Providing digital access to distinctive scholarly materials in our collections continues to grow in importance as part of the Library’s mission. For example, as reported previously, recent grants are enabling us to digitize a significant portion of the vast Hall-Hoag Collection of Extremist and Dissenting Propaganda, which provides critical insights for understanding our times. Indeed, this may be the largest digitization project of contemporary Archival materials; when it is finished, we will have scanned around 900,000 pages of materials from 1950 to 1999.
Digitization allows students and scholars working in any location to view rare materials without incurring the financial and other burdens of traveling to consult them on-site. Moreover, where digital access to materials is available, it also helps reduce handling of the original objects and contributes to their preservation. In the last three years, scanning activity at the Hay has generated around a terabyte of data.
Patrons who need scans of particular collection items that are not already digitized may submit requests through the Hay’s Aeon system. (Any researcher can do this — as a Carnegie Library, the Hay is open to the public.) Generally, we try to limit scan requests to a maximum of five folders or 300 to 400 pages so that we can be equitable among patrons. Depending on the material, a consultation with the Library’s Collections Care staff may take place to determine if there are preservation or handling concerns that may limit what is possible.
The staff members who complete the image capture of the physical object in order to create the digital files possess a wide range of specialized skills including building custom supports for fragile materials and three dimensional objects as well as operating complex software and equipment in the Library’s camera room and on location. Lindsay Elgin, Senior Library Technologist, wrote “A more typical look at the camera room” about photographing an album of watercolor prints from the Anne S. K. Brown Military Gallery. Lindsay also photographed the narwhal tusk from the 2015 The Unicorn Found: Science, Literature, and the Arts exhibit at the John Hay Library (photo above). You can read more about that shoot in Lindsay’s blog post, “The Unicorn of the Sea Comes to Brown.”
To facilitate greater access to our materials, we have removed any fees associated with digitization or scanning.
We ask patrons to allow four to six weeks for scanning requests to be completed, but we often turn them around quicker than that. Material requested by Brown instructors for their courses are given priority. To facilitate greater access to our materials, we have removed any fees associated with digitization or scanning. This allows researchers of all backgrounds to begin their research without having to incur costs and also allows researchers to start doing preliminary research without needing to travel to Providence. Over the past 12 months, the Hay has scanned over 50,000 pages for patrons. The Martha Dickinson Bianchi papers (Ms. 2010.046) collection and the Hortense J. Spillers papers, 1966-1995 are examples of collections from which numerous researchers have requested a significant amount of scanned material over the past couple of years.
The Hay also digitizes material at high resolution to meet preservation needs or in response to requests for exhibitions. Such requests have generated about 3.5 terabytes of digital files. In both cases, high-quality scans provide substitutes for original materials that are too fragile to be handled directly or displayed.
High resolution scans also serve the needs of scholars creating digital projects requiring the display and study of collection items. For example, Hay staff are currently assisting with the “Sounding Spirit” project being developed at Emory University. Approximately 200 items from the Hay’s collection are being digitized, and the scans will ultimately be hosted on the project’s website and will also be available through Brown’s own digital repository. Scanning is not simply a mechanical process. The Library’s staff experts process and review all of the digital files for quality and edit them to create master files of all of the images.
Indeed, staff members at the John Hay Library are involved at every step of the digitization process, lending their expertise to researchers in need of consultation about the materials to transporting material to be digitized from the Library Annex to photographing fragile materials and non-print objects and scanning print materials to reviewing and delivering digital files to our patrons. We are dedicated to supporting scholarship at Brown and beyond and recognize the importance of extending the reach of Brown’s incredible special collections materials and look forward to continuing our work to make these items digitally available to researchers around the world.