Hortense Butler Heywood papers and microscope slides, early 1900’s
Hortense Butler Heywood was an entomologist who was also a prolific illustrator. A lot of her work focused on the study of dragonflies. The collection of her papers at Iowa State University Archives includes several dozen microscope slides with samples of dragonfly parts. Below are images of some slides and their extreme-zoom closeups. The slides are in fragile condition and would be tricky to view in the reading room on the light box. Digitizing them made a lot of sense. So we did it! And we loved every minute of it. The complete H.B. Heywood digital collection is available to the public virtually.
So, how did we do it exactly? My first idea was to use the camera attached to the microscope to generate an image. But, sadly, the picture was too blurry and indistinct. Plan B was to use a light box and our nice Nikon D4 SLR camera on the copy stand. The massive resolution of the image files made it possible to zoom in and see the details of the specimens. Without magnification the samples looked like tiny specs of debris. With magnification they were intriguing and presented a direct link to Ms. Heywood’s illustration work.
Making sure the slides are organized and ready to go before reformatting starts.
Positioning the slide so that only a minimum amount of cropping is necessary.
Shooting raw files, at 600 dpi.
The only alteration to the raw files was to crop the images and to save them as TIFFs.
Lawrence H. Skromme farming goods catalogs
Another digital adventure, which promises to be ongoing for a while, is working with a comprehensive collection of ephemera related to farm machinery and equipment. The cards, pamphlets and catalogs date from mid-1800s to early 1900s. This collection is frequently requested in the reading room by students and professors involved in courses on mechanical engineering, agricultural sciences and history of farming.
Archivists from ISU’s Special Collections have already written some blog posts about the Skromme collection: Ephemera in the Archives and Agricultural Machinery Product Literature.
Many of the catalogs have been used extensively in the field (literally in the field), folded and stuck into pockets, left in barns and tractors – you get the idea… And keep in mind that the paper they were printed on was never meant to last (ephemera!). Direct physical handling of this stuff basically kills it. So, this large collection was a wonderful candidate for digitization. And what fun it has been to review! See for yourselves…
This image of a patriotically-clad woman riding a roaring tiger, while also managing to plow, has been very inspiring to me.
Clearly, these objects need to be available online so a large number of people can see them. Working on several concurrent digitization projects requires collaboration, concise and clear communication and tight organization across department lines. Adopting a project management software tool has really enhanced our efforts.
We use Meister Task to track progress of items as they pass through the Selection-Conservation-Digitization-Metadata pipeline. The software is easy to use and visually pleasing. I will even venture to say that using the interface is somewhat intuitive.
What about numerous conservation repairs that are needed to stabilize the super-fragile and damaged ephemera for digitization? My strategy has been to expedite without cutting corners. Using remoistenable (pre-coated) tissue has helped save time. One benefit is the quick drying time. Another benefit is the ability to use 5 gsm or 3.5 gsm tengucho tissue with ease and expediency. The tissues are pre-coated with a mix of diluted wheat starch paste and 4M methyl cellulose, per handout from the 2009 LCCDG/ACDG session. Most of the paper that needs to be mended in this project is lightweight and fragile, so the thinner tissues are a good fit.
For many of the pamphlets, the covers have become detached from the textblocks. Since they will be digitized on the OpticBook book-edge scanner, which also functions as a flatbed scanner, it would not make sense to reattach the pages. The materials are archival and are meant for study purposes, not for display, so I consider toning fills to be unnecessary.
Some of the covers and pages that are detached are also very brittle and have numerous tears. It would take too long to mend them all and the page would still not be stable for handling because of its brittleness. Enclosing a page in a Mylar L-sleeve and calling it a day is an acceptable treatment option because the item can be scanned directly through Mylar.
This is one of my favorite, most irresistible images from the Skromme Collection. The artists that worked for these companies were incredibly talented and imaginative.
Preserving history of use:
As I mentioned earlier, certain signs of use are evident when examining the catalogs: fold lines, dirt, water damage, ink stains. But there are other signs as well, which I think of as “signs of life”. They are traces of people who inhabited the world with these paper objects. Even though the traces of personal history are not connected to a famous individual or a specific historic event, the altered paper objects do tell a compelling story about American farm life.
This advertisement booklet had blank pages inside. It was used to write down recipes for baked goods and cakes. A delicious read. Instead of using a book-edge scanner, the pages of the booklet will be photographed with a digital camera on the copy stand. The booklet will be opened and supported at 90 degrees in order to safely keep the nail in place