Backstage at the Digitization Lab

The Digitization Lab, housed in Burns Library but part of Digital Repository Services, underwent renovation in 2017-18. This photo essay shows the results of that effort and some examples of the kind of work that goes on there.

Jack Kearney, Digital Archives Specialist, working at a computer in the digitization lab, with a variety of other digitization equipment in the room.
Jack Kearney, Digital Archives Specialist, working in the renovated digitization lab, or digilab for short.

This is the view from the door into the renovated digitization lab. On the left is the Atiz BookDrive scanner; straight ahead through the doorway is the Digital Transitions RGC180 Capture Cradle and Phase One camera, for capturing large formats; on the right are areas for AV digitization and the forensic workstation (not visible in this photo). The old lab was only as big as the space you see on the left.

Paige Walker, Digital Collections & Preservation Librarian, working at the forensic station in the digitization lab. There are two computers on the counter, and other equipment, such as a mic stand, gear bags, speakers, and supplies stored below the counter and on shelves above it.
Paige Walker, Digital Collections & Preservation Librarian, working at the forensic station in the digitization lab, prior to acquiring the FRED forensic system.

Born-digital material that is donated to Burns is checked at the forensic workstation first: hard drives, flash drives, and floppy disks are imaged at the bit-level using write blocking protection to ensure the preservation of the original material. This was once handled by an unwieldy combination of an ordinary computer and external hardware; the recent purchase of a FRED unit, with its own isolated hard drives, write-blocking, and ports to accept virtually any digital connector–including smartphones and tablets–has streamlined born-digital archiving and expanded the range of materials.

The imposing, black FRED forensic unit. Developed primarily for forensic analysis of cyber-crimes, its features are also perfectly suited for digital archival work. It stands about 2 feet high.
Developed primarily for forensic analysis of cyber-crimes, the FRED unit’s features are also perfectly suited for digital archival work. It stands about 2 feet high.
This up-close photo of the upper half of the FRED unit shows input ports such as USB 2.0, USB 3.0, Firewire, and SATA.
The FRED unit accommodates many types of input, including USB 2.0, USB 3.0, Firewire, and SATA
A computer screen image of FTK Imager with data pulled from a corrupted disk. The screen is divided un-equally into 4 quadrants, with the bottom right quadrant full of numbers and text.
Data from a corrupted disk displayed in FTK Imager.

FTK Imager software (above), can pull data from storage media at the bit level. Shown in the photo is a view of the contents on a 5.25” floppy disk in the Burns Library. Although the disk was corrupted, rendering the file structure illegible, bit-level capture helped extract some text from the drive:

A computer screen image of FTK Imager with data pulled from a corrupted disk. The screen is divided un-equally into 4 quadrants, with the bottom right quadrant full of numbers and text.
Data from a corrupted disk displayed in FTK Imager.

The additional space created in the renovation allowed room for audiovisual playback and capture decks, and storage space for additional recording equipment previously stowed far from workspaces.

Now, Jack Kearney, Digital Archives Specialist, is ready to create digital files from a whole range of formats, from DAT (Digital Audio Tape) and audio cassette tapes to old 78 rpm records and various formats of videotape. A current project is the digitization of a collection of circa 1950s Edison Voicewriter dictation machine discs.

Jack Kearney capturing analog audio material in digital form. He is sitting at a computer whose wide monitor displays different colored audio waveforms. Next to him is a stack of 8 different audiovisual playback components.
Jack Kearney capturing analog audio material in digital form
Pro Tools audio digitizing software showing a visual representation for part of recording of a 78-rpm record. Different colors represent different tracks.
Pro Tools audio digitizing software showing a visual representation for part of recording of a 78-rpm record. Different colors represent different tracks.
An Edison Voicewriter dictation machine disc held by Jack Kearney. It is red, flexible, and translucent.
An Edison Voicewriter dictation machine disc. Digitizing this series of 65 discs – about 15 minutes each – will make available for use in the Burns Library Reading Room for the first time a set of lectures by Howard Belding Gill, a prison reformer who also guest lectured at Boston College in the 1950s.

The back room is for high-density imaging. The pink walls and green carpeting originally in the area have been replaced by gray walls and a tile floor, meaning fewer reflection issues and less dust.

Cheryl Ostrowski, Digital Content Specialist, adjusts a page from the Anansi stories on a flat black surface to capture a digital image with the Phase One Camera (out of sight at the top of this photo, because of the raised ceiling). The computer to the left shows recently digitized images.
Cheryl Ostrowski, Digital Content Specialist, adjusts a page from the Anansi stories to capture a digital image with the Phase One Camera (out of sight at the top of this photo, because of the raised ceiling). The computer to the left shows recently digitized images.

The Phase One camera provides very high resolution: 100 megapixels compared with 39 on the old Hasselblad camera. The new RGC180 Capture Cradle boasts an increased capture size (30 in. x 40 in.). Together they produce better images and can handle larger items, such as newspapers.

A full-page spread of a yellowing, old copy of the Boston Pilot under lights on a capture cradle, ready for photographing for digitization.
An edition of the Boston Pilot, a 19th-20th Century newspaper currently being digitized at Boston College.

The Phase One also includes some auto enhancements and works much faster than the older cameras, which means the Digital Libraries Programs department can make more of the collection digitally available more quickly. Cheryl can make 10-20 digital images per hour if the paper is old, brittle, and torn, or over 100 per hour if it’s in good shape. Soon, new equipment will expand capabilities to include the scanning of negative & positive film of any standard dimension.

Mac computer screen showing digitized image of a page of The Pilot, ready for cropping.
Computer displaying Capture One software used to process the Boston Pilot images with the Phase One camera.

This same system was also used to digitize The Anansi Stories, approximately 4,000 folktales written by Jamaican school children in the early 1930’s, which form part of the Williams ethnological collection at the Burns Library.

Cheryl Ostrowski demonstrates the Atiz scanner: a v-shaped cradle with two high-resolution cameras, surrounded on three sides by black draperies. Cheryl, with her back to the viewer, is looking at a scanned image on an adjacent computer.
Cheryl Ostrowski demonstrates the Atiz scanner.

The Atiz, with its v-shaped book cradle, is ideal for scanning rare books from the Burns Library collections. Cameras were recently replaced with models that more than doubled image resolution. The computer next to the scanner runs the image capture software. The computer on the table to the right is used for quality control and to process the raw images into production copies (Tiffs). These are then post-processed by student workers in the O’Neill Diglab, where they are carefully straightened and cropped, and then uploaded to the Internet Archive where they are available to the public.

Image of the cover of Boston Park Guide: including the municipal and metropolitan systems of Greater Boston from the Burns Library, now available at the Internet Archive.
Image of the cover of Boston Park Guide: including the municipal and metropolitan systems of Greater Boston from the Burns Library, now available at the Internet Archive.

Nancy Adams

Digital Publishing Specialist (Retired 2019)

Jack Kearney

Digital Archives Specialist

Cheryl Ostrowski

Digital Content Specialist, O’Neill Library

Paige Walker

Digital Collections & Preservation Librarian