Just what the Doctor Ordered

Earlier this month Stephen attended the Digitisation Doctor seminar, which was held at the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and organised by the Archives and Records Association. This event demonstrated the practices and procedures carried out at the NRS for the large-scale digitisation of their records. These may not be totally relevant for small archives with more limited resources, but many of the individual practices could be imitated. First of all Rob Mildren, Head of Public Services at NRS General Register House gave a brief lecture on the experience of digitisation at the NRS. Initially only a small number of records were digitised there, mainly as part of online exhibitions, however because readers wanted to have whole collections available online, NRS began an extensive digitisation programme from the early 2000s once broadband internet became available to cater for this demand. Digitisation speeds up the retrieval of records and reduces damage to the originals.

Ashley Beamer, Web Projects Manager at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, showed us examples from Britain from Above and Scotland’s Places; impressive image websites which she has been involved in. Robin Urquhart, Online Resources Archivist, highlighted differences between digital and original documents by showing us physical 18thCentury tax rolls volumes to compare with the online versions. For example, where text is close to the binding, the digital version may become illegible, and some consecutive pages contain spreads of information which must be read together. He also pointed out that accessibility of the online digital images must be considered with regards to meeting disability legislation requirements, so the images should be navigable using a keyboard as well as a scrolling mouse. Paul Riley, Digital Imaging Unit Manager then led a tour of the image processing and digital imaging rooms, which buzzed with activity. A feature of the digital scanners was that the glass lids were lifted using compressed air to prevent injuries and keep the hands of the operator free as they adjusted the records between scans. Most of the digitisation now done at NRS is related to project work, since the most popular documents requested by readers have already been digitised.
Scanning in action at the NRS
This event was extremely useful, because although LHSA has already made small sets of photos available online on Flickr and as page turners via our website, more substantial amounts of digitisation are likely to be done in the future. It was therefore good to learn what some of the technical requirements and resource implications are likely to be when this is attempted.