End-Of-The-Year Notes

With the new year nearly upon us, this seems like the time to do a roundup of 2011 at the PPL Special Collections. So here are a few quick notes on some of what’s happened this year (since March, at least):

New Additions

Here’s a partial list of the new books, manuscripts, etc. that came in to Special Collections in 2011:

  • Donations of monographs on the history of the book (like this, or this, or this) and a volume printed by Sidney Rider, 19th-century printer-publisher-Renaissance man.
  • A group of books on paper-making and paper history, including a sample book of marbled paper from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in India:
  • A Cuala Press imprint and a pretty scarcepopish and financial romance” for the Potter & Williams Irish Collection.
  • A donated manuscript collection relating to a RI author (more info coming soon).
  • A small collection of whaling manuscripts and a fine new whaling log (more info coming soon) for the Nicholson Whaling Collection. Here are a few photos:

Newly Cataloged

As NBC used to say, “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you.” Here are some things we’ve had for a while but you can now find more easily:

Online Resources

In addition to pointing out what we have and where it is, we’ve made some of it available online:

Add in visits from classes and researchers, the ongoing 3rd volume issues of Occasional Nuggets, exhibitions and more, and it’s been a fairly busy year. Here’s to an even busier 2012.