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V13 2010 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 24, June 13, 2010, Article 23

DIGITIZING THE PAST AND PRESENT AT THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Here's a great gallery of photos and descriptions of the tools and processes used to digitize books and artifacts at the Library of Congress. -Editor

The Library of Congress has nearly 150 million items in its collection, including at least 21 million books, 5 million maps, 12.5 million photos and 100,000 posters. The largest library in the world, it pioneers both preservation of the oldest artifacts and digitization of the most recent--so that all of it remains available to future generations.

I recently took a tour of two LoC departments that exemplify this mission: the Preservation Research and Testing Division in Washington, D.C., and the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Va.

The library's preservation specialists use the latest technology to study and scan ancient books, maps and other historical artifacts.

Library of Congress digitization

Fenella France, a research chemist with the Preservation Research and Testing Division, uses a 39 megapixel camera to take high-resolution images of documents ranging from renaissance-era maps to American state papers.

"We don't filter at the camera, we illuminate with small wavelengths," Fenella said. "We're creating a reference set of samples. We can't take samples of the documents themselves--it's just not going to happen"

This technique creates a set of images like a 'stack of cards,' all identically framed but revealing a different spectral face of the subject.

The Gettysburg Address exists on her computer as 8 different documents, each representing a different waveband in the visible spectrum. But only some show the mysterious fingerprint residue that may be Lincoln's own.

"In the next 5-10 years, I wouldn't be surprised if they could pull residual genetic information from the documents. [This is why] one of our foci is making sure that we don't interfere with future research."

To read the complete article, see: Gallery: Digitizing the past and present at the Library of Congress (www.boingboing.net/2010/06/09/gallery-digitizing-t.html)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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