Digitising manuscripts and publications

After many years of digitising its photographic treasures the State Library of Queensland has recently been investigating options for making copies of its vast collections of unique publications and manuscripts available on-line.

Operating the Kirtas® 2400

Operating the Kirtas® 2400

A number of factors need to be taken into account when considering what, and how, to digitise the State Library's collections. Traditionally, digitising of publications has been carried out on a flat bed scanner. This is a time consuming process and the equipment is often not suitable for bound books or fragile publications. As a consequence a pilot project is underway to investigate high-speed scanning options for the digitising of the Library’s collections.

First and foremost it is critical that the equipment used does not in any way damage often already fragile materials. This means that the preferred method of digitising publications is with equipment that captures the text and images from above and places minimal tension on the book's spine. Recent advancements in technology have seen the arrival in Australia of the Kirtas® 2400  high-speed book Scanner, similar to that used for the Google Book Digitising Project.

Several unique published books from Heritage Collections were selected for the trial project. Criteria used in short-listing this selection from the tens of thousands of publications available included concentrating on publications with Queensland content, high levels of user interest, rarity, as well as a concern to scan matter pertaining to different parts of the state. It was also important that the a number of the publications include images of high visual interest (tourism publications) as well as a number with a good deal of text to assess the OCR (optical character recognition) or searchability of the resultant digitised text.

Most importantly, from a preservation perspective, was the condition of the books and their size (the Kirtas® book cradle is only able to handle books less than 355mm in height and 250mm wide). In the hands of a skilled operator the Kirtas® scanner was able to gently and comparatively quickly turn (over 1800 pages in less than 5hours) the pages of the volumes to be digitised. Unfortunately, this time excludes the time necessary to quality check and clean the digital files and produce the searchable pdf files.

The trial of the Kirtas® overhead book scanner is now complete and due to the efforts of a number of people behind the scenes State Library clients are now able to discover and search online through publications including The Curse and its Cure; A Queenly Colony: Pen sketches and camera glimpses; Brisbane from the Air: illustrated; Railway tours of central Queensland; Stanthorpe & district : Queensland’s wonderful mountain fruit garden; Tewantin, Noosa and District Souvenir and The Wonderland of the North: scenic beauties of North Queensland: the ideal Australian winter tour.

 Lithograph of Dr Thomas Pennington Lucas

 Lithograph of Dr Thomas Pennington Lucas

Readers will probably not be familiar with the above mentioned example of The Curse and its Cure by Thomas Pennington Lucas. This utopian novel published in 1894 is the very first novel to use Brisbane as its setting. The publication is very rare and digitising it means that researchers and interested readers can now view the item online from anywhere in the world without having to handle the Library's copy, which is quite fragile.

Whilst readers may not have heard of this intriguing publication they may have used Dr Lucas' Papaw Ointment, which is still available today through the Brisbane family business, Lucas Papaw Remedies. Dr Lucas owned a 16 hectare farm at Acacia Ridge where he grew pawpaws and conducted experiments into their remedial properties.

The next stage in this project is to select other John Oxley Library publications and make them available on-line as time and other resources permit.

Watch this space….

Christine Ianna, Manager, Publications Reformating, Collections Preservation

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