Serious Scanning at Boston Public Library

OK, I admit it, I’m a fool for tools. My hammer is a treasured friend. Every time I heft my cordless drill I almost get chills. And don’t even get me started on computers. What’s that saying? “The only difference between a man and a boy is the cost of his toys”. I’m living proof.

So when when my colleague Merrilee Proffitt announced at the 2009 RLG Partnership Annual Symposium, held at Boston Public Library, that Tom Blake had kindly offered to give a tour of the BPL digitization lab and imaging studio, I almost dropped my iPhone. Hardware, I thought, they had to have serious hardware. And I was not disappointed.

Neither were the two dozen other attendees who eagerly followed Tom up to the second floor and into the smallish and unassuming room that held all the cool stuff. The pièce de résistance turned out to be a device that resembled a small gallows. Standing taller than a human, a digital camera capable of capturing 22 megapixels into a single half-gigabyte file could be raised or lowered over a 40″ x 60″ vacuum table. The vacuum table holds whatever is placed on it (such as a large map) flat against the surface for error-free digitization. The device is attached to a Mac with 5GB RAM for managing the camera and initial processing.

In addition to this scanning monster, there were a number of other scanning stations in the room, with different kinds of devices such as flatbed scanners. This room was interesting enough on its own, but just across the hall even more scanning wonders awaited.

In the other room we found “10 high-speed book scanners, run by the Open Content Alliance, paid for and used by the Boston Library Consortium,” as reported in a Library Journal piece. These Scribe stations were kept going from 8am to midnight by two shifts. We described a similar setup a while ago in this blog post. They are collaborating with the Open Library Project to provide a “scan on demand” service, for which they get over one hundred requests a month. Of course items scanned here end up eventually at the Internet Archive, but Tom reports that they are also putting items up on Flickr. BPL is not yet a part of the Flickr Commons, but it’s likely they will be soon.

Overall, it was quite an impressive tour. I’m kind of sad to say that my cordless drill did not come out well in the comparison. But that’s the thing about hardware envy. There’s always the next big tool you wish you had.

3 Comments on “Serious Scanning at Boston Public Library”

  1. The camera systems that we are using are Sinar 54H (Firewire) backs mounted onto Sinar M-cams with Schneider optics. The copy stand is a customized Velmex positioning system fitted with Manfrotto extensions. Lights are Broncolor Topaz strobes. Feel free to contact me directly for more detail.


  2. Hi Roy
    thanks for this post – very impressive tour indeed! Would you happen to know what was the model of the digital camera capable of capturing 22 megapixels?
    Barbara (at the National Library of Australia)

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