Looking back - Digitisation at the State Library of Queensland

Did you know?  The first occasion in which State Library of Queensland digitised material was in 1999. The focus was  to develop a package of 250 images from the John Oxley Library for the website. This comprised a selection of Queensland images from the 1950s to the 1980s in locations ranging from the Gold Coast to Normanton.

The images were colour slides from the collection. The image of a then glitzy Queen Street in the mid 50s is probably a signature photograph  and has been used in many forms including a full page newspaper spread to being a favourite with staff displaying a print at their desks.

The unveiling of the first images online entitled “Looking Back” caused a minor sensation with then Seven Network News presenter Frank Warrick carrying out MC duties at the launch at State Library and with prime time coverage on the 6 pm Channel 7 news.  A team of 15 State Library staff developed the project.  The primary objective was to get our hands dirty to inform future large scale digitization of significant State Library content.

As we were not connected to the network back then, all scans had to be saved to CD. We would create one for the project team to upload to the web site and an additional one as a back up which we stored in metal cabinets. This included the larger scan and two smaller images (preview and thumbnail).

The Library's "Computer Systems" area at the time did not allow the Image Production Unit to connect to the network as the computer did not adhere to the then standards (486 based processors, running Windows 3.11), plus it was feared that we would clog the network if we started saving these large (2Mb) files. As a result, it would take around 20 minutes to burn one 600Mb disc of images.

As we were yet to devise any digitisation standards,  we were guided by "Computer Systems" staff as to what constituted a large file. The original "Looking Back" scans were done at around 100 ppi, 1000 pixels long, creating a file approximately 2Mb in size and took around 2-3 minutes to scan. This was sufficient for online viewing, however the whole collection had to be later rescanned to create a digital archival version that adhered to what has become SLQ's digitisation standards.

These days we are fully connected to the IT infrastructure including access to network storage such as O: drive, and the server. For security reasons, images are saved directly to the server via FTP.

While certainly much better than what we had in the past, uploading via FTP (File Transfer Protocol) can take several hours when we have several Gb's of images to upload (quite common). Also, we now have many different collections to digitise (original materials, publications, maps, artist books, pictorial, etc.)  Each format has different file naming conventions and need to be uploaded to different locations on the server. This can cause some confusion at times. Additionally, items such as maps and posters are generally scanned at higher resolutions.   We have now added JP2000 to our standards for maps, which lets people zoom and search within the map, increasing the research value of the maps for all.

We are now at 70,000 + digitised objects,1.7 million Queensland newspaper pages and increasing everyday. We have come a long way, but it is really fun to look back and to realise how much we have accomplished.

You can search our digital collections via our One Search catalogue.

Grant Collins - Manager, Collection Preservation, State Library of Queensland
& C. Cottle - Digital Collections Curator, State Library of Queensland

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