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! 🙂

Digitally Capturing Books with the Qidenus SMART 4.0

By Laura Stillwagon

For those who frequently use smart technology, search engines, and various applications, we have taken on the role of researchers or information seekers, no matter how marginally. Information has become quite precious to us, and we can obtain what we need (or at least try to) much quicker now than in decades past. The value of historical information and records has not changed but the urgency to preserve it for the future may. With the capabilities and access of information technologies we can now preserve old, original pieces of information, like artifacts, books, photographs, and film. And with innovations and improvements in digitization, the standards of acceptable quality have changed where we as users now desire more features and images that are almost life-like. Thankfully, there are technologies available to preserve deteriorating historical items, creating digital representations that mimic observing these items in reality. One such piece of technology is the Qidenus.

Introducing the Qidenus SMART Book Scan 4.0

The Qidenus, pronounced kuh-day-nuh-s or kah-day-nuh-s, or simply the Qi (‘key’), introduces a new standard for item digitization with the integration of multiple technologies that work in unison with the minimal effort required of the operator. Hailing from Austria, our Qidenus SMART Book Scan 4.0 utilizes two Canon DSLRs (digital cameras) pointed at an angled scan bed to capture books (often rare ones), journals, scrapbooks, and other bound items. The machine and related peripheral technologies and software offered by the  Qidenus Technologies  (Qidenus Group, Gmbh) are highly regarded in the fields of archiving and preservation. Beautiful and prestigious national libraries in Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Azerbaijan boast of being Qidenus Technologies users for all their regular and specialized digital needs. The Digital Collections department here at the University of South Carolina in the Thomas Cooper Library happily purchased the Qidenus in February 2018, and after calibrating the machine to meet the needs and skills of the staff in Digital Collections and in other Special Collections departments, the Qi SMART 4.0 has greatly enhanced the work done, making it almost feel like one is examining pages of bound items in person.

Bringing together a group of highly skilled specialists, this genius concept and product was invented by Sophie Qidenus. The Qi joins a handsome line of high-performing digitization technologies and other digitization services created by the same company and specialists. From ‘basic’ office scanners to manual, semi-automatic, and fully automatic machine operation, Qidenus Technologies does not disappoint and they have a reason celebrate their successes in patents and market-leading output. Qidenus Technologies has quite a few notable global patents, one of the more exciting being the fully automated page-turning mechanism, a feature of their Qidenus ROBOTIC Book Scan 4.0. It seems fitting that Qidenus Technologies originated within a University Campus, specifically the Vienna University of Economics and Business, one of the many areas that can benefit from these products.

The Qi to Our Digital Collections

Through the grant-writing efforts of the head of our department, Kate Boyd, UofSC Digital Collections obtained the funds to purchase the machine. After using it for about a year, it’s hard to imagine any other method of digitizing bound items. With DSLRs, the Qi produces image files of bound items (digital surrogates) that appear as clear as if they were being viewed in reality, proving to be a wonderful addition to the tools and methods to the Department. In this way, bound items can not only be read and examined beyond their physical life span, but lots of people can access them at once. Even though it caters  to visual observation, the Qi’s performance in digitization adds another way for users to view and observe items as they stand at the point of digitization, going beyond the subject or meaning created by the content of items themselves.

The central feature of the Qi in our possession, and most of the Qidenus products, really, is the DSLRs. The DSLRs and their subsequent lenses are set to yield superb, life-like images. Although the Qi is not the first to employ DSLRs to scan and capture bound items, it is the first to integrate multiple technologies and software into one device, into one mechanized system. Handmade devices with cameras often require two operators, and control over image quality and exposure is minimal. All connected, the technologies and software of the Qi manages image quality (including exposure) and file storage at once, prioritizing output. It is with this technology and the appropriate camera/image capture settings that the resulting images are of high detail and resolution to allow for intense magnification and examination.

Despite all issues with digitization as a practice, some of which have stood the test of time and innovation, achieving digital renderings or surrogates that are as close to visually observing the physical item in person is an accomplishment and the ultimate goal. One of the considerations with digital/online media is that the quality of the digital surrogate is not always consistent, nor are users’ devices consistent in providing the intended, published quality. For example, retina displays, LCD screens, older versions of screens, and touch screens, all present media and actions online differently; this includes image quality! The Qi allows for a wide array of RAW image file types to be used in order to maintain image files that are vivid and rich with information, and also the reproduction of other file types to serve a variety of purposes and technologies. Moreover, the ability to manipulate the camera capture settings of the Qi’s digital cameras allows for image files to be further tailored to devices and viewing purposes.

Why Digitization with the Qi

Digitization is one of the many methods used to maintain cultural media as time passes, and it fits well into the digital activities of society. Creating, posting, and sending media and correspondence; purchasing movie tickets and ordering food for delivery; and locating the nearest parking garage or Uber Driver–all are activities we can do easily on our computers and smart phones. And while reading WWI documents may not be done with the same mindset as the latter activities, it is still doable. Students and professors here at the UofSC as well as users of the University Libraries’ services, find it helpful to view original documents as a means to create assignments and learning opportunities, and for research and instruction. Users outside the University and its Libraries also find benefits in digitally stored photographs, manuscripts, books, and other record keeping material when it comes to researching and constructing family histories and lineages.

Digital and web services of archives, museums, libraries, and related institutions are not exempt from user standards, and they have the opportunities to go beyond their users’ expectations. Qidenus technology utilizes DSLRs and other digital design technologies to ensure digitized items are seen with high-quality. With several methods of controlling the quality of images and their storage, the Qi makes digitization of bound items much more precise. For more discussion on the Qi, on the quality of its mechanics and a look into one of the projects accomplished with the Qi, check out our forthcoming blog posts in this series on the Qidenus in 2019!