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Book Digitization @ ARC

Some thoughts on scanning the ARC’s 20,000+ music books in partnership with the Internet Archive by project coordinator Alexis Cavaretta…

The ARChive is the kind of place that will say yes to just about anything – no exclusions. Their collection of music books reflects this diversity. As someone who must navigate through the catalog records daily, I’ve come to appreciate the unconventional nature of this collection. Some books are indeed very bibliographic and it is easy to capture information about the object and the scope of its content. It is also true that the book collection has some non-descriptive books that are more like pictorial works or are just old, published differently, or published in a different country and/or language. Though the most difficult and elusive bibliographic items, which are also some of the most unique, are not books but serials (think: event pamphlets, record company promotional products, tour/celebrity souvenir books, etc.), art books (Elvis Presley pop-up book etc.), and/or sheet music.

When we first started the project, I was concerned mainly with understanding how to use the Internet Archive’s (IA) Scribe II book digitizing machine and how to navigate their scanning software. The Scribe was ingeniously designed to preserve the books it scans. It allows the book to sit in a cradle, partially open, while the operator lifts the glass with a pedal to turn each page after each shot of the two cameras placed on an angle above. In order to the check human and computer error, the scanner works alongside the “republisher”, who adjusts auto-crop of images, verifies page numbers, and inserts metadata for scanned books.

As the project progressed, Will Susich (Archivist) and I created a guide for interns, outlining the detail oriented tasks that running the Scribe machine and working in republishing requires. We also started troubleshooting the various software, camera, and other sundry aspects of the project, which was all made easier by the presence of the Troubleshooter-in-Chief, Paul Nguyen, our IA contact. There were also choices to be made. Soon we began setting aside oversized books that are too large to scan and pop-up books, which cannot be scanned using the Scribe. For them we wait for the fabled “foldout machine” (we are in the queue), with which both can be scanned.

Overall, we soon began to understand the scope of the many factors that effect book digitization. Yet, the books (and related bibliographic objects) are always at the center of it all, giving us glimpses into the ARChive’s amazing and diverse collection. And now, many of those books are digitized and readable in our in-house electronic online database, which is hosted by IA. How we will provide access to the collection is still being decided, but the idea that there is a searchable online archive of a part of the ARChive’s collection is very compelling. This collection represents contemporary music cultural production, visual culture, and print history, which we hope our digital ARChive will provide visitors the opportunity to analyze and reevaluate.

ps x B: Google had asked us why we were doing this, as they were scanning all books.  Well we did showed them a list of the 25 Brazilian books that we had scanned, and they had only scanned four of them.  Case closed.

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