Our Digitisation Assistant, Rosie Dyson, talks about some of the more unusual tools the Digital Content Team uses in its work.  The team is lucky to work with some high tech photographic equipment but without a number of more rudimentary tools we would be unable to capture our Special Collections to such a high standard.

The Digitisation Assistants are trained in handling delicate material as a large percentage of our collections are fragile. Regardless of condition, all items must be treated with utmost care and attention. When capturing tightly bound items the humble plastic spatula is exceptionally helpful to hold pages back.

Recently we have been digitising our impressive collection of medieval manuscripts. It is usually possible to work on a manuscript alone but as these are particularly fragile and valuable, we have often worked in pairs to ensure the best possible capture. Sometimes the nature of the binding requires one person to support the book and hold it in place and another to photograph the item. The image at the top of this post shows a bulldog clip and spatula doing the work of one Digitisation Assistant!

The focal depth of our lenses is impressive but extension rings allow us to push the lenses to their limits. As a rule, we try to use the full area of the exposure and leave as little blank space around the item as possible. Sometimes due to the size of object and constraints of the lenses and setups we are unable to get the lens close enough. Extension rings give an additional zoom and can be affixed to our lenses. The images below show items with and without the rings – what a difference!

Medieval manuscript
BC MS 18 ‘Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis’ in the process of being photographed

We have been continuing to digitise the ever popular Godfrey Bingley collection. This is made up of thousands of glass plate and cellulose nitrate slides taken by the Victorian industrialist and serves as a comprehensive social and geological history of the UK and further afield. We are currently digitising the more fragile section of the collection prior to freezing for preservation purposes.

During digitisation gloves must be worn and good ventilation is essential as the slides are capable of off-gassing. Many of the slides are not flat so a plate of glass with feet (made by our conservator) is placed over the slide on the flatbed scanner to gently flatten it without applying pressure. Without this it would be difficult for the scanner to focus on the image and produce a legible image.

Reflection is a major issue for digitisation. Because our studio has a white ceiling, sometimes the lights bounces back off this and presents a problem for our shots. In the left hand image of the medieval manuscript BC MS 23 ‘Legenda aurea sanctorum’ below, you can see the shadow of the camera reflected in the binding. To counter this, we had to think creatively. We cut a lens shaped hole in a piece of black card and held it around the lens to block out the camera reflection.

Cover of medieval book
BC MS 23 Legenda aurea sanctorum cover being digitised

As you can see from the middle image, the first attempt wasn’t big enough and light was still able to reflect off the ceiling. We tried again with a larger area of card and were pleased with the resulting image.