Macrophotography from Microfilm

Since 2017, ODW has been exploring low-cost options for digitizing newspapers from microfilm. Inspired by DIY and makerspace memes popular in the library community,

ODW has worked on a prototype that can be assembled from readily-available components with a view towards providing a low-cost alternative for microfilm scanning. The approach centers around macrophotography, a technique that employs a special lens to zoom in at a level that allows intricate details of an object to be captured. Macrophotography has typically been used for capturing details of subjects in nature, like insects and flower petals, but it has broad application for anything at a reduced scale, including tiny photographs of newspaper pages.

At the 2018 OLA SuperConference, ODW Board Member and University of Windsor librarian, Art Rhyno, presented an overview of the first version of the prototype in a session entitled DIY Digitization of Community Newspapers. Part of the presentation included a video of the prototype (see below).

It is admittedly difficult to discern the components of the prototype in the video, but it illustrates 3 of the 4 building blocks to microfilm scanning listed in the 2018 presentation:

  1. Dealing with torque
  2. Configuring a stable camera arrangement
  3. Supplying appropriate lighting
  4. Finding flexible options for merging

Torque is a “twisting force to cause rotation”, and is needed to rotate microfilm reels in order for a camera to take pictures at different parts of the reel. Microfilm is surprisingly challenging for motors, and requires a fairly high level of torque to stand up to rotating reels for hours at a time. The best results were achieved with a rotisserie motor rated for 50 lbs, and one surprise with this setup was discovering that very few models of this type of motor had consistent turning directions, i.e., most randomly spin clockwise or counter-clockwise but not necessarily the same way twice.

The camera arrangement can be achieved with a tripod and possibly some creativity if the positioning of the camera over the light source is awkward (as you might guess from the video). A light table or a LED work light with a sheet of white plexiglass can provide the light source for illuminating the film. The results can be seen below, using an advertisement from the Nov. 20, 1874 edition of the Amherstburg Echo, there is no doubt that using a camera with a macro lens can be an effective strategy for capturing the level of detail necessary for microfilm.

Figure 1.

An original microfilm scan [Figure 1] from a decade ago. The film’s imperfections and the challenges of the illustration itself combine to make a problematic image.

Figure 2.

A recent scan [Figure 2] from a commercial provider. This scan has been post-processed to increase the contrast between the ink and the background page. This is certainly an improvement over the first image but is still difficult to read.

Figure 3.

The same page [Figure 3] with macrophotography. The image is much truer to its original form, though still challenging (for example, the lines in italic).

The original prototype used a standard DSLR Camera but the moving mirror in a DSLR eventually became problematic for microfilm since so many pictures were required to capture an entire reel and the parts would soon wear out. A mirrorless camera turned out to be a better option. Without moving parts, a mirrorless camera can take many more photos, an important consideration when a single reel can represent more than 1000 pages. The other key piece of camera equipment is a macro lens. Some microfilm may not require the level of magnification that a macro lens provides, but newspaper pages, in particular, need much stronger zoom support than a standard lens typically provides.

ODW, in partnership with the University of Windsor, has now scanned hundreds of newspaper reels. At the time of this writing, newspaper reels continue to be scanned, as can be seen below:

Note that this arrangement has two scanners controlled by one workstation. From the beginning, Ubuntu has been the backbone of the system controlling the scanning, relying on the remarkable ecosystem that linux has fostered. Many pages can be split into two or more images, depending on the way the page was photographed for the microfilm, and there has been no shortage of high quality image merging software to “stitch” the pages back together.

There have been some hard lessons to be learned along the way, however. Unlike the majority of computer equipment, camera equipment tends to fluctuate more wildly in pricing. The mirrorless camera purchased last year for $600 CAD, is now nearly 3 times that cost! At the same time, there is a newer mirrorless model that is about $400 CAD. It can be good to have a conversation with someone versed in camera equipment before assembling a scanning station.

The majority of historical newspapers will benefit from macrophotography, but some microfilm, particularly vesicular microfilm, will not benefit from the lighting system and may appear “washed out.” Badly scratched and/or dirty microfilm may, in turn, produce high resolution images of flaws in the film in addition to the pages themselves.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge of all is to try out alternative approaches. It is not easy to walk into a camera store with microfilm and a light source in order to sample different cameras and lenses. Phone cameras, which are improving at an incredibly rapid pace, are even more problematic for testing, since they tend to be tied to phone plans and reseller arrangements. In all these cases, there is usually a need to purchase equipment up front, and hope that it provides the desired results upon deployment.

ODW is currently investigating options for microfiche scanning. Most newspaper projects avoid microfiche formats but sometimes there is no other alternative, particularly with small community newspapers in Ontario. We welcome partners in exploring scanning options for these formats and would like to achieve a blueprint that would put low-cost scanners into the reach of almost any organization seeking to convert film formats to digital form.

Women’s Institutes Completes Its Digitization Project

OurDigitalWorld is very pleased to have been involved in this project, working with the Federated Women’s Institutes of Ontario for more the past 4 years, processing the materials for full text search and hosting the materials for search and discovery via the VITA Digital Toolkit.

From a Press release from Irene Robillard, Federation of Women’s Institutes of Ontario:

The Federated Women’s Institutes of Ontario completed its three-year project through the Documentary Heritage Communities Program of Library and Archives Canada on March 31st, 2020. During this time 225,000 pages have been digitized and added to our Virtual Archives, most being our Tweedsmuir Community History Collections.  These collections, with many starting in 1947, contain the history of a local community and can include farm and family histories, biographies, and photos.  

Books from as far north as Cochrane in the northeast and Kenora in the northwest, down to beyond London in southwestern Ontario, the Ottawa Valley in the east, and many books in between were brought to a central digitizing site and then returned.  Some books were found that we were not aware of, and one book was saved from destruction.

We have fostered positive relationships with archives, museums, libraries, and historical societies throughout Ontario, with a few using our Virtual Archives to put their previously-digitized Women’s Institutes (WI) documents online. As well, some WI branches and districts have self-funded digitizing.

About half of the documents have not yet been opened to the public, as they need to be reviewed for privacy concerns. This will happen over the next year or two. As well, there are many more books to be digitized [with] a waiting list for digitizing from branches, districts, and holding organizations.

The public can freely access the Virtual Archives at http://collections.fwio.on.ca/search. As well, the FWIO records as well as Women’s Institutes records from other organizations can be found through the WI portal: http://portal.fwio.on.ca.

If you have a suggestion of other resources to be added to the collection, please contact the FWIO or OurDigitalWorld at info@ourdigitalworld.org.

OurDigitalWorld Joins CRKN as Associate Member

CRKN logo

OurDigitalWorld is pleased to announce that we are joining with the Canadian Research Knowledge Network as an Associate Member in 2020. OurDigitalWorld joins CRKN as its 81st member. As a member, OurDigitalWorld will benefit from closer participation in CRKN’s heritage and digitization initiatives and the opportunity to connect with members across Canada on national strategies and approaches.

“Associate membership with CRKN will allow us to expand our network to better serve communities throughout Canada,” said Loren Fantin, Executive Director of OurDigitalWorld. “Joining CRKN also consolidates the successful working relationship our organizations have had, and I look forward to continuing our productive relationship as an Associate member.”

Loren Fantin is a member of CRKN’s Heritage Content and Priorities Task Group (HCPTG) and presented on OurDigitalWorld’s digitization strategy at the 2019 CRKN Conference. OurDigitalWorld has also been a strategic partner and collaborator with CRKN through Canadiana on digitization projects for the past decade.

“OurDigitalWorld has been an active member of our stakeholder community, and I am very pleased to welcome them to CRKN as an Associate Member,” said Clare Appavoo, Executive Director of CRKN. “Their perspective will be valuable within our membership as we collaborate on shared goals within the digital heritage field.”

See the full press release at: https://www.crkn-rcdr.ca/en/ourdigitalworld-joins-crkn-associate-member 

For more information about the CRKN Members go to: https://www.crkn-rcdr.ca/en/members

ODW is online and working with you!

The ODW virtual team is ready and able to continue to provide services via our regular channels. 

As most of you will be connecting/working/living virtually in the next while, we’ll be highlighting our online heritage resources. We’ll also be providing tips for our VITA partners on showcasing their digital collections, and continuing to work with the GLAM sector on newspaper digitization projects. Stay tuned and stay well! 

Explore online digital collections with an Ontario focus

OurOntario.ca portal
OurOntario.ca currently searches almost 2.5 million photos, documents, oral histories, paintings, postcards, and exhibits, including newspaper and book pages!
Collections from 300 heritage organizations in Ontario, including more than 200 VITA platform partners

Ontario Community Newspapers and INK
Two major gateways to hundreds of digitized Ontario newspaper titles, full text and index records, over 200 years of publishing history, ranging from Windsor to Waterloo, Thunder Bay to Petawawa!
See a full list of regions covered here

Ontario Government Documents portal
Ontario government documents (PDFs) collected by the Legislative Library, with full-text search, ability to browse by subject and ministry, and serial publications.

Search our VITA Toolkit Partners’ collections and exhibits
Explore your region and beyond: Collections from Ontario, British Columbia, Illinois, Michigan, and more, including community history, heritage and current newspapers, local history books & oral histories, on every topic from military, women’s and multicultural histories to built heritage, local sites, community contributions, and more…
See what organizations are contributing and building collections, click on their site names here

Illinois Newspapers
One place to search digitized newspapers with index records for access to dozens of Chicago-area publications from Libertyville, Wilmette, Algonquin Area and more.

Welcome the Canadian Heritage Photography Foundation to VITA

chpf003608618One of our newest VITA agencies is the Canadian Heritage Photography Foundation, a charitable organization created to honour the legacy of George Hunter.

The CHPF has spent the summer digitizing the George Hunter collection and are now uploading batches to their new VITA Toolkit site, thanks to a DHCP grant and several summer student funded positions.

When George Hunter founded CHPF in 2001, he and his colleagues had a mandate to preserve the great works of Canada’s photographers for the future. Building upon that legacy, CHPF uses contemporary archiving best practices along with current-day technology to digitize, preserve, and display these images through our website, social media and the VITA Digital Toolkit to share these amazing images of Canada to anyone interested in viewing history from this unique perspective.   

– Nicole Plaskett, CHPF Foundation Administrator

You can check out some sneak peeks at the collection on the Foundation’s blog and take a look at the first 500 items uploaded to VITA for today, World Digital Preservation Day!

 

Nicole Plaskett, the Foundation Administrator, answered a few of our questions about why they chose VITA and where the project is heading:

Continue reading Welcome the Canadian Heritage Photography Foundation to VITA

Welcome the Cobourg Museum Foundation to VITA!

logoWe are excited to welcome new VITA members the Cobourg Museum Foundation. Thanks to summer student funding, they have begun to populate their VITA collection with past years’ exhibit panels, photographs of artifacts, and metadata to help you learn more about Cobourg’s prominent people.

The Cobourg Museum Foundation has just released its new VITA website, making available to the public, for the first time in a searchable way, its growing collection of almost four hundred story panels and many of its collection of artifacts.

During the summer, two students were kept busy uploading the material into the VITA platform which is specifically designed for not-for-profit organizations to upload, describe and display their digital collections. It is the same platform as used by many institutions throughout the country, including the Cobourg Public Library (for its Cobourg and District Images) and Brighton Digital Archives.

The story panels, which have been the basis of the annual exhibits at the Sifton-Cook Heritage Centre, had previously been uploaded to the CMF website. They were viewable there but not searchable. Now significant words from all panels can be found through a simple search engine on the new VITA website.

You can find their press release here. We asked a few questions of Stanley Isherwood, Cobourg Museum Foundation treasurer, about the project:

Continue reading Welcome the Cobourg Museum Foundation to VITA!