“Fifteeners”: Early Printed Books (Incunabula) at University of South Carolina Libraries

By Laura Stillwagon

"Opus", book top
“Opus”, book top

*Sigh* … Alas, books are no longer what they once were. To the readers of the 15th century in Europe (i.e. medieval Europe), bound works were both tools and art; heavily designed with functional and ornate elements. Bound items were prized possessions and served the purpose of recording information and looking great while doing it. In the Department of Irvin Rare Books and Special Collections, there are a number of these beautiful items, called incunabula (bound works created and published before 1501 in Europe), which were digitized and made available online by a graduate assistant here at Digital Collections, Kelsey Andrus. Her work on the Fifteeners digital collection emulates how luxurious these books were, and are still.

During the summer of 2019, Kelsey picked up the process of digitizing the collection after my work during the previous semester, and took it in stride. The previous spring, she endured trainings with me and the Qidenus SMART Book Scanner, an Austrian image capture machine that utilizes the power of two DSLR cameras. She also learned the post-processing procedures I had created for the project. To improve the experience of at-home users looking to view how well constructed these works are, she added scans of the edges and spines of the books. It took some ingenuity on her part to do this, for the image capture machine was intended only to photograph books laid flat, open or closed. To capture some attractive angles of the aged edges of the pages and binding, she gently leaned the book vertically against stacked pieces of foam—professional troubleshooting at its finest. The results come close to simulating the experience of viewing the book in person, showing not only the colors and contrast on the pages with ornate type, but also the detail in the binding.

"Opus", prologue
“Opus”, prologue

Through digitizing these books, Kelsey has made it possible to see the handmade details of each page. She measured the size of type, making note of the differences between titles, headlines, capitals and other instances. Some of these books do contain color and gold details (called illumination), and many have remained in remarkable conditions, sustaining minor damage and wear.

There are hardly any books that look like these on the shelves of stores or in peoples’ homes. Granted, publishing and reading are much more common now, making books and other materials much more available. However, all that aside, there is nothing like taking out the ol’ leather bound and turning the richly adorned pages to make reading a little bit more immersive.

See the  incunabula we reference above, “Opus postillarum et sermonum de tempore”, here: https://cdm17173.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p17173coll37/id/480/rec/1

A Most Impressive Quilt from McKissick Museum

By Chauna Carr

We recently worked with McKissick Museum’s Curator of Collections, Christian Cicimurri, to digitize one of their new acquisitions, an impressive paper pieced mosaic quilt top with a very interesting backstory. Donated to McKissick this past April by Mr. Pickett Wright, the piece is an unfinished mosaic quilt top made of fabric wrapped around hexagonal paper templates. The fabric has been “fussy cut,” so the resulting medallions make a design themselves. (Fussy cut simply means when a piece of fabric has been cut to target a specific area of a print, rather than just cutting the fabric into random pieces.)

A photograph of a Young Rebecca Margaret Pickens Salley
A Young Rebecca Margaret Pickens Salley

According to Mrs. Cicimurri, “[Mr. Pickett Wright] is a direct descendant of  General Andrew Pickens (1793-1817) – the Wizard Owl of the Revolutionary War and a U.S. Congressman from 1775-1783.  He is not entirely sure who made the quilt or exactly when, but feels certain (from conversations with his grandmother—Annie Lena Salley Smith) that it was either Rebecca Margaret Pickens Salley (1832-1893) of Orangeburg, SC (great-granddaughter of Gen. Pickens), or one of her daughters, Emma Legare Salley Evans (1869-1963) or Mary Boone Salley (1863-1941). These daughters were his grandmother’s sisters.”

Family legend suggests the paper pieces used for backing were letters written home by a confederate soldier, but there is no direct evidence of this claim. The paper used is largely handwritten letters and handwriting practice sheets with the dates of 1872 and 1874 visible.

McKissick is very excited to add this to their robust collection of quilts ranging from about 1815 to around 2016. Keep an eye out for the final images of the quilt coming soon! To give you a taste, here is our team in the process of digitizing this masterpiece.

 

A New Map Discovery

By Chauna Carr

Greenpond map
Greenpond map

Recently the South Caroliniana Library contacted us with some feedback from a patron who discovered a mislabeled map in the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of South Carolina. The map, seemingly identical, to the one with which it was grouped, was actually from an earlier time. However, this wonderful patron, Tom Fetters, who has spent decades studying railroads in the United States and South Carolina specifically, discovered that the map, was actually for the Westmoreland Lumber Co., formerly Charleston Lumber Co. He also provided some excellent background information on the company below:

“Westmoreland Lumber dates from 1911. They did later have a mill at Green Pond, but this is not it. Charleston Lumber was only [located] at Wiggins and built there sawmill in 1903. [The] Post office came in 1905 and Mary E. Wiggins was Postmistress. Charleston Lumber was a Norfolk, VA company. They had a 17-mile logging railroad with 3 locomotives and 40 logging cars. They sold out in 1909 when R. G. Wiggins severed his connection and decided to go into business for himself. He was VP and Manager for Charleston Lumber at Wiggins. The first sawmill was built by Robert Wiggins.”

Thanks to his findings, we are in the process of correcting the metadata for the two maps. Now Colleton County has a new link to its past. This is just one example of how valuable user feedback is to our department. We love when patrons find things and connect the dots to history we were unable to see. Thanks Mr. Fetters!

Meet the Mekel, Our Microfilm Scanning Machine

By Allison Rogers

Newberry Sun
Newberry Sun

On the far side of the office in Digital Collections sits a squat, gray machine about the size of a CPU: the Mekel. Before I started digitizing newspapers, I was told that it scans microfilm. Not being quite sure what microfilm was, I quickly forgot about the machine in the wake of the glorious, planetary Zeutschel scanner we have. These days, though, I’ve been getting pretty familiar with the cute little Mekel. Here in the office, we’ve been working for a while on digitizing issues of The Newberry Sun, issues dating from around the 1950s to the 1970s. I decided to get in on the fun, and in being part of this project, I experience the intricacies of our newspaper collections.

Microfilm comes to us in rolls slightly larger than the palm of your hand. The film gets unrolled in a very specific woven path around the knobs of the Mekel. Start up the scan and hang out for about an hour and a half and – boom – you have about a thousand JPG files that make up two years of newspaper articles. These images are processed using a Mekel-based software called QuantumProcess, edited in Photoshop (we call it “post-process”), and meticulously documented during the metadata creation process. If there’s even a tiny error in the metadata, the content won’t be able to be uploaded to the our historical newspaper database, http://historicnewspapers.sc.edu/

There are series of other steps; ABBYY OCR (optical character recognition) processing, re-naming, XML creation, and various homebrewed scripts passed down from the days of yore (1999!). These processes are sort of like running a chemistry lab experiment, in that you must have everything properly set up, executed, and documented, or it blows up and you’re starting from scratch again.

Thankfully, nothing has blown up – yet – and after a long semester, we uploaded 11 rolls of The Newberry Sun. Since then, I’ve become the head newspaper person, and am helping to organize and digitize issues of The Clinton Chronicle, Barnwell People, Barnwell Sentinel, The McCormick Messenger, and The Clothmaker. Feel free to take a look at these newspapers here: http://historicnewspapers.sc.edu/

Spring internship reflection: South Carolina & the Civil War digital exhibit

By Kendall Hallberg

My internship with Digital Collections had me working on a digital exhibit entitled “South Carolina and the Civil War”.  These collections are curated in the Visual Materials department at South Caroliniana Library, and are digitized and published online by Digital Collections. This project gave me the opportunity to apply the knowledge I have collected during my Master’s program in library and information science, as well as learning important new skills. This semester in general has been a wonderful chance to work closely with issues related to User Experience (UX). I am glad to have had a role in bringing this collection to the public in a new way.

The research phase of this project allowed me to explore the collection and develop an understanding of what it had to offer to the intended audience. These exhibits are an opportunity to explore the collection unencumbered by the metadata and confusing nature of our collections repository, ContentDM. The items selected for the exhibit reflect this intention by needing little to no interpretation to be explored and understood for their significance. Organizing these items into coherent categories took a bit of consideration. The existing digital exhibits are done either by theme or the type of material. Considering the end user, I had to plan for the ways in which the items would be used. The decision to group by theme was made because it offers better browsing and variation with the pages.

Designing the WordPress site was a chance to learn and explore more about User Design and UX. Learning Adobe XD, I was able to plan the layout and features of the exhibit. Adobe XD is a great, free software for UX when communicating ideas to a programmer. Though I was working with certain limitations, I was also able to explore the look and feel of the site with the prototype I designed. This prototype also meant that I was able to give viewers the chance to see how the exhibit would act. During my pitch (internship requirement to pitch an exhibition mock up), I received helpful feedback and questions that improved the final product. I loved working with Sarah Funk from Library Technology Services and having her bring all of my ideas to fruition.

Loading the content into WordPress (our choice of collections web portal) was simple enough and it was great to see all of the items I had selected really come together and shine in such a visual way. The real challenge in loading came in terms of titles and descriptions. There were many instances, especially regarding the Dr. Robert S. Chamberlain collection of Civil War covers, where the titles needed to better describe the material for the sake of exhibiting. I ended up finding those key elements for titles for each material type and keeping it consistent across all the selected items.

I really enjoyed working with the awesome people in UofSC Digital Collections who helped me make this exhibit. Mēgan really trusted me to do a great job and I think I was able to accomplish that with their input and encouragement. I truly look forward to working with them in the future.*

 

*We did not pay Kendall to say these wonderful things! 🙂

Our Qidenus SMART Image Capture Machine, Part III

By Laura Stillwagon

The Operation: How the Qi Works

The Qidenus works by using remote shooting technology provided by Canon’s EOS Utility. EOS Utility employs tethered shooting which connects DSLRs to a computer so images can be taken by using a computer at a distance from the cameras. Freshly taken images are immediately viewed and stored in the computer and related image processing software. Paired alongside with the Qi’s own operation software, QiDrive, both cameras are used simultaneously to capture a bound item with each having their own page to capture. And despite the name, the SMART Book Scan does not use smart technologies, but it does employ the use of fairly new processing technology to coordinate the necessary software and function of image capturing.

The Canon EOS 5DS digital-SLRs are mounted at high angles inside the Qi so they are pointing directly at the bed at which the items are set for capture. The bed itself lays inside the machine under a set of LED lights, and it consists of two panels or leaves that overlap to form a 100-degree angle. At a constant angle, bound items that may be delicate or tightly bound are well supported, allowing any detail on the pages to be viewed without much distortion as the result of the curve of an open bound item. To further secure the item, and to ensure pages lay flat, a large piece of glass that is parallel in size and angle is held on a vertical track so that it may be pulled down to rest on the item laying on the bed. The construction of the Qi itself also allows for a small light environment to be maintained; with the LED lights and the DSLRs set within the ceiling of the machine behind the walls and awning of the hooded structure, the cameras and light are relatively unaffected by any interrupting light from the room in which the machine is kept. In this way, Qi-users are able to reach inside the Qi to adjust the focus of the cameras under the cover of the roof of the machine and to make minor adjustments to the bed in order to best support a bound item of any given size.

Both Sides of the Moon: Perception

Besides learning more about image-capture settings and exposure, I found it necessary to take into consideration light and perception. There are many variables that contribute to what ends up seen in frame of an image and the exposure. From the photographer, the camera, the lens, the light environment, to the subject, each point allows for distortion from what is actually present in front of the camera lens. Beginning with the photographer, all us humans (for the sake of argument) share the same construction in our eyes in order to see what is around us, we all have differences in perspective (in the psycho-neurological sense) that accounts for much of the variability across the view we have of the world.

For the most part, all our eyes take in and transcribe light from the world in the same manner. It is only when the acquired information is translated by neurological processes that differences arise due to mental associations and the like. Just as we perceive things differently, cameras do as well, especially with the innovations in sensors, algorithms, and image post-processing. But there are limits to technologies and skills. Settings that are true to the light environment will yield highly detailed images indicative of reality. And images on the Qi do just that: users can magnify digital images of pages in a book or journal on their desktops and see things they would not normally see merely viewing the item in person.

Optimum image quality achieved by the Qi is a result of EOS and CMOS technology. Over the years, the Electro Optical System (EOS) model and complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology have increased the sensitivity of Canon digital-SLRs to optimize focus and performance. These two developments plus complementary processors help transcribe and translate the light information from the lens to the image file producing clear images. Not immune to the prevalence of digital technology and innovation of today, Canon EOS cameras using CMOS sensors use computer technology to both broaden and sharpen the function of digital-SLRs with better data uses.

These images depict the differences in quality determined over time with the first image being produced with the settings established when the Qi was set up; the second image being one of the results of experimental changes in camera-capture settings; and the third the veritable surrogate more true to how the item looks under the Qi’s LED light. The camera-capture settings used to produce these images are as follows: image one had shutter speed of 1/5, aperture F10, white balance (WB) of K (or color, 6000K), an ISO of 100, evaluative metering, and standard picture style; the second image had 1/5, F7.1, overcast (WB), 200 ISO, evaluative metering, and landscape picture style; the final image had 1/5, F7.1, overcast, 200 ISO, center-weight metering, and fine detail picture style.

A part of my research in understanding DSLRs, EOS, photography, and light was not to simply learn definitions of things, or what happens when the dial on the camera is turned to another setting, but also what experts determined were the best settings for the light environment of the Qi, or one similar. With the Qi’s LED lights, I had to determine what temperature reading the lights had and where the focus of the lenses would be the strongest. LED lights are interpreted by camera sensors, generally, like the different varieties of sunlight: sunlight, sunrise, cloudiness, overcast, etc. This discovery greatly improved the images which often either had a golden tint, or sepia like quality to them, or a blue-ish tint. Another more important change in the settings was metering, which determined which areas inside the frame will be given more weight or priority for exposure as a result of what is in focus. Picture style and metering tend to go hand in hand with metering determining the focus and level of detail within the frame and picture style the hues of the colors therein.

The image capture settings now yield images that require little to no post-processing or major editing that adjusts the exposure or look of the image beyond cropping or tilting. Thus, the images, no matter the file, retain RAW image quality, or the most detailed image first generated by a camera and stored in it.

In the End

No image can replace the experience of observing a bound item physically, but the extent of visual detail that is observed in physical reality can be attained with the Qidenus. Digitization and digital archiving have long struggled with and debated over the creation of ‘surrogates’, or the image file counterparts of items, and their legitimacy. Those who perform digitization understand the purist perspective that maintains that any representation of the item is nowhere near as close to providing the wealth of information as the original. But, they consider the deterioration of the item as well as the possibility of wider accessibility in digital versions as more valuable reasons to continue digitization, particularly as technologies that access digital things and perform digitization improve. The digital initiatives taken here in Digital Collections share these concerns, but still carry on knowing their services benefit the University of South Carolina and surrounding communities. The Qidenus is simply another tool fostering the awareness and increased accessibility of rare and valuable archival items.

A Team Effort

By John Quirk

The creation of a digital collection always demands some amount of collaboration. Content matter experts, scanning technicians, metadata librarians, web developers…all working together to bring a project to fruition. The size of the team varies from collection to collection but it is always a collaborative effort.

UofSC’s Digital Collections has been involved in a project lately that not only exemplifies this spirit of collaboration but pushes it to unusual lengths. This project is the Abstract of Voter Registrations Reported to the Military Government, 1868.

This 31-volume abstract of voter registrations was originally created by order of the commander of the Second Military District who had ultimate responsibility for the registration of voters and the conduct of elections. The volumes record the name and race of each registered voter arranged by county and registration precinct. It is a fascinating and historically valuable snapshot of elections in South Carolina in the years just after the Civil War. The process of bringing these documents into the digital world has demanded the efforts of an unusual number of dedicated souls.

These historic volumes were originally microfilmed in 1987 by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. The South Carolina State Library recognized their significance and the potential value of having them digitized and made available on the web. The University of South Carolina’s Digital Collections department scanned the microfilm, creating the digital files using its Mekel Microfilm scanner. The South Carolina State Library then created the metadata describing each volume. UofSC’s Digital Collections used that metadata to upload the digitized Abstract of Voter Registrations to its CONTENTdm database make them freely available online. The road often ends there…but in this case the road has a few more twists and turns…

Having such historic documents digitized and online certainly extends their discoverability and accessibility well beyond volumes on an archive shelf or in a microfilm drawer. However, if a text can be made fully searchable the usefulness and discoverability is hugely improved. When scanning text that is printed or typewritten it is possible to create a searchable text file using an optical character recognition program (OCR) that can decipher text in a still image. However, automated OCR is not an option when the text is handwritten as it is in this Abstract of Voter Registrations. This is where the collaborative aspect of this project grows exponentially.

Richland County Library’s Walker Local and Family History Center has been marshalling a phalanx of intrepid volunteers and librarians to manually transcribe each page of the entire 31 volumes. These transcribers are peppered across the state and as they complete their efforts the transcriptions are sent to the Walker Local and Family History Center to be collated.  Those transcriptions are then sent from Richland Library to UofSC where they are integrated into the digitized items online. In the end, this process will make the entire Abstract of Voter Registrations fully searchable for names and locations thus improving its reach and usability.

One example of the broad reach these files can have is the recent featuring of an item from this very collection on a segment of Henry Louis Gate, Jr.’s PBS program Finding Your Roots. Click here to see a clip: https://www.pbs.org/video/michael-k-williams-immediate-voter-registration-p9xcw3/ After so much coordination and concerted effort, it is quite rewarding to see the fruits of those labors pay off in such a way.

All of this cross-institutional collaboration is aided by established relationships developed over time as partner members of the South Carolina Digital Library. The SCDL is a statewide search portal that aggregates digital collections from over 60 institutions bringing together over 300,000 digital items. The UofSC Digital Collections department is the  scanning hub helping to coordinate collections being created in the Midlands and hosts collections for smaller institutions that do not have the means to do that.

 

Employee feature: Meet Allison!

By Allison Rogers

Allison working with illustrations on the Zeutschel OS 14000 A0 planetary scanner

Hello, I’m Allison, one of the new digitization specialists in the Digital Collections family. When I’m not studying for exams and assignments in my undergraduate degree in Computer Science, I’m digitizing letters and documents from the American Revolution or scanning film from newspapers in the 1950s. While meticulously charting metadata can sometimes be monotonous, the work is intriguing. In digitizing the material we have, I get to experience a more casual glimpse into American history, as I review letters about plantations, accounts of purchased goods, and even notes from meetings of the Continental Congress. Currently, I’ve been scanning and creating metadata for newspapers that my grandparents might have read in the morning before heading to work.

What I do here is not only fascinating; it’s distinctly different from what I do in my classes at the university. Computational science can be extremely engaging and exciting, but the work I do now is dry and technical, with little room for creativity and perspective. Additionally, many of the career paths for these kinds of majors are concerned with how to create more profit for already giant companies. Before working here, there seemed to be little application for involving art, literature, or history.

Allison working with illustrations on the Zeutschel OS 14000 A0 planetary scanner

Working at Digital Collections has truly been a magical experience for me. In my classes at the university, programming is logic and linear algebra and string operations on arbitrary homework assignments. Here, in the basement of the library, among gorgeous aged rare books, I see incredibly intelligent and skilled individuals writing and running scripts, coding databases, interpreting and analyzing metadata, and preserving rare historic material. It is astounding and encouraging to be a part of a department that marries programming with history.

I am also delighted to see so many women around me engaged in programming, troubleshooting, and web development. It’s wonderful working with such talented and skilled women, especially coming from a male dominated field. In my short time in this office, I have come realize that a background in computing and programing can offer a sort of modernization to the humanities, and that we can work together to keep art and history and cultural relevant in an increasingly digital age. Although for now, I do simple data input, I’m excited to learn more about web development and big data analysis and apply it here or in adjacent areas as the field of digital humanities expands.