Scanning rare, fragile militia handbooks

Militia handbook being scanned

As an archivist, the most important thing for me when scanning materials is ensuring the safety of the original record. I never digitize anything if I’m in doubt it can be scanned without damaging it.

That put me in a bit of a tough spot recently when the library was loaned a set of rare, valuable militia handbooks by Richard Shaver from his personal collection. The handbooks are very valuable information sources that aren’t, to my knowledge, available in digital form so I was eager to add them to the library’s Digital Collections. Unfortunately, the tiny handbooks which measure about four inches tall each are very tightly bound and the spines are fragile at this point. I knew that there was no way the books could be safely used on the usual book scanner I put together since the stress would permanently damage the spines.

Luckily, however, I was able to get a backup plan together. While the spine mobility is limited, the books can be safely opened to 90 degrees and that’s enough to get a clear image of the page with a different camera orientation. Mark Monson recently donated a book scanner to the library based on a design he posted at the DIY Book Scanner forums – familiar to anyone who saw my TAATU presentation in June. His scanner mounts the camera overhead above the book, and uses a pneumatic foot pedal to drive the camera, leaving the operator free to keep both hands to secure the book. I tweaked the design slightly to adjust for book position relative to the camera and to provide a more contrasty background, and the results have been excellent. The scans are very clear and extremely sharp. They’re also over-the-top in resolution thanks to the books’ small size – I think 950DPI sets a new record in my work at the library.

I’m very happy that I was able to scan these books. I always err on the side of caution – but that doesn’t mean that I don’t prefer to come up with new ways to digitize materials when I hit a roadblock. The reward of being able to make these handbooks available online was well worth the work.

For those interested, I’ve taken a short video of the scanner in motion to give an idea of the scanning process. I’ve also included a sample page from the first book scanned at the end of the post. The books are not currently publicly available on the Digital Collections site, but will be when the Burford and Oakland Township collections launch later this year.

5 responses to “Scanning rare, fragile militia handbooks”

  1. DIY Book Scanner News › DIY Book Scanner used to preserve rare militia handbooks.

    [...] Original post: Using DIY Book Scanning technology to preserve rare militia handbooks. [...]

  2. Emil

    What camera are you using ?

  3. ibrahim

    I wonder how the camera is taking pictures when you flip? Detects changes automatically and snaps?

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