This three-year Save America’s Treasures project was presented in a three person tag-team. The project represented a collaboration between the Emory University Libraries Preservation Office, Digital Curation Center, and Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). Emory University Libraries Conservator Ann Frellsen began the presentation with a project overview. The large scale of the project, combined with the diverse materials in the scrapbooks, required rigorous assessment and planning to fit the project schedule. The forty scrapbooks were narrowed to a group of 34 high-priority items. Then the scrapbooks were assigned to three treatment “levels,” roughly approximating the categories used in ARL (Association for Research Libraries) statistics, based on time and degree of difficulty. The past preservation approach for the collection had been to simply limit patron access by “boxing and forgetting.” For this collection of African American scrapbooks, the library intended to expand access through digitization.
The initial project proposal would have relied on a conservation technician, but the complex construction and fragile materials required a conservator’s skills. The project plan was adjusted, and the second presenter, Kim Norman, became the project conservator. The initial decision tree was quickly abandoned as the diverse scrapbooks were assigned unique treatment plans, corresponding to the specific preservation problems presented by each item. Common problems included folded items, detached components, and overlapping elements. Adhesive stains were generally left in place, where they provided useful evidence in positioning detached items.
In some instances, new support pages were created, but many of the album pages could be encapsulated or placed into unsealed Melinex sleeves to provide support at the page level.
The third presenter, Brian Methot, described the workflow for digitization. The reflectivity of the Melinex was a hindrance to photography, so the sequence of operations was adjusted to provide for encapsulation after digitization. Ehtafoam and binders’ board shims augmented cradles used during scanning. Custom-built platforms supported delicate fold-outs during photography. There was a vacuum table as a part of the photo studio, but the thickness of the materials made the vacuum ineffective. Instead, the photography used a sheet of Acrylite acrylic. Blank pages were also scanned to maintain the correct order and appearance of the pages.
Brian also described technical requirements for the project. The library needed a camera with a faster scanning back to capture details of these large and complex pages. Cool LED lights replaced hot tungsten studio lights as well. The Phase1 camera with Mamiya scanning back was tethered to a an Apple computer running Capture1 software, which handles both image processing and metadata. The process generated three file types: MOS native camera format files, Archival Master files (TIFF at 400 ppi with color target and ruler), and Production Master files (TIFF at 400 ppi, cropped to image).
The presenters further clarified the project details during the question and answer session. A major objective of the project was to make restricted items more accessible to the public. It is hoped that additional metadata can be crowdsourced through the open online repository with the digitized scrapbooks. There will be a digital-first access policy, so researchers will have to request special access to the originals. Regarding the conservation treatment, the paper was not deacidified prior to encapsulation. Pages were not necessarily sealed on all four edges, so this should not be a problem.
The project was successful in providing structural stabilization for the original copies, while also enhancing access to the scrapbooks’ contents. The project was discussed in Kim Norman’s blog and in the New York Times, increasing public awareness of the collection. The project has also begun to yield broader results by connecting community members with collection items.