Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The ABCs of Digital Preservation

April 27 through May 1 of this year marked the American Library Association's 5th Annual Preservation Week. To celebrate, I gave a talk for library staff titled The ABC's of Digital Preservation. The purpose of the talk was to introduce some basic digital preservation concepts, such as choosing file formats, file naming best practices, and the basics of preservation metadata. I also discussed some tools and models for managing digital materials, and tried to demystify some of the acronyms I throw around casually in meetings ("If we follow OAIS, the SIP could contain a TIF and some PREMIS and or METS, and of course the AIP will need an md5...").  You can view the slides of the talk here. 

The talk was well attended, and I got a lot of good feedback and follow-up questions. In this blog post, I'd like to address these questions, and talk about some resources to learn more about topics discussed in my presentation.

First, I'll start with some general resources...

In creating and organizing my presentation, I was inspired by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resource's Digital Preservation Best Practices and Guidelines. It's a great resource and an excellent starting point.

Read through the archives and follow The Signal, the digital preservation blog of the Library of Congress. They highlight a lot of amazing projects covering all aspects of digital preservation.

Also, the North East Document Conservation Center has some great resources.

Now, on to your questions...

1. Is there a list of file formats defining their function that I could reference?

Yes! The Library of Congress developed this great resource for file format descriptions. The South Carolina Department of Archives and History also has a nice resource on File Formats.

2. Could you point me toward a bibliography of good guides for organizing photographs (or perhaps a workshop)?

Library of Congress's Personal Digital Archiving project has a good, succinct guide to archiving digital photos. Here's another great resource created by MLIS students at Catholic University of America for Preservation Week. Mike Ashenfelder also wrote a great blog post on The Signal answering questions about digital photo archiving (you should check out the webinar he references as well!) And finally, here is an amazing resource for digging into embedding metadata in digital images.

3. Can you tell me more about the Digital POWRR Tool Grid?

"The POWRR Tool Grid v2 provides a set of interactive views designed to help practitioners identify and select tools that they need to solve digital preservation challenges. This Grid is based on the Tool Grid first developed by the Digital POWRR Project, and combines the form and function of the original POWRR grid with the far greater coverage of tools provided by the COPTR data feed."

4. What are the current archival standard for image scans- resolution and bit depth?

The Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative (FADGI!) has an excellent document that goes into great detail providing best practices for image scans:  Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials .  ALTCS, a division of ALA, has also published a helpful guide for Minimum Digitization Capture Recommendations for many types of media.

5. What are the best practices for preserving video files (ideal formats, codecs, etc.)?

Choosing a file format and codec for video preservation master files is complex. A lot depends on available resources, technological expertise, and the context in which files are created and managed. FADGI has done an excellent analysis of the issues involved in their report Digital File Formats for Digital Tape Reformatting. For best practice guidelines for creation and management of digital video, I really love the Activist's Guide to Archiving Video.

6. Bagit …. wait, what?
Check out this video from the Library of Congress. Another place to learn more is Bagit's wikipedia page. And if your ready to use BagIt, you can download it on Github.

7. What to do if a preservation copy has changed? Can you fix it?
Hopefully, you'll have multiple copies of a file, and the preservation copy can be replaced with a "good" one. For situations where this isn't the case, someone with expertise in the file format should be able to address the issue, as explained by @dericed:

8. What are some best practices or tools for data preservation?

A good place to start would be the How-to Guides and Checklists from the Digital Curation Centre. Then read through the rest of their website -- its a gold-mine of information on curating digital research! Library of Congress has recommended formats for datasets and databases, as well as a report on evaluating file formats for datasets and information on types of dataset file formats. Stanford also has a good guide covering many aspects of digital curation for research data. SCAPE is a project of the Open Preservation Foundation that develops software tools and training materials for large scale data preservation.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Storage Housings for Cased Photographs


The Iconography Collection, which I have been working with this year, includes many non-traditional items, such as paintings and three dimensional objects, as well as items of various sizes. As this is a library, most of our storage spaces are divided into typical library shelving, and it can sometimes be a challenge with this type of collection to keep items in the desired order while using the available space efficiently and providing proper protection for the objects. This subject was also addressed in the recent Northwestern University "Beyond the Book" Blog Post by Stephanie Growler, entitled "Fitting In: Storing Objects in Library Stacks" .

I was inspired by this blog post to create a folder structure, similar to the one depicted for petri dishes, during my rehousing project for a collection of cased photographs within the Iconography Collection. While this group of cased photographs is considered a single item, as it is cataloged under one item number, Iconography 1507, it includes over 75 cased photographs, mainly daguerreotypes and ambrotypes and a few tintypes.

Ambrotype on the left, daguerreotype on the right, missing cases.

Example of an ambrotype in an unusual case with two openings.

I wanted to improve the housing because the cased photographs were placed haphazardly in two boxes and were housed in poor quality envelopes. They were not properly enclosed or protected and were poorly organized, which increased the risk of damage and dissociation.

Iconography 1507 Box 1, cased photographs stored in envelopes.

The Challenges

- Utilize the same exterior boxes so that the objects will occupy the same space on the shelves.

- Objects needed to be stored vertically. Housing objects horizontally was not the best option for the space, given the large number of small items, and the objects needed to stay in the same place on the shelves in order to maintain chronological order.

- Housing items individually on the shelves was not ideal because this would have resulted in many small, loose items, as well as inefficient use of the space.

- Standardize the housing for a majority of the objects. Most objects were 3 3/4" x 4 3/4" or smaller, but several were larger.

- Keep the objects in alphabetical order within the boxes while meeting other goals.

- Create secure, durable enclosures with archival (non-damaging) materials.


-Decided to modify pre-made folders to fit approximately 2 cased photographs per folder, with two folders fitting next to each other inside of the box. This allows for enough protection while taking up less space than pre-made standardized boxes. Using pre-made folders also saves time and expense.

        - Bonus: Only 3 items did not fit inside the chosen folder size, which meant the folders could be           mostly standardized. Out of 35 folders, only 3 required larger dimensions.

Overall view of modified folder containing two cased photographs.
-Used blue corrugated board scraps for the walls of the boxes. This gave me the opportunity
to use up many scraps, while providing added protection for the objects.

-Added Volara on lids, custom fit to the individual compartments, to create added support and pressure.

-Added Mylar strips to lift cased photographs up and out of compartments, or thumb-slots if possible.

-Embedded Velcro in walls of folder. This allows the folder to be flush on all sides and does not
take up more space. However, the Velcro is time-consuming to attach. We used PVA which took a long time to dry, and was not always immediately successful if not enough PVA was used.

Interior view, showing two daguerreotypes.

Once I had completed a prototype and determined a workflow, Deborah Howe and Stephanie Wolff helped to make many folders, which made the project go quickly!

Deborah Howe and Stephanie Wolff helping to make custom folders.

Tips for batch construction of folders

1. First group the cased photographs in pairs according to alphabetical order and size to determine the      number and size of folders needed.

2. If trimming the folders so that two will fit adjacent in the box, do not use the spine to square the         edge! The spines are cloth and are irregular. Use the boards only, otherwise you can end up with off-square, irregular folders.

3. Calculate the number of strips of corrugated board you will need in which sizes, then cut these
    standardized pieces accordingly. This takes time, but it is worth it. Extras are also good idea.
         a. In general, avoid making strips thinner than 1 inch. If walls need to be thinner than this,                        then turn on their sides.
         b. Avoid leaving space in the joints between the walls, and make sure the walls are as flush as                  possible.

4. Use a tape gun or double-sided tape to build walls from corrugated wall pieces.

5. When attaching the walls to the folder use PVA. At first I attached to the bottom of the folder            using double-sided tape, but found this resulted in an unstable structure. PVA in the joints between     the walls is also key.

6. Cut space on top of a wall for Velcro, and use sandpaper on lid to make slightly rougher surface.         Attach with PVA and weight. This will likely need about 8 hours to dry, but longer is always               better.

7. It is recommended that you allow the Volara to dry under a good amount of weight, then close the       box and weight more. Otherwise, you can may get a lot of warping of the lid.

The design may be modified slightly (and easily) to accommodate cased photographs of different sizes:

In the end, we made 35 folders. Of these, 16 folders were exactly the same inside and out, 32 have the same exterior dimensions. Only 3 needed larger folders, which are oriented horizontally.

Both boxes, filled with cased photographs in new folders.

Written by Tessa Gadomski

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Personnel Update in Preservation Services

At the end of July, Stephanie Wolff will be leaving Preservation Services. Stephanie has been part of Preservation Services since 2006, starting as a Conservation Technician and then promoted to Assistant Conservator. In her role, she has accomplished much and has significantly contributed to the care and treatment of the valuable materials housed within the library. I am sad to see her go, but happy for her as she moves forward to pursue her love of the book arts and teaching. She will focus on book arts curriculum and how content through research can inform expression and creativity.  If she is teaching in your area I highly recommend taking her class. We wish her the best as she begins this new chapter.

Stephanie has perfected the art of box making
and has made  hundreds of clam shell boxes
for our special collection material. Here
is a sample.

Written by Deborah Howe

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Baker Library in the Dartmouth College Photographic Files Collection

During the month of May, close to 1500 photographs of Baker Library were added to the Dartmouth College Photographic Files Collection. Included are many photos of the Baker Library building, interior and exterior, including its construction, as well as people that have worked here over many years. Here are some samples:

View a much larger selection here.

The Dartmouth College Photographic Files project began in early 2012 and is part of the Dartmouth Digital Collections. The project's goal is to make over 80,000 photographs stored in file cabinets in Rauner Special Collections available online. Images date from the early years of photography (ca. 1850s) to the present and include images of nearly all aspects of Dartmouth College life. To date there are over 36,000 photos from the collection online. We add approximetly 1,000 photographs to the collection every month. We are working through the photographs alphabetically and have reached the letter "M". See additional photographs of Feldbery Library; Dana Biomedical Library and Kresge Library.

If you have questions about the Photographic Files Collection contact Rauner Special Collections If you have questions about the ditital imaging of the collection contact William B. Ghezzi or Ryland Ianelli in the Digial Production Unit.

Written by William B. Ghezzi

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

American Institute of Conservation 43rd Annual Meeting

The American Institute of Conservation recently held its 43rd annual meeting in Miami, Florida 
from May 13 - May 16, 2015.

The AIC Web site states their mission:

 “As the only national membership organization in the United States dedicated to the preservation of cultural material, the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works plays a crucial role in establishing and upholding professional standards, promoting research and publications, providing educational opportunities, and fostering the exchange of knowledge among conservators, allied professionals, and the public.”

Annual meetings are structured for both general and specialty sessions. The general session talks target broad areas of interest and information on current conservation concerns, while the specialty sessions aim for more detailed talks in the specific subject areas such as: objects, paintings, electronic media, photographs, and book and paper. This year’s theme was “Practical Philosophy- Making Conservation Work".  I was fortunate to have my abstract - "The Brut Chronicle: Revived and Reconstructed", accepted for presentation to the Book and Paper group. The topic of my paper was based on a treatment I had done for the Brut manuscript, which was acquired by Rauner Library in 2006. The presentation covered the history of the manuscript, the conservation options, and how my interaction with scholars and its intended use informed the eventual treatment, and then details on the final outcome. Preparing for the talk was a lot of hard work and I relied on the help of my colleagues for input and critique. In the end it went well and I am pleased with having been able to share my ideas and treatment with the book conservation community.
Deborah Howe: The Brut Chronicle: Revived and Reconstructed

 As a side note, I was able to go on a behind the scenes tour of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.  It is an incredible house with beautiful gardens and I would highly recommend a visit there if you find yourself in Miami.

Written by Deborah Howe.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Illustration with a Knife

Recently I taught a class in our Book Arts Workshop on basic papercutting. This historic technique has many artistic possibilities. The resulting cut paper piece can be a finished artwork or used as a matrix for stenciling. Here is one approach you can try to begin cutting paper.

Step One:

Find or draw an image. Simplify your design, as this technique is easier, yet still effective, with basic shapes suggesting the represented item. You just need to provide your viewer with enough information to understand or identify the picture. Print or draw the image on a piece of photocopy or other thin paper at its final size.

Step Two:

Determine the cuts. At this point, you want to decide if your final cut paper design will be adhered to another background paper. If so, then you could let any counters (this is the typographic term for the interior of a letter, like the middle of an “O”) drop out because you can glue them down to the background paper. If the cut paper design will be used as it is (as an independent page or as a stencil) then you will need to make sure there are “bridges” to hold any counters in place (as shown here in the handle of the scissors). On your pattern darken the areas you wish to cut away, making sure you have enough paper left behind to keep the image stable once cut.

At this point you are still determining your final design, because the illustration and the paper’s structure are so interrelated. You will probably want to have some visual interest and dimension to your image. For instance, if cutting an apple shape, perhaps do something other than merely cutting out a slightly circular shape with a stem. Consider using a combination of thin lines, or ways to create your design with multiple smaller shapes or cuts, or suggesting light and shadow.

Step Three:

Once you have determined your cuts, tape the pattern down onto your final paper. I am using a 70lb black text weight paper, which cuts nicely but is still pretty stable. You’ll want both these papers to be oversized if possible, so the tape doesn't make any unwanted marks on your paper.

If you have a small self-healing cutting mat, tape the finished paper down to it. My 6” x 8” gray mat works well here because I can tape the papers to the mat and easily move them all together while cutting. If you only have a large cutting mat, don’t tape the papers down to the mat because it will be cumbersome to move the mat as you cut. Just move the paper. You can experiment and see what works best for you.

Step Four:

Prepare your knife. I like to use a knife with a pointed tip, such as a scalpel with a 23 or 25 blade, or an X-Acto with a number 11 blade, but a snap-off Olfa or hardware store knife works too. No matter what kind of knife you use, a very sharp blade makes cutting paper easier and safer. So start with a fresh blade and replace it as soon as you notice it moves through the paper with more resistance than when you began.

Step Five:

With all knife cutting, I suggest using the knife at a perpendicular angle to your body, in other words bringing the knife from top to bottom vertically to make the cut. Keep your “helping hand” away from the knife, either above or beside the action of the blade. Move the paper (and mat) to orient it so that you can cut in this manner, and keep moving the paper as needed to maintain this position. Not only will your body feel better after an hour of cutting, but you will have more control by using the knife this way.

Don’t hold your knife with too tight a grip. Try to keep your hand as relaxed as possible while cutting. Find a good balance between your knife’s position in the hand and maintaining enough pressure on the knife to make good cuts.

To begin cutting, remove the small pieces first. This keeps the paper stable for a longer period of time and helps retain the overall integrity of the larger sheet as paper is removed.

When cutting a straight line, use a straight edge (like a ruler) to guide your knife if possible. This helps make an even clean line as you cut.

At the point where two lines meet, cut from that point outward. In my example I would cut from the tip of the scissors towards the handle. This helps avoid overcutting past the point of intersection.

When cutting an arc or any circular shape, try moving the paper with the knife as you cut. Making many small cuts smoothly as your knife turns along the curved line can alleviate jagged edges. These can also be carefully trimmed later if not smooth enough.

Remember you are cutting through two sheets of paper: a pattern and the final paper. It’s best if you get through both layers with the first cut. You want to avoid cutting twice in the same spot. Rough edges and corners can be cleaned up later, but be careful not to pull on pieces too much when removing them in case any are still attached. Keep in mind that if the pattern isn't cut through and you have to pull to remove a pattern piece, then of course the paper underneath isn't cut through either.

Practice! The more you cut the better you get at it (like most things). I have a book artist friend who starts his day in the studio with some practice cutting before moving on to his artwork. He uses a lot of papercutting in his work and he’s really good at it, but he’s always working on his skills.

Step Six:

Once you've cut out your design remove the pattern and clean up any edges and corners as needed. As you do these additional small cuts, continue to cut while the paper is on the self-healing mat. Use the tip of your knife to trim away any excess paper uncut in the corner, remembering to cut from the corner outwards. A pair of scissors (especially curved blade nail scissors) can be useful to help smooth out any curved shapes if you can fit the blade into the area that needs trimming. If using scissors, of course pick up the paper to make those cuts.

Design cut with "bridges".

Design cut without "bridges" where counters drop out.

There are many resources for the art of cutting paper:

Contemporary artists using cut paper as their main medium include Beatrice Coron and Rob Ryan.

Henri Matisse also used cut paper in his work, often only using scissors, as a recent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art highlighted.

Traditional German papercutting called Scherenschnitte is another technique to explore to learn other methods of papercutting.

Two recent books available in the Dartmouth College Library that include a gallery of papercutting are:

Gildersleeve, Owen. Paper Cut: An Exploration Into The Contemporary World Of Papercraft Art And Illustration. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2014

Slash: Paper Under The Knife. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2009.

Written by Stephanie Wolff

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Howe at AIC

Deborah Howe, Collections Conservator, will be presenting at the AIC's 43rd Annual Meeting in Miami, FL, on May 14.  Deborah's talk, The Brut Chronicle: Revived and Reconstructed, will address the process of rebinding a medieval manuscript for twenty-first century use.