Digitizing photo albums and historic books (submitted via email)

How do I make a digital copy or physical facsimile of a historic book or photo album?

Responses

First, you should determine how you will use your new electronic resource and whether you plan to share it. Do you actually own the rights to the work in question? Do you plan to share them on a web page, or on an image hosting site? The U.S. Copyright Office explains it more at Copyright.gov (see especially for families and teachers) and the American Library Association keeps us up to date on the rights of orphaned works. For printed facsimiles, the Fair Use convention might cover your making what is called a preservation photocopy (or a print from a digital scan) limited to one copy for personal use.

Next, for a facsimile, you will want to consider whether you wish to replicate the book or photo album exactly in the original binding style, or only create an accessible facsimile with permanent inks, paper and binding structure, as well as determine how many copies you will need to make. An exact facsimile, for example, may require one or more specialists in a coordinated team including conservators, graphic artists, printers and bookbinders to ensure a best outcome.

You will also want to familiarize yourself with the standards for digitized image content so that images and text are reproduced at a sufficient resolution for your copy in both physical and digital form. The images should be saved with image management protocols, which includes naming the files, adding metadata (information about the images, such as who took the original and when), and saving them as uncompressed images. Many scanning and photo editing software tools allow you to do this during the scanning process or in batches afterward. To design a facsimile, one might import or export derivatives of the master images into a book design packaging software to design a master for printing on permanent paper that could be created into a matching album, hand a drive of files to a printer, or one could upload the images to a book producer online. For a more detailed response about imaging and storage standards, see our colleagues’ answer to this question on our blog (scroll down to second question and answer).

Once you have selected the appropriate parameters, you are ready to digitize your book or album! Depending on the physical condition and structure of the original, the album or historic book might be opened and scanned carefully on a flatbed scanner or with the facing page hanging off the side and carefully supported. Some high-end copying shops have book-friendly digital copiers that support the book open at an angle. If, however, the album or book is fragile or has limited opening capability, it may require overhead scanning or photography, especially to avoid displacing or damaging photos which may be poorly adhered. You can see in my colleagues’ posts about digitizing manuscripts that there are a lot of factors that go into digital reformatting from fragile originals. Please note that the pages should never be automatically fed through a copier or scanner, as damage could occur.

For further reading, other tips have been published by our colleagues at the National Archives and Records Administration, and also at the Library of Congress.

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