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HIST 27/127: Public and Digital History (Gudgeirsson)

What Gets Digitized?

Archives & Special Collections makes the decision to digitize a collection or artifact based upon the popularity of the collection, the amount of research value, or the physical fragility of a collection.

Collections that are commonly requested are often digitized for access. By digitizing these collections, researchers from all over the world are able to access their needed materials without having to make a physical trip to the Archives or emailing A&SC staff. A&SC will also digitize items that are commonly requested for use with classes. Students have the opportunity to interact with the physical items in the A&SC Reading Room, but can continue their studies by using the item's digital surrogate. 

Collections that have high research value are also prioritized for digitization. These are collections that include materials that are of special importance to the university or greater community. For example, the Mission materials have been digitized because they provide a unique look into what daily life was like at a California mission in the 18th and early 19th centuries. These materials are also often commonly requested. 

The physical fragility of a collection also makes it a candidate for digitization. Some items, such as Fr. Viader's Miscellany book, should not be handled often. If these objects are used too frequently, the pages and the binding may be damaged. By digitizing these items, any interested researcher is able to use the content, while the physical item is protected.

Digitizing Books at SCU

Santa Clara University's camera stand with book cradle and lights.

  • A&SC has the capacity to digitize rare books upon request for use by SCU classes.
  • We use an overhead camera stand with a DSLR digital camera and book cradles. The camera stand is adjustable, so we can change the size and focus of our images. The book cradles support the spine of the book and prevents it from breaking. 
  • This setup is also used for digitizing the 3D archival objects held in our collections.
  • The images are shot in RAW format and converted to TIF or JPG as necessary.
  • The JPGs are combined into one adobe PDF file and undergo OCR (optical character recognition). 

Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

  • Optical Character Recognition, or OCR, is the process of converting images of text into text that is able to be manipulated by the computer.
  • During this process, the computer translates the “picture” of the text into text that can be read by word processing functions. 
  • This allows for manipulation of text without manual transcription.
  • Saves time, sometimes!
  • The quality depends upon the age and ornate-ness of the text and how tight the binding is.