These are my notes from Tom Rieger‘s presentation, “Digitizing Vintage Photographic Negatives and Prints” at the 2012 International Conference of Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tom is the Director of Imaging Services for the Northeast Document Conservation Center. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS.

NEDCC - About

From the NEDCC website:

NEDCC’s mission is to improve the conservation efforts of libraries, archives, historical organizations, museums, and other repositories; to provide the highest quality services to institutions without in-house conservation facilities or those that seek specialized expertise; and to provide leadership in the preservation and conservation fields.

There were no scanners when I started developing digital imaging technologies, we used video cameras
– we did ‘stitching’ before it was called that
– interlacing
– lots of techniques to make images which make sense

Anything the conservation labs need to have documented because it can’t be restored, the treatment might lose it or the client wants it to become available for greater distribution on the web… those fall under my roof at NDCC
– I love my job, it is so much fun I can’t begin to tell you!

MY COMMENT: I GOT TO EAT LUNCH TODAY WITH TOM AND REALLY ENJOYED OUR CONVERSATION! HE’S HELPED DIGITIZE AN ORIGINAL COPY OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE WHICH IS HELD IN A PRIVATE COLLECTION! HOW COOL IS THAT?! I CAN’T WAIT TO TELL MY KIDS THAT I MET SOMEONE WHO HAS DONE THAT… WE’LL HAVE TO WATCH “NATIONAL TREASURE” AGAIN TOGETHER I’M SURE! :-)

Digital imaging has been advanced a lot in the last 25 years, but it has barely started to be ‘perfected’
– we can now craft a program that will work for any of your organizations and at cost you can manage if you have digitalization needs and desires

MY COMMENT: TOM SAID THEY DEFINITELY WORK WITH INDIVIDUALS AND SMALLER GROUPS IN ADDITION TO INSTITUTIONS ON DIGITALIZATION NEEDS. LAST WEEK HIS TEAM WORKED ON DIGITALIZING A MAP OF TEXAS LAND GRANTS FROM THE 1800s THAT WAS 10′ X 10′ IN SIZE. THEY CAN DIGITIZE VIRTUALLY ANYTHING.

Early parts of my career before the web existed,
– I helped the Library of Congress produce their first ‘for print’ system
– early effort to make some of these images available

Our building now is a converted New England wool mill
– converted in the 1980s, we have a secure facility on the 4th floor

We don’t really care as much about time or cost as we care about the documents we are preserving and helping treat / conserve
– ultimately, be so careful not to do any harm
– it is easy to damage works of art or historic objects when you are imaging them

Our Center has 4 main units (really 5 including marketing, which is a support function)
– paper conservation
– book conservation
– imaging
– preservation services (interesting: they produce programming to disseminate all this knowledge, especially on the digital side but also print)
— doing a 3 day event in Boston next week called “Digital Directions” – a rolling workshop on these topics we’re discussing today

We are an imaging lab, not a conservation lab
– we don’t cross that line at NDCC!

We generally don’t restore much
– you don’t want to be restoring things (this is my view, but seems to be accepted ‘out there’ in LOC and Nat’l Archives)
– for a lot of reasons we don’t want to photo retouch
– that can distort history
– museums have done retouching to a degree, but museums can become (and have become) theme parks to a certain extent
– our goal is preservation

We also do disaster planning and assistance
– we maintain lists of first responders who can help with this
– we help coordinate response teams, we don’t do the response work ourselves

Questions to ask first about digitization
– Why do you want to digitize?
– You always want to ask these questions BEFORE you buy a camera or scanner
– if you do things the wrong way, you can be wasting your time (this has even happened in the past with the LOC and National Archives)
— initially we all went gangbusters scanning things… but by today’s standards, some of those projects don’t measure up as they should

If you have any nitrate films in your collection now, you are out of time
– you’ve got to deal with this NOW
– nitrate film crosses a tipping point and becomes dangerous
– some films we have now were scannable 3 years ago for a good image, but today they aren’t

Early die sets used in almost all cover materials, Kodachrome was an exception, are very bad for longevity and will even fade in the dark
– there is light fading and dark fading
– these are ‘different animals,’ they come from different sources

Back around 1975 or 1976, US federal government started to realize formaldehyde wasn’t a good thing to work with
– it was banned from photo industry
– it had been used as a stabilizing agent in photo dyes, however

Picture of flooded library: this is a huge reason for digitalization
– this has happened over and over to us with earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and tornados

Film vault at NASA and Goddard Space Center
– early flight film library, in a beautiful watertight vault
– major water pipe was above the vault
– it made a great aquarium when it broke
– they didn’t find it for a couple of days
– all the early NASA flight films were in there
– the right people with Kodak and Fuji were in the same room at a convention, and put together a plan to save as much as possible
– lots of that early flight material is now considered “lost”
– duplicates didn’t exist, digitization was impractical

Another places you wouldn’t think it’s possible: Yorktown / Jamestown
– a lot wiped out in 2003

Gulf Shores National Seashore collection heavily damaged in 2004
– hurricanes came in too fast for adequate response

So think about a ‘reformatting plan!’
– this is what digitization has become know as in the cultural archives world

Watching “Nitrate Burn – Nitrate Film Trailer Set on Fire

Burning nitrate creates its own oxygen and hydrogen, it can’t be put out by a fire department
– there are deadly fumes
– you can’t even knock down those flames
– be extremely careful if you have nitrates in your collection, you have to deal with this now
– Nitrate film has been known to self-combust at 106 degrees F

Nitrate was predominant until 1950 for Kodak
– German company Agfa may have continued to use it, there are no records now of those companies and what they did
– you can do some tests to determine if the film is nitrate or not without damaging the film

If you don’t deal with some of these issues, you ARE dealing with the issues

Question about microfilm
– until 1950, microfilm was ALL nitrate based (so that’s explosive)
– even worse: the replacement to nitrate film for most things was acetate film
– acetate film for some applications came out around 1920
– first came in as acetate, then di-ascetate, then tri-acetate

acetate isn’t stable
– film degrades relatively quickly
– displays vinegar syndrome: it exudes acid
– won’t explode, not flammable, but the film becomes unusable

Until about 1980 there were not tests in color film processing with respect to quality
– Cue lab came out from Kodak
– from a collections / archival standpoint, there wasn’t any way to deal with this before then… it was a ‘wild west’ for color film processing

What do you want to digitize?
– you can’t digitize everything, you won’t get that done!

Canada Libraries have announced they are NOT going to try and digitize everything in their collections… they are prioritizing, and that is the smartest approach for us all to take
– no one wants to do this… because 50 years later someone is going to ask, “Why didn’t you do this…”

You are better off saving SOME today than saving none

Figure out what the most endangered pieces of your collection are
– books are very stable
– the oldest books may need attention, but they require more than digitization: also require conservation

who is your audience?
who will digitize?
– who owns the material?

[UNFORTUNATELY I HAD TO LEAVE TOM’S GREAT PRESO AT THIS POINT. WISH I COULD HAVE STAYED FOR IT ALL – GREAT INFO!]

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