Historic Children’s Books at the Library of Congress

Today’s New York Times has a lovely article about the rare children’s books housed at the Library of Congress, 100 of which are now digitized and available online. (Intriguingly, the children’s book called The Cats’ Party that the article features is entirely different from the identically-titled book that we hold at PPL. We’re pleased to know that two different 19th century authors decided to pen books about feline festivities.)

Check out the Library of Congress’s digitized children’s books here.


RI Photographs, hot off the digital press!

Thanks to our Digital Projects Manager and some very speedy scanning technicians, we’ve uploaded our first big batch of Rhode Island photographs to the Providence Public Library’s digital library!

These photos, from our Rhode Island Photograph Collection, show places from Glocester to Newport (with plenty of Providence); there are Vanderbilts and tradesmen, Ida Lewis and her dog, and people testing out early airplanes.

The images can be browsed, or can be searched by creator, subject, keyword, or date. Stay tuned for many more images of Rhode Island’s past as we continue with our digitization process!

Congratulations to Sandra Carrera and our other Updike Prize finalists

It’s a pleasure to announce that Sandra Carrera is the first ever winner of the Updike Prize for Student Type Design!

Updike Prize Trophy

You may have noticed that the trophy is also a fully-functional composing stick. We had a great evening with a lecture from Tobias Frere-Jones last Thursday, but if you missed it you can still visit the level 3 gallery cases to take a look at the type specimens of our four finalists:

Sandra Carrera, Picara (First Prize)
Chae Hun Kim, Hodoo
Prin Limphongpand, Rizvele (Runner-Up)
Yeon Hak Ryoo, Tranche

The specimens will be on display, with items from the Updike Collection that influenced the type design, until March 19th. Kudos to all four finalists who did a great job!

Picara, the winning typeface, was influenced by a type specimen published sometime in the 1770s by Antonio Espinosa, and we’re happy to announce that we’ve made the book available in its entirety online:



If you’re a student interested in type design, don’t forget that the 2016 competition starts now! Stop in to work with the collection or just learn more about it and the rules for the prize.

And if you want to be notified about next year’s Updike Prize ceremony, stay tuned to this blog, or send us your email address to be added to our mailing list.

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.)


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.


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