Digitizing Presidential Collections for UVA Miller Center

UVA Miller CenterThe University of Virginia (UVA) Miller Center was recently awarded a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to digitize Presidential collections and make them available to the public online. Part of this grant provides the necessary funding to develop a website called Connecting Presidential Collections (CPC).[1] The CPC site is intended to become a central searchable repository for digitized Presidential collections. Already, the site hosts digitized images from over 80 collections. In addition to developing this site, the research project aims to provide education and advice to Presidential libraries and historical societies and to empower them to put their collections online, whether independently or through CPC. Having worked with various Presidential libraries in the past, Crowley Imaging was happy to take up the role (or should I say roll?) once more and digitize microfilm from three Presidential collections as part of the Miller Center’s research project.

Digitizing Collections: Microfilm Rolls of Historical Content

Crowley Imaging digitized a combined 382 reels (or nearly 750,000 images) of 35mm microfilm for the Miller Center from three collections: the Papers of James Monroe in Virginia Repositories (provided by the Wisconsin Historical Society); the Millard Fillmore Papers (provided by the Buffalo History Museum); and the Papers of Rutherford B. Hayes (provided by the Hayes Presidential Center).

Mekel MACH12 Film ScannerAt the client’s request, all scanning was performed at 600 dpi resolution on a MACH12 roll film scanner, the highest-resolution model in the Mekel MACH series. Matthew Stephens, web developer at the UVA Miller Center and spearhead of the microform digitization portion of the CPC project, explains, “Given the challenges with optical character and optical word recognition and the variable quality of the manuscript material, we felt a high-resolution scan would improve edge detection and image post-processing. Even in cases where we turn to human interpretation of the writing, the extra clarity of 600dpi can be quite useful.”  He continues, “Our second consideration was the future evolution of technology. We’ve already seen vast advances in graphical displays that render previous standards inadequate and didn’t want to preserve images that would look crude on future devices.” In addition, Stephens said, “We were also particularly interested in the dust removal capabilities of the Mekel.[2] We were not always able to digitize from master reels and the service reels often had significant contamination on the film [due to the fact that they were oft-handled compared to the archival masters].”

How it Happened: Digitizing the Collection

Once scanned, Crowley Imaging delivered the grayscale uncompressed TIFF images to the Miller Center for post-processing and the original microfilm rolls to their respective owners. The Miller Center purchased a Quantum Process software license to perform the image processing in-house. Mekel Technology’s proprietary Quantum software, utilized with the MACH-series production fiche and film scanners, is a two-part solution that enables users to scan the images with a variety of image capture settings and then process the images with a full range of editing tools and output options. Stephens explains, “We wanted the ability to return to the original scans and reprocess them as needed.  Due to the variable quality of this material, which contains manuscripts of significant age, we wished to experiment with different framing and color correction throughout the duration of our work.” For this reason, it was important to the Miller Center to have the ability to post-process in-house.

Hayes Family Tree - digitizing collections

An oversized pair of images of the Hayes family tree found in a notebook of family genealogy made by President Hayes himself in 1870. Courtesy of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center.

Part of the post-processing will include extensive indexing and metadata entry. Stephens, as the primary user of the QuantumProcess software, will be entering information including the batch/roll number and film condition. This information was collected in a project manifest by Crowley Imaging operators at the time of capture. Stephens explains the need for such detailed metadata and indexing, saying, “We chose these microfilm rolls as representative collections of Presidential papers from the 19th Century and there is considerable variation within and between these collections.  They were microfilmed at different times by different organizations while generally adhering to the relevant national standards for historical preservation via microfilm.  As we move from analog to digital imaging, we thought it important to document the facts of the analog photography, for example, the type and manufacturer of the film stock.  Many of these features are documented in the film as it is photographed. For example, one of our three collections annotated the film stock, reduction ratio, background density and image resolution, while the other two did not. Some features can be deduced from examination of the film, but with a digital copy this is not always possible.  It is conceivable that future curators will come across a digitized version of these collections and the full provenance of the artifacts, along with details of both analog and digital photographic processes, should be found with the images themselves.  It’s part of the archival record.  For example, we will be documenting the use of the Mekel MACH12 as the means of digitization so that future curators will know how these digital images came to be.”

Stephens summarizes, “This material was digitized for research purposes, with an eye toward long-term preservation and access. We’re hopeful that these images, and many more like them, will eventually be available on the web.”

Learn more about the digitizing Collections & The capabilities of Crowley Imaging   

For more information on the digital and analog conversion services offered by Crowley Imaging, please visit our website or call (240) 215-0224. General inquiries can be emailed to blog@thecrowleycompany.com. Stay connected and follow The Crowley Company on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube.

Camily BishopWith a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from Towson University, Camily Bishop serves as The Crowley Company’s sales and marketing assistant. A self-proclaimed member of the grammar police and avid reader of classical fiction, you can find her curled up with a good e-book or, on a nice day, experiencing the great outdoors – perhaps at the nearest wine festival.

Find Camily Bishop on Google+


[1] http://news.virginia.edu/content/uva-miller-center-awarded-grant-centralized-website-presidential-materials

[2] Film cleaning capability on the MACH-series roll film scanners is available by utilizing the optional film cleaning rollers – custom technology that cleans film as it scans.

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