New Deal Stage

Building the Digital Collection: Overview

Three demonstration projects. The online Federal Theatre Project Collection served as a test bed for three demonstration activities designed to increase the Library's understanding of issues and methods associated with digitizing collections.

  1. IBM Digital Library Demonstration (1995-96). Imaging and database project organized by IBM and Information Technology Services, the Library of Congress computer center.

  2. Manuscript Digitization Demonstration Project (1994-97). Imaging project sponsored by the Library of Congress Preservation Office; carried out by Picture Elements, Inc.

  3. EAD Finding Aid (1995 and continuing). Project to mark up a collection register to conform to the Encoded Archival Description standard; carried out by the Library of Congress Music Division.

All three projects were carried out in cooperation with the Library of Congress National Digital Library Program. The imaging aspects of these demonstration projects built upon the findings of the Library of Congress Optical Disk Pilot Project (1982-1987) and the American Memory pilot (1990-1994). These projects revealed the shortcomings of bitonal images (pure black and white; one bit per pixel) when used to reproduce manuscripts. Manuscript documents exhibit variation in reflectance values (brightness, darkness, and color): the shade and condition of the paper may vary (sometimes on the same sheet) and the marks or strokes inscribed upon the sheet may vary in width and density. To reproduce a manuscript document in bitonal form risks the loss of textual information and significant loss in the look and feel of the original. Manuscript collections--and the Federal Theatre Project offers a spectacular example--often include important pictorial items far beyond the reproducing power of the bitonal image.

These findings in the earlier projects indicated the advisability of reproducing manuscript collections by means of grayscale and color images. But such images are very large (in terms of file size) and, given the great extent of many manuscript collections, commit a library or archive to provide extensive computer-file storage and a potential impediment to the provision of efficient online access.

Imaging Demonstration Projects. Taken together, the two imaging demonstrations carried out with the Federal Theatre Project collection suggested an approach that addresses the need for grayscale and color images as well as the problem of storing the extensive files that reproduce a large collection. Some of the image-making approaches tested in the Federal Theatre activity have been continued in later National Digital Library Program productions.

The IBM project demonstrated that pictorial items and documents selected for their artifactual value could be reproduced as very high quality grayscale and color images and that large uncompressed digital files can be archived. The IBM project also showed that the careful production of high quality images can be labor intensive.

The Preservation Office/Picture Elements project showed how routine manuscript documents, e.g., twentieth century typescripts prized primarily for their information value, could be reproduced in high quality images and archived after a modest amount of compression has been applied to reduce file size. Although Picture Elements' use of a flatbed scanner meant that capture proceeded in a relatively efficient manner, such one-sheet-at-a-time scanning is less rapid than "office automation" projects in which non-precious sheets of paper are captured with the aid of a sheet feeder.

Both the IBM and the Preservation Office/Picture Elements projects produced access images from the master images that had been scanned. These access images are designed to work efficiently in computer networks, display easily in World Wide Web browser software, and print in a reasonably efficient way on typical desktop printers.

High Quality Imaging for Pictorial Items and Documents with High Artifactual Value: The IBM Digital Library Demonstration

Abstract: Use of a high resolution digital camera to create very high quality images of pictorial items and documents of special significance. The camera system was equipped with a cradle to hold bound volumes and a platform to enable the imaging of large items like posters. Associated database for managing stored files.
Project Final Report

Imaging Routine Manuscript Documents at Preservation and Access Quality: Library of Congress Preservation Office/Picture Elements Demonstration.

Abstract: Consultants demonstrate an approach to imaging routine manuscript documents, creating grayscale and color images compressed with JPEG for consideration for preservation and bitonal images compressed with ITU Group IV for access. In a follow-on activity, the Library creates reduced-scale grayscale and color images in the GIF format for online display.
Project Report

EAD Finding Aid Demonstration

Abstract: Finding aid that conforms to the Encoded Archival Description standard (EAD). Stand-alone version available at this time, future version to be linked to digital reproductions of selected items.
Brief Summary
Federal Theatre Project Finding Aid

New Deal Stage