“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

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.

More on the Qidenus: the Acquisition & Set-Up, Part II

By Laura Stillwagon

The Arrival

As addressed in the previous blog post, the Qidenus SMART Book Scan 4.0 was purchased to scan and digitize bound items. In our department, nested inside the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library, we have found the complexity of the Qi’s construction to be a reflection of its precise and accurate functionality. In this machine, both design and output are streamlined. Almost everyone who meets the Qidenus before they begin using it for the first time is intimidated, and I was no exception. At the time, not only did I have little knowledge in the digitization process, but what little functioning knowledge and experience in photography and operating DSLRs I had gave me no security; I had no knowledge on tethered technology, nor enough on all the settings that contributed to the exposure of images; and I certainly did have not enough confidence in myself to operate two DSLRs at once. The sleek machine doesn’t smell fear, but nothing downplays the machine’s sophistication. Once I was given instruction on the basic operation of the Qi, I grew more comfortable after each use. And upon given permission to explore the features and other functions of the machine, the Qi and I developed a good working relationship.

Not Yet Suitable for Routine Use at the Time

Those using the Qi immediately after arrival at Digital Collections were not entirely pleased with the images it produced. Following its delivery and set-up, little time was available to learn and integrate the Qidenus as a tool for the Digital Collections projects of and those of the other departments like the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections located next door. There was no company-issued manual available. Once purchased, we received paper manuals only for the Canon cameras used in the Qi, but they were all in German, French, Italian, and Dutch and no one in our offices or the neighboring offices speak these languages to our knowledge.

Upon investigation, I found that minor exposure adjustments had to be made to the captured images in Photoshop (post-process) in order to get rid of a shadow that seemed to shroud the pages. This didn’t make any sense to us who used the Qi because the item seemed to be clearly featured under the LED lights in the ceiling of the machine. Fortunately, I was tasked with investigating the Qi and diagnosing what was causing the images to be under-exposed. Thankfully, and as expected, I found nothing to be wrong with the machine and the only problem that has consistently stifled the Qi’s performance is the incurable virus, User Error. This is not to say that we as users continually and with intent used the machine without learning how to use it, but that we simply did not have complete instruction at the start.

In our defense, the minimal instruction on operating the Qi we were given, and what we passed on by word of mouth to each other and to new users, did not begin to cover the knowledge that was required to operate DSLRs. We lacked knowledge of photography: not knowing what aspects of light contributed to exposure and image capture and the features of digital-SLRs (and other cameras, for that matter) that interpret and manipulate light to produce images. Once I confirmed that there was nothing ailing the Qi, one of the major gaps in knowledge that I sought to fill with research was camera operation and other relevant aspects of photography. (At one point when it was still a possibility that the machine had a flaw, we had brainstormed fixes and jokingly—but also seriously—considered using a curtain to further isolate the machine and DSLRs from other light in the environment.)

 I gathered information on the settings common to all cameras like shutter speed, aperture, white balance (WB), and ISO, and then I searched for features specific to the Qi’s Canon EOS 5DS cameras. I performed many tests to determine the proper exposure settings to serve as a keynote for users and the diverse bound items they bring to the Qi. To attain these settings, I tested a variety of items with pages that ranged from having lots of detail, or a glossy finish, to those that appear weathered and faded. Since then I have learned what can be accomplished with the Qi, creating in-depth instructions (in English!) specific to the Digital Collections department. With my new understanding of light, photography, DSLRs, Canon technologies and software, I endeavor to also assist others as they learn to use the Qi for the first time.

In the next blog, I’ll outline the complexity and daily use of the Qi. Stay tuned!

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!