1. Background and purpose of the project


The Manuscript Digitization Demonstration Project was sponsored by the Library of Congress Preservation Office in cooperation with the National Digital Library Program (NDLP). This report includes copies of sample images created during the project's Phase I, which extended through 1995.1 During 1996, Phase II of the project created a testbed of 10,000 images of manuscript items from the Federal Theatre Project collection in the Library's Music Division. These images are now online as a part of that collection; selected examples have been referenced and made accessible in later sections of this report.

Background. The Library of Congress is developing its capabilities for providing computerized access to its collections. In part, this means wrestling with practicalities of production and identifying and testing a broad range of tools and techniques. In part, it also means investigating the ramifications of digitization as it pertains to preservation, understood to include both the conservation of the original item and the conversion of originals through preservation reformatting.

Preservation reformatting refers to the copying of items as a safeguard against loss or damage, i.e., insurance that the world's heritage will be kept alive for future generations. Today, most preservation reformatting consists of microfilming, although other types of copies are also made. Two features are of special concern to those responsible for carrying out preservation reformatting: the faithfulness of the copy and its longevity. This demonstration project was concerned with the former, i.e., image quality. Other parallel projects are investigating longevity issues.2

The Library commissioned the Manuscript Digitization Demonstration Project because it believes that certain classes of manuscript documents lend themselves to the creation of digital copies that are faithful to the originals in a reasonably efficient manner. The Library was cognizant of the work being carried out by the Cornell University Library regarding printed matter3, and saw that manuscripts would make for a useful demonstration project at the Library of Congress.

A key issue for the Library is finding the most judicious balance between conserving precious original documents--protecting them from damage--and achieving a reasonably rapid rate of conversion. The outcomes of this project are expected to assist the Library in designing models for further conversion applications for the Library's collections.

Manuscript collections. The manuscript holdings of the Library of Congress include extensive papers of individuals and organizations, many from nineteenth and twentieth century America. Since the Library's digitization efforts are initially focused on its American holdings, this demonstration project emphasizes the physical types of documents found in these papers collections. The specific test documents were selected from the Federal Theatre Project collection held by the Music Division. The Federal Theatre Project (FTP) was a New Deal effort that employed out-of-work playwrights, actors, directors and stagehands to produce and perform plays in many American cities during the latter years of the Great Depression.

For the purposes of this project, a manuscript page was defined as a separate handwritten or typed sheet of paper, generally at A size or legal size, i.e., from 8.5x11 inches to 8.5x14 inches. The test documents include scripts, administrative files, and surveys of theater genres commissioned by the FTP.

During Phase I, a set of documents was used to produce a variety of sample images for study. Examples of these images illustrate this report and are accessible from Appendix A. A portion of the sample set represented paper in good condition with reasonably clear, dark writing on a reasonably light background. The other portion of the preservation research sample included documents that represent typical scanning problems:

The Document Digitization Evaluation Committee. The Manuscript Digitization Demonstration Project was carried out by Picture Elements, Inc., working in close relationship with a special Document Digitization Evaluation Committee. This committee was made up of Library of Congress staff members (listed here alphabetically) representing various units with an interest in digitization.

The committee met on a regular basis during Phase I. At these meetings, Picture Elements representatives reported their survey findings, presented sample images, conducted tours of sites at which special scanners could be examined, and led the discussions that ultimately resulted in the findings and proposals provided in this document.

The activities of Phase II are reported in Sections 12 and 13. The project's findings are summarized in Section 14.

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