An introduction to the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project and the pros and cons of digitizing from microfilm

Because this is my first post on DigiStew, I think it would be beneficial to briefly introduce the project I’m managing and explain the parameters under which the project operates.

The Historic Maryland Newspapers Project is part of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). The NDNP is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and receives technical support from the Library of Congress. Through August 2014, our project will use its $325,000 award to digitize 100,000 pages of historic newspaper content from the state of Maryland. The newspapers will be made freely accessible and searchable on the Library of Congress website Chronicling America. By the end of 2014, Chronicling America will host digital newspapers from 32 states; it currently contains more than 6.6 million digitized newspaper pages.

NDNP awardees are expected to digitize newspapers primarily from microfilm holdings, and there are clear advantages to doing so. Many of the newspapers that fall within the NDNP selection guideline of 1836-1922 are too fragile to be safely digitized or may no longer exist except on microfilm. Microfilm is easier to preserve and store than paper and usually requires no conservation treatment prior to scanning. Digitizing microfilm is also a relatively fast process that allows NDNP awardees to get more newspaper-bang for their grant-funded-buck.

There is, of course, a caveat to digitizing from microfilm. The digital images produced from microfilm can only be as good as the condition of the microfilm—and consequently the condition of the newspaper pages that were filmed—allows. Bad microfilm will yield bad digital images and ineffective full-text searches. By being discerning in selecting microfilm, and choosing to digitize from original newspapers when necessary, the disadvantages of digitizing from microfilm are mitigated.

The microfilm used for digitization is deposited at LC at the end of the grant cycle.  By preserving newspapers in both analog and digital mediums, the NDNP is ensuring the longevity of its historic newspaper archive. Though digital archivists are doing everything they can to develop new tools and strategies that will preserve digital information for perpetuity, at this point in time, most will acknowledge that the newspapers on microfilm will likely outlast their digital surrogates.

Even if digital surrogates don’t last forever, digitization and subsequent upload to Chronicling America will make Maryland’s historic newspapers more accessible than ever, and the added metadata and optical character recognition (OCR) outputs created by the project will make browsing and searching these newspapers more intuitive and effective than on microfilm. In my opinion, increased accessibility and usability are the hallmarks of a successful digitization project, which is why I’m so enthusiastic about the NDNP!

In upcoming posts, I will describe the metadata that is created by NDNP projects, explain the difficulties of providing accurate OCR output, make project announcements, and more.

Also look for the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project on the Special Collections blog. In the fall, we will be featuring some interesting content from the Baltimore newspaper Der Deutsche Correspondent that DSS Executive Assistant (and resident German and Fraktur expert) Jill Fosse is uncovering from the year 1858. Stay tuned!

Creating a Digitization Infrastructure

Otari open reel player
An Otari open reel player that will be integrated into the audio digitization station.

The Digital Conversion and Media Reformatting Department specializes in digitizing textual, paper-based, photographic, audio, and moving image UMD Libraries materials for use by patrons and inclusion into UMD Libraries Digital Collections. These requests and projects are digitized either in the Libraries in-house Digitization Center or through vendors.

Over the past year, we have been expanding our capacity to digitize more types of formats in the Libraries Digitization Center. In fall 2012, Henry Borchers started to create the first preservation-level audio digitization station for ¼” audio open reel tape. Over the next few months, he added the cassette tape and ADAT formats, based on the needs of the WMUC Digitization Project. We later added DAT and are working to add LP digitization capacity to better meet the needs of digitization requests. We will be aiming to add additional legacy machines for these formats to allow for parallel digitization (digitizing more than one item of the same format on the same computer), as the Libraries’ needs increases.

With significant progress made on the audio digitization stations, we have shifted our focus to developing video digitization and conversion stations. While the audio digitization stations were developed around a specific project, the video digitization stations will be developed over a year on an ambitious schedule; the targeted formats were determined by surveying collection manager needs and priorities, and what equipment is readily available. Over the past month, Borchers has been researching and experimenting the first of at least five families of video formats–DVCam and MiniDV—with the goal that this station will be online by the end of October. Other upcoming formats will include VHS/S-VHS, U-Matic/U-MaticSP, Betacam/BetacamSP/Betamax, and Digital Betacam, with the potential inclusion of Video8/Hi8 and Laserdisc.

Digitizing additional formats is more complex than testing, calibrating, and plugging in a few more machines—it requires setting and testing new digitization procedures, as well as researching and establishing internal technical and metadata standards. Some of these processes will be documented in future posts.

Audio Digitization Station Configuration
Audio Digitization Station Configuration

Experimenting with 3D Printing

The University of Maryland’s student newspaper, the Diamondback, recently reported that the UMD Libraries have installed a 3D printer in the Terrapin Learning Commons.  Before new tools like this are installed, User and Systems Support (USS) conducts extensive research and testing. In this case, USS obtained a MakerBot 3D Printer.  The relatively small piece of desktop equipment is one of the most exciting we have seen in years.   A 3D printer works by feeding a 3D design into a computer program, which then sends the information to the printer. The printer builds the object from the bottom up, depositing a plastic (PLA) filament in horizontal layers onto a build platform, and resulting in an actual object that can be used however intended.

Libraries are increasingly making 3D printers available to patrons – they are excellent ways to create models or other products necessary for school work and design.  While USS staff have been having their own fun, they have also been experimenting with useful designs and thinking about ways to use the 3D printer to produce supplies, such as cable organizers:

Will and his purple mug
Will and his purple mug, created with the MakerBot 3D printer
Uche wih a nameplate and a UMD terrapin!
Uche wih a nameplate and a UMD terrapin, printed using the MakerBot 3D printer!