Guest Column with Joe Arthur

September 13 / 120

Joe Arthur, Coordinator Digitisation Imaging Services at the University Library.
Joe Arthur, Coordinator Digitisation Imaging Services at the University Library.

I wonder how many people still believe that a library is for books and books alone. The modern academic library is so much more. Some may not know that a lot of information management and digitisation of collection items happens daily within the University Library. In my area, the University Digitisation Centre (UDC), we focus on digitisation for preservation and access. Rare and precious assets like manuscripts are captured on state-of-the-art equipment with the images used to both preserve the item and to allow far wider access than before through platforms such as the Institutional Repository.

Recently, UDC digitised the Middle Eastern Manuscripts collection (from Special Collections). This project was timed to coincide with the State Library’s ‘Love and Devotion’ exhibition. The collection presented particular challenges for the UDC, having to find ways to handle sometimes very large, very small or very fragile bindings. Of particular satisfaction was our innovation in using digital photography and slightly reflective lighting to capture the gold highlights in some extremely sumptuous illustrations.

Our map-related digitisation efforts have ignited interest among academics who have seen the possibilities of appending high resolution scans of maps to Google Earth satellite imagery. Maps can be layered and their transparency altered to show old street layouts and track the changes over time interactively, with the current satellite image lurking below to show the present state.

UDC is presently collaborating with ITS Research Services to showcase 3D fabrication to researchers and others. As part of the Library, UDC’s particular interest is in 3D scanning of collection items for display and condition reporting. Only a few weeks ago we had several death masks (including Ned Kelly’s) and the head of an Egyptian mummy from the Medical History Museum to be captured in 3D before they went off to the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation (CCMC) for some much needed conservation work. At the 3D printing end of the spectrum, we are producing models on request for researchers using several 3D printing technologies. My personal favourite printing job was when one of the UDC team designed a new light box adapted to hold slides and film strips and we printed it out in the office - pretty cool!

So who can access UDC services? Anyone can nominate an item from the collections – just approach the collection manager and ask. Your department may have analogue research data, administrative records or other collections that you want digitised.

Contact us: http://digitisation.unimelb.edu.au/

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