Emile Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry: Building the Digital Collection

Manuscript Collection | Gramophone Scrapbook | Photographs | Sound Recordings | Berliner Motion Picture

The source items digitized for Emile Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry were culled from the Emile Berliner Collection, which can be accessed in the Recorded Sound Reference Center of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) of the Library of Congress. The online collection has manuscript, photograph, disc recording and motion picture components. The digitization of each is outlined in separate sections below.

Manuscript Collection (Top)

The Berliner manuscript collection contains many types of material including paper material, pamphlets, magazines, and newsprint. The condition of the items varies from good to extremely fragile. Since only a few items posed major handling concerns there was no reason not to scan the original materials.

Before digitization could take place the collection had to be processed. It was organized into series with each item given an exclusive number and entered into a database (for details on the various series, the numbering process, and cataloging, see Cataloging the Collection). Most items within the series were placed in acid-free folders for protection and boxed according to series. Some of the catalogs were not boxed, but were returned to the Recorded Sound Reference Center where they remain accessible to the public. For boxed items all fasteners were removed and notes made about the conservation work needed for particular items. Once the items were organized and boxed, those needing preservation work were sent to the Conservation Division for treatment.

The paper items selected to be part of the online collection were then pulled from the series boxes and given to the paper-scanning contractor to be digitized. All paper scans were performed onsite by Systems Integration Group of Lanham, Maryland. Images were scanned at 300 dpi, 8-bit grayscale (unless color scanning was specified). The contractor delivered both JPEG files (quality factor of 20) and larger TIFF files. Color images were scanned at 300 dpi, 24-bit color.

Gramophone Scrapbook (Top)

Of all the items in the Berliner manuscript collection the most problematic was a Gramophone scrapbook that was compiled by Berliner himself, which was both the most fragile item in the collection and the most relevant if not the most interesting. The decision was made early that despite the problems that were sure to arise with this item, it could not be left out of the online presentation without lessening the impact of the collection.

The scrapbook is a late-nineteenth-century commercially-produced scrapbook album measuring 31 cm x 25.5 cm x 7.3 cm. It is bound in half leather with combed marble paper sides. A paper label is adhered to the front cover with a manuscript inscription "Telephone, Phonograph, Graphophone, Gramophone, Historical Accounts." While some of the scrapbook's pages were left bare, the majority of pages had several documents, ranging from news clippings to notes and papers to pamphlets and other documents, adhered to the leaves. These documents were folded and overlapping so that many times bottom items were completely obscured and could not be viewed without manipulating the upper items. Although the items attached to the album were in good condition, the leaves of the scrapbook were so brittle that they could crumble to the touch. There were already many edge tears and losses. Many of the bare pages had notes or diagrams written upon them. Some pages were detached from the spine.

Before scanning could take place the scrapbook was taken to the Conservation Division so that some preliminary work could be done. At this stage the scrapbook pages and enclosures were collated (indexed) to record their original order and placement. This insured that if any pages were misplaced or shuffled during the first scanning pass, they could be reorganized correctly.

The scrapbook was then delivered to the scanning contractor, Systems Integration Group (SIG), for the first scanning pass. This consisted of photographing the individual album pages. None of the attached documents were folded out or lifted to reveal items underneath. Groups of unattached enclosures were photographed separately from the pages between which they were placed. This was accomplished using the Phase II overhead scanner, which minimized the need to manipulate the pages of the scrapbook.

The scrapbook was then returned to the Conservation Division for a more intensive phase of preservation work. At this point the pages were removed from the binding. All foldouts were unfolded and flattened. Those items that had become unattached were reattached. The album pages were placed in oversized buffered paper folders so that the foldouts could remain open. These folders facilitated handling during the second scanning pass. The folders were placed in a flat box for storage. The binding was boxed and stored with the album pages.

The boxed album was returned to the American Memory program and passed along to SIG for the second scanning pass. Here the individual item pages were scanned using a flatbed scanner. The images returned had the same specifications as the other paper material (see above).

In order to preserve the experience of the scrapbook, a special online navigation architecture was designed. The opening page has a thumbnail of the cover of the scrapbook along with its bibliographic information. The following page refers to the back of the scrapbook's front cover. On this page appears a thumbnail of the back of the front cover as digitized during the first scanning pass. It shows the page as it would appear to someone looking at the actual scrapbook. The thumbnail shows the page with the items that were attached to it by Berliner himself as he originally attached them. To one side of the thumbnail is a list of links to the attached items. A click on one of those links takes the user to a page for that particular item where a series of thumbnails, the images of the individual items taken during the second scanning pass, appear. The user navigates the pages in order; after the back of the front cover comes the first page of the actual scrapbook, then page two, three, etc. As mentioned above, the unattached items placed in between pages by Berliner were scanned as a group, separately from the pages with attached items. In the page-turner, the html pages featuring these items are located in between the pages where they had been placed in the scrapbook.

Photographs (Top)

The Berliner Collection contains photographs and negatives of various sizes. Many of the photographs are studio portraits, some of which are housed in presentation folders and frames. As with the paper material, the photographs had to be sorted and entered into the database. As they were being entered they were placed in protective Mylar sleeves, numbered, put into folders and boxed.

JJT Incorporated of Austin, Texas, scanned the photographs and negatives directly with an overhead-capture MARC II digital camera and processed the images with custom software. Scans were done in either grayscale or color, depending on the original image. Although all original images were monochrome, many had color tones other than black and gray. Color scans were taken of these images to preserve these varying tonal qualities. Three service images were produced from an uncompressed TIFF master file: high and low resolution JPEGs and a GIF thumbnail.

Specifications for the Photographic Materials

Thumbnail Image
Tonal depth: 8 bits-per-pixel
Format: Graphic Interchange Format (GIF)
Compression: native to GIF format
Spatial resolution: approximately 150 pixels on the long side of the image

Basic Compressed Service Image
Tonal depth: grayscale: 8 bits-per-pixel; color: 24 bits-per-pixel
Format: JPEG File Interchange Format (JFIF)
Compression: JPEG at a quality setting yielding an average compression of 15:1
Spatial resolution: approximately 640 pixels on the long side of the image

Larger Compressed Service Image
Tonal depth: grayscale: 8 bits-per-pixel; color: 24 bits-per-pixel
Format: JPEG File Interchange Format (JFIF)
Compression: JPEG at a quality setting yielding an average compression of 8:1
Spatial resolution: approximately 1000 pixels on the long side of the image

Uncompressed Archival Image (NOT AVAILABLE)
Tonal depth: grayscale: 8 bits-per-pixel; color: 24 bits-per-pixel
Format: Tagged Image File Format (TIFF)
Compression: None
Spatial resolution: approximately 5000 pixels on the long side of the image

Sound Recordings (Top)

The sound recordings included in Emile Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry were taken from disc recordings in the Recorded Sound Section of MBRS, which contains hundreds of discs produced by the Berliner Gramophone Company between 1894 and1900. The age and poor condition of these disc recordings made their preservation a priority. Therefore they were put through a more comprehensive transfer process than earlier American Memory recorded sound collections.

The goal was to make the best possible preservation master file from which all other service copies could be derived. The Berliner discs were transferred in the MBRS Recording Lab at their approximate speed. Unlike modern-day disc recordings, which are recorded at standard speeds such as 78, 45 and 33 1/3 RPM, the Berliner discs were recorded at variable speeds that usually fell within the 65-70 RPM range. The primary digital signal was then captured at 96 kHz, 24-bit stereo without introduction of equalization or noise reduction.

Due to the high level of surface noise and scratching on the original discs some noise reduction techniques were applied during the subsequent transfer from the master copies to compact discs.

WAVE, MP3, and RealAudio versions have been supplied for each recording. A set of MP3 files was created from the WAVE files.

Berliner Motion Picture (Top)

The Library's Motion Picture section has a black-and-white, silent, 16mm film of the Berliner family in their home. The 16mm print was transferred to Betacam SP videotape to produce the master for digitization. The actual original footage was circa 12 feet. Due to the non-standard frame size of the original nitrate material, footage was "passed through" the printer four times in order to print all segments of the picture.

This film, like many other motion pictures of the time, was probably shot with a variable speed camera. Therefore, in the video mastering process, the playback speed was adjusted to present the appearance of natural motion to the greatest degree possible.

Both MPEG and QuickTime versions were created during the digitization process. A Real Video streaming file was then derived from the QuickTime version at a frame rate of 4 frames/sec, suitable for viewing with a typical 28.8 Internet connection.

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