Community Partnerships & Digital Preservation

A love for historic artifacts and their stories is something that draws many people to the cultural heritage professions, and we at Simpson Library’s Special Collections and University Archives department are no different. When the opportunity arose to work with our local Masonic Lodge (Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4) to digitize one of their rare books, we were excited to be a partner on this important task. Not only was this a rare book, but it also happened to be the 1668 Bible that George Washington and countless other Masons had taken their oaths on hundreds of years ago!

A photograph of three members of Special Collections and University Archives staff and three members of the Masonic Lodge, with two people in the front holding the Bible in its display case.

Special Collections & University Archives staff partnered with Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 members to digitize their historic 1668 Bible, upon which many Masons have taken their oaths, including George Washington. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

Working with rare books and archival materials is never something we take lightly, whether it is a famous volume or local papers collection. Materials are always assessed by our team to determine if they are suitable for digitization, and that the scanning process will not harm the item. Our first meeting with the Masons included this same assessment, where we took a look at the condition of the Bible and made sure our equipment would be a good match for it. Our initial appraisal determined the Bible was in remarkably good condition for its age and would be a great candidate for digitization.

A photograph of Digital Resources Librarian, Angie White, removing the Bible from its display case, while Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky, stands near the computer and scanner.

Angie and Mary prepare to take scans of the Bible. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

The process of digitizing the Bible included many steps and the following outline represents a broad overview of the project from beginning to end:

  1. Project plan. I’ve mentioned the importance of project planning in other posts, so I couldn’t leave it out here! Before we got started with the Bible, we developed a plan as to the file names and file types we would create, image storage, tools we might need, and even where we would store the Bible while it was undergoing digitization.
  2. Pre-scan photoshoot. We first photographed the Bible with our DSLR to document its pre-scan condition. With these photographs, we could check to see if there were any changes in the state of the Bible as we scanned.
  3. Scanning. We used our Cobra Rare Book Scanner to gently scan each page. The V-shaped cradle and glass on the Cobra held the book open just enough to capture an image of each page, while also reducing the amount of strain on the binding. The Bible is in great shape, but occasionally tools like a bone folder were needed to help turn delicate pages. The images created were 600 pixels-per-inch TIFF files and they will remain the preservation master files for this project.

    A photograph of the Bible in the scanner's cradle, with glass over top of the pages. Two red laser lines are in the middle of the book.

    The cradle of the Cobra Rare Book Scanner gently held the book open, while the red laser lines helped guide us to the correct focus point for the cameras. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

  4. Photoshoot. Following the Cobra scanning, more photographs were taken using the Digital Archiving Lab’s DSLR to capture the Bible as an object, including the covers and binding. Scanning and photographing the four hundred pages of the Bible took about eleven hours distributed over several days.
  5. Review. At this stage, we browsed through the images to make sure we didn’t skip any pages or have an image in need of re-scan.
  6. Image processing. While the original TIFF files from the scanning process will remain the unedited, preservation master files, our Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky, created copies and edited all of the scanned images to make sure they were straight and cropped for future facsimile prints. This detail-oriented process doubled the time spent working on this project.
  7. Batch file renaming. During the digitization process, we often take more than one capture of a page to get the best final product. The extra images are deleted during the editing phase, but this leaves gaps in the file naming structure. Luckily, Mary was able to discover a way to do this efficiently with Adobe Bridge, a digital asset management software application. The process involved selecting the folder of final images and directing the software to save them to a new location with a specified sequential filename.
  8. Final review. Our last step was a final review of the images. We were so pleased with the way they turned out!
A photograph of Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky, sitting in front of a computer monitor with multiple scan images on the screen. A Masonic Lodge member is standing and looking at the monitor.

Digital Archiving Lab Student Aide, Mary Novitsky, discusses some of the images she processed. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

One of the most exciting aspects of digitizing historic books is not knowing what to expect as each page is turned. This Bible proved no exception, as different pages showed early signatures, fold-out maps, and marbled papers as well as torn, stained pages in the midst of clean, whole sections. While we may never know the stories behind the curiosities on these pages, their mysteries inspire us to discover more about the past. Though digital surrogates will never replace an original, they provide an opportunity for more access and insight into historic artifacts. The Special Collections staff were excited to be a part of this successful community digitization project and look forward to our next historic adventure.

A photograph of the last page of the Bible being turned back, showing the yellow, red, white, and blue marbled paper on the inside back cover of the Bible.

Beautiful marbled paper was found at the back of the Bible during digitization. (Photo by Suzanne Rossi)

Please feel free to get in touch with us at archives@umw.edu if you have questions about this project, or a project of your own!

October 18, 2018