By Steven Dast
June has been a busy month for us here in the Digital Collections Center and marks a great leap forward in our ability to handle the most challenging of bound materials in an efficient and careful manner. It’s all thanks to a new BC100 Book Capture system designed by the folks at Digital Transitions Division of Cultural Heritage.
Boxes with components for the system began arriving in early June, with one delivery consisting of a whopping 21 individual packages. The week of the thirteenth, technicians from Digital Transitions came in to assemble the thing and provide us with basic training to get us started. Since then, we’ve been putting it through its paces to get used to what it can do and work out how we’re going to integrate it into our existing workflows.
It has a delightful contraption-y feel to it, with buttons and switches and knobs and all manner of independently moving parts. At its core it’s a V-shaped cradle that supports the book, coupled with a matching V-shaped glass platen that holds the book open and keeps the pages flat. The V-shape allows us to work with books that have tight or fragile bindings without needing to force them fully open, and many of the independently moving parts are designed to adjust the cradle for larger or smaller books, and consistently position the book underneath the platen even as we work our way from beginning to end.
Our installation includes one of their newest innovations, the rare book module. It is so new, in fact, that we are one of just four institutions in the world to have one. With this extra add-on, the height and upward tension of the book cradle are fully adjustable, so that we’ll be able to handle rare and delicate materials with proverbial kid gloves so that the glass platen stops just above or only barely touches the pages.
Two digital cameras are mounted on brackets facing each page, and a set of LED lights provides even lighting for the material. To help protect from the influence of outside lighting the entire system is covered by a large tent. The cameras represent one of the most significant advances for our production efforts. The Phase One backs that they use have two-dimensional sensor arrays that capture the image in a fraction of a second, like a traditional camera, as opposed to the linear arrays in our older, copy-stand-style setups which could take two to three minutes of scanning time to fully capture an image.
We’ve already seen some striking examples of the improved productivity that will be possible with the BC100. The first book completed on the new system was a mammoth tome called The Old Silver of American Churches that will be going into the Digital Library of the Decorative Arts. Measuring 15 ½” tall, 12 ¼” wide, over four inches thick, and weighing in at 17 ½ pounds, this volume would dwarf many dictionaries. When we tried to scan this volume on our old equipment, we managed to capture 51 pages over the course of 5 hours but then had to set it aside as it was too large to hold open and keep shadows out of the text with our established methods of capture. On the new setup, we were able to scan the full volume, over 950 pages, in about the same amount of time. You can view a short video here.
We already have a number of projects lined up to be scanned on the new equipment, including additional apiculture serials from Steenbock Library, a set of women’s diaries from around the turn of the 20th century, and the missing 1969 volume of the Wisconsin Blue Books that we didn’t even know existed until earlier this year. What we are most excited about, however, is the prospect of tapping into the rich selection of materials in the libraries’ Department of Special Collections which have previously been considered too fragile to be digitized, and we look forward to sharing with you soon the beautiful and detailed images that we’ll be able to produce on the new system.