Saturday, December 11, 2010

Archive Raiders: Photographing Library and Archive Materials

Not long ago I was asked by someone if the VRC has a scanner that could be borrowed for a research trip, in order to scan materials in an archive. I do not have much experience photographing works housed in special collections or archives, but I do know that hauling a scanner around is likely not the best solution. Anyone who has tried to photograph archival materials knows that consistently sharp focus with a hand held camera is next to impossible. So what's a scholar to do when he or she needs to document materials but the facilities might charge too much for their photography services and provide no self-serve copy stands?

Konrad M. Lawson has authored a guest post over at ProfHacker in which he outlines his solution to this problem. With just a few relatively inexpensive components he bought on Amazon, he has come up with a clever set-up that is very portable and effective. It is important to note, as some of the comments on his post have, that archives and libraries often have explicit rules about what kinds of equipment may or may not be used. These policies are normally in place to protect the materials, and it's vital to respect their well-being for future users. Lawson describes the practice employed by some of using plexiglass to hold the pages of books flat. He does not mention it, but this is damaging to rare materials and should be avoided. Lawson has found a better solution. He operates a wired camera remote with his foot, leaving his hands free to hold the pages flat.

Image: Jeff Tabaco, Notes, 2006. Available from Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

1 comment:

Muninn said...

Many thanks for the mention. I should have included something in the article appreciating the protection efforts of the libraries and archives.

That plexiglas case was of someone using a copy stand to copy books in their own home, and I have never seen it used in a library or archive - it certainly sounds like it could damage books, equivalent to the pressing of books down on a photocopy machine.

I do hope more archives and libraries will permit cameras (without flash, of course). I cringe when I see those which ban cameras but permit (moderately) old books and documents to be photocopied.