The digitisation process by Róisín O'Brien

Interdisciplinary collaboration: roles and responsibilities

The following roles and responsibilities were established during the Fleischmann project, the effects of which are evident in the population of the website with definitive transcriptions and digital images:

• Digital photography of the 1926 and 1927 diaries, as well as the 1927 ancillary material, including photographs, letters, posters, programmes and compositions, was carried out by Róisín O’Brien. The supplementary 1926 material was digitised by Max Fleischmann and edited by Dr Ruth Fleischmann.

• The Fleischmann website was created by Róisín O’Brien and is hosted on a University College Cork (UCC) server and domain by Peter Flynn, webmaster and manager of the Electronic Publishing Unit (EPU), UCC.

• Transcriptions, footnotes and indexes of the 1926 and 1927 diary were carried out by Dr Ruth Fleischmann and verified for accuracy.

• Proofreading of the transcription was undertaken by Anne and Maeve Fleischmann.

• The authentication of Irish and Latin names and quotes was carried out by scholar, Liam Mac Cóil.

List of Equipment

• A Nikon D5200 SLR camera

• A Kaiser 5360 Reprokid copy stand with a light set.

• Two Kaiser 3128 reflector lamps (150 W, 3200 K) with E 27 screw-in thread for the lighting unit.

• An X-Rite ColorChecker Passport.

• Acrylic spatulas.

• Medium cotton snake weights, lint free cotton gloves and book foams.

Practitioners were also consulted throughout the project with the objective of formulating a set of standards for digital preservation. In particular, this project acknowledges the advice of William Sacco of Photo+Design at Yale University and John Hodgson, Manuscripts and Archives Manager at the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester. The project sought counsel from James Robinson and Gwen Jones, senior photographers in the Heritage Imaging department of the Rylands. Dr Manfred Mayer, engineer and conservator at the University of Graz, Austria, provided additional assistance with regard to the practicalities of photography. The below process occurred with recourse to several fragments of their instruction.

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Acrylic spatula, colour checker, gloves, book foams, weights and ruler


All equipment was tested prior to its formal utilisation. James O’Sullivan, UCC Digital Arts and Humanities PhD scholar, facilitated the use of a Nikon camera for the duration of the project and also offered guidance with regard to its initial calibration. Elaine Harrington, Special Collections Librarian, and Emer Twomey, archivist, provided a workspace in the Special Collections Rare Books Reading Room at UCC. Catriona Mulcahy, university archivist, enabled access to the diaries. The digital imaging of the photograph albums and other material was carried out at the Cork School of Music (CSM), where Maeve Fleischmann made a workspace available at the Fleischmann Library.


The practical process

The Kaiser 5360 Reprokid copy stand was intended to provide a steady, well-lit overhead digital image. It is a super-compact camera stand, suitable for small, lightweight cameras such as digital compacts, CCD and APS. It consists of a (WxHxD): 32 x 1.9 x 38 cm (12.6 x 0.7 x 15 in.) matt-black baseboard with a non-reflective finish. The 59 cm (23.2 in.) column, which is marked with measurements of both inch and centimetre scales, holds a height-adjustable camera arm with a ¼ inch mounting thread. The maximum load on the camera arm is 1 kg (2.2 lbs.). The lighting unit fits two E27 screw-in sockets for photoflood lamps up to 250 watts each and a power cable of 2 x 2.5 m (8 ft. 2 in.). For this project, two Kaiser 3128 reflector lamps (150 W, 3200 K) were fitted to the lighting unit. During the photographic process, it was determined that the light set would not be useful for the digitisation process. Prolonged exposure to the intensely high temperature of the 250 watt lamps could damage the sensitive chemical structure of the diary paper and accelerate fading of the ink. The lamps also caused difficulties with a glare, shine and shadows on the page, which may be prevented in future undertakings through the use of a diffusion filter. The filter would soften any brightness and avoid shading of the paper. The lighting was also unnecessary at the CSM, where natural light was used.

As a substitute for a compact camera, a high definition Nikon D5200 SLR was used for the duration of the project and fitted to the camera arm. It holds an ultra-high resolution and a 24.1 MP DX-format CMOS sensor, with a vari-angle display, rotating viewfinder and swivel mechanism. The settings of the camera for the Fleischmann photography were an aperture at f11, a shutter speed of 1/60 with a vibration reduction (VR) lens, International Standards Organisation (ISO) 200 and white balance at 4,400K. It was set to photograph images in .jpeg format and a Nikon raw file .nef format.

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Magnified digital image of Aloys Fleischmann’s handwriting and full diary page

An X-Rite ColorChecker Passport is a visual target to allow an individual to calibrate a camera, resulting in colour accuracy through a series of post-processing adjustments to the digital image, as set out by the criteria listed in the colour checker guide. The pocket size colour checker consists of three photographic targets in a single protective case. The targets are cited as White Balance, Classic and Creative Enhancement Targets, Desktop and the product includes Adobe Lightroom Plug-In Camera Calibration software (DVD) for creating DNG Profiles, Lanyard, and Interactive Training. However, one of the most beneficial features of the product is that it allows the user to avoid many time-consuming activities in post-processing on Adobe Photoshop. This is mainly attributable to the fact that the calibrated profile can used for all pictures in similar lighting conditions. In this case, a degree of colour correctness was achieved through the calibration of the camera with the white balance slide of the passport. For reference in post-processing, the grey scale and colour slot were also photographed with a selection of diary pages. This method was also applied to some sample images at the CSM.

Book foams are a common feature of archives and libraries where they are used for research and display. During the digital imaging process, they were used as supports for the diary. The copy stand baseboard reflected the overhead lights in the special collections room at UCC, therefore a non-reflective book foam was also used as a baseboard for the diary. The book foams were not necessary for the material at the CSM, which mostly consisted of photograph albums and flat documents such as letters. The copy stand baseboard was used at this location due to nature of the natural lighting, which did not cause any difficulties with regard to a reflection or shadows.

Cotton snake weights are generally used in archives and libraries for research or display with a book sofa, book pillows or book cradles. For the photography of the diaries, two weights were suspended from book foams over the raised pages of the diary, allowing the flat page to be photographed without obstruction.

Acrylic spatulas were supplied by GMW Kleindorfer in Germany. The brushes have a flattened acrylic stylo at the end and can be used to hold pages down during imaging, as per Dr Manfred Mayer of University of Graz, creators of the Traveller’s Conservation Copy Stand. The spatulas are Nova priming brushes made by Da Vinci brushes with a product ID of 71816, series 18 and size 16. It is important to ensure that the spatula does not obstruct any text on the page. The implement is also not removed in post-processing, due to the fact that its removal would alter the authenticity of the image. During the photography of diaries, the spatula was only used where necessary, that is to say where the rigid binding of the diaries produced a page curve and hampered legibility. Consequently, the spatula was carefully held over the edge of the page to allow a flat view. The spatula was also used to hold down the newspaper clippings, which Aloys Fleischmann had placed intermittently throughout the diary.

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Book foams and cotton weights used to support the diary

Lint-free white cotton gloves are frequently worn by archivists and conservators when handling delicate books, paintings and other items. The gloves help to protect photographs, negatives, slides, art and many other items from the damaging chemical reactions caused by oils, chemicals and fingerprint residue during handling. However, according to an article by the British Library, archival gloves can impair the sensitivity of touch and cause damage to paper-based items. Although the gloves were used when handling the Fleischmann diaries, they were not used for the photographs at the CSM.

The album photographs were also glued flat against the albums. As a consequence, it was not possible to remove each one. Instead the album was opened flat or supported while specific images were photographed. A book foam was not necessary. When pages developed a curve, the camera was removed from the copy stand and the image was photographed using a freehand technique.

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Digitising the album photographs at the CSM

The inclusion of a ruler alongside the artefact allows the dimensions of the original to be determined from the digital image. A number of different rulers were selected for the Fleischmann project. However, the light reflected against the surface of stainless steel and plastic rulers. A possible alternative to the yellow wooden ruler, which was eventually used for the photography of the diaries, is a paper-ruler which can be created on Microsoft Word or a colour checker with a short scale, for example QPCard. It proved difficult to secure a ruler in a fixed position for the digital imaging of the photograph albums, therefore it was not used for this part of the process.

The 1927 transcription was lightly encoded in Extensible Markup Language (XML) in reference to the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) P5. The Fleischmann website and XML template were loosely based on the structure of The Diary of Mary Martin at Trinity College Dublin and The Diary of Robert Graves at the University of Victoria. XML uses a tagging structure similar to HyperText Markup Language (HTML), however it is distinct from other markup languages in its ability to assign meaning to data. In other words, while HTML is used to produce the appearance of a webpage, XML is parsed for the purpose of analysis and interpretation by both humans and computers. The current encoded transcription is intended to provide a foundation on which to build a plan for an extensively encoded dataset. This will transform the site from a public facility into an enhanced, scholarly resource. For a preview of these developments and to access the 1926 and 1927 indexes, please see the transcription files.