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/