Sunday, March 08, 2009

SCETI—the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text & Images

Penn Gazette | Open Treasure

Down two flights in the Van Pelt building, the small staff of SCETI—the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text & Image—is tooling away at just such wizardry. In a glass-enclosed office, an intern sits in a darkened corner before one of three scanning stations, patiently wading through Box 14 of the 41 cartons constituting the Keffer Collection of Sheet Music, some 2,500 scores—about half of them published in Philadelphia—of 19th-century American popular music. Using a high-end Hasselblad lens and a Phase One P45 39-megapixel digital camera mounted on a copy stand, he photographs each piece. About five seconds later, the RAW image appears on his Mac, opening in an editing program called Capture One Pro. Typically, this digital image will record at 600 dpi, at 100 percent of its size and with as little tech fiddling as possible.

“We may adjust white balance, but that’s about it,” says Chris Lippa, scanning supervisor for SCETI. “We try not to have a need to correct—we’re trying to keep as true to the page as we can get.” Digitizing—the proper term in this case, since scanned implies the use of a flatbed scanner, a machine that records images of a lower quality—serves two purposes, Lippa points out. “There’s the archival aspect, of course, where the material is forever preserved as is, and protected from further wear and tear,” he says. “And there’s the notion of increasing the materials’ accessibility by placing it online or, in some cases, on a CD. Archiving is necessary and practical, but for me, what’s really cool is looking through this stuff and knowing that it’s soon going to be out there for an unknown and, potentially huge, population.”

Lately, the pace of digitizing has been stepped up—with SCETI now working at a rate of 3,000 captures a month, says Lippa. Recent projects range all over the geographic and chronologic maps, from an Abraham Lincoln letter to an 11th-century Koran to “Fragments From France,” a portfolio of comics written and drawn by British World War I captain Bruce Bairnsfather.

Once Lippa and his team digitize a manuscript, SCETI web developer Dennis Mullen usually steps in, charged with moving the material onto the web. “This whole project got under way when [library overseer] Larry Schoenberg [C’53 WG’56] began exploring ways to share his private collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts,” Mullen recalls, “but it’s just taken off since then.”

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