By Kira Cherrix, Digital Imaging Specialist, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Cover of J. H. Sandburg’s Field Book from Idaho 1892.
As the digital imaging specialist at the Smithsonian Institution Archives I recently became involved with the Field Book Project to help develop the process of digitizing whole field books. Since the Field Book Project is not currently funded for digitization, SIA has decided to include field books in the digitization queue as resources are available. From the beginning the goal was to scan individual pages and then combine them together in a PDF. With that in mind, I faced choices with the first field books that set the standard for the rest of the project. The field books chosen for digitization first went through a conservation process where their stability for digitization was determined.
The greatest challenge about scanning whole field books was determining what would be meaningful for researchers to see. We wanted to give readers a sense of how the book looks, without generating large files full of blank pages. To achieve this, we opted to scan the front and back covers and any spine labels to provide readers with the context for the pages contained within the PDF. This method makes the PDF look similar to the original object, simulating the sensation of actually holding the book.
Many of the field books contain pieces of paper inserted between pages of writing, creating an additional scanning challenge. To offer the most realistic experience for readers, we decided any page containing an insert would first be scanned with the insert included, then scanned without it to reveal the writing on the page. The insert itself would then be scanned if its contents were not visible in the first image.
The last important choice dealt with blank pages. A lot of field books have several pages of notes at the front of the book, while the rest are blank, with the occasional note or item inserted throughout. The decision we faced was whether or not it would be important for researchers to see scans of blank pages, or if a single blank page accompanied by a note would suffice. Ultimately, we decided to scan the first blank page after the final page of text, as well as any following pages that contained markings or inserts. We also scanned the last inside page, regardless of whether or not it was blank. We determined that showing the first blank page ensures researchers nothing was left out, and reduces the strains on bound volumes caused by scanning. For every non-blank page scanned after the text, we added notes in our scanning database, as well as in the metadata embedded in the image, indicating that the images directly before and after the image were separated by blank pages that were not scanned. In choosing to omit the blank pages, it was important to examine every page to establish if it was blank or if it contained something significant. Often, a piece of paper inserted between the interspersed pages made it easy to identify them, but occasionally, the pages contained hard to find dried specimens or prints that warranted scanning.
Since the standards set with the first digitized field books ultimately determined the method for rest of the project, all of the determinations were made with input from members of each portion of the project. In cases where the blank pages are relevant to the overall feel of the field book, or where the conservation team feels that digitization is the only means of preservation, the field books are scanned in entirety, regardless of the number of blank pages. We also made sure the digitized pages would be useful to catalogers, would not harm the objects, and met digitization standards. To date, we successfully digitized nine entire field books, with plenty more on their way.