Preservation and Access: Digitization Services at the National Archives

Uploaded by usnationalarchives on 08.11.2012

The National Archives digitization lab employs about 45 people. Digitization means taking
analog material and making it digitally available to people online. Our goal now is to unlock
the treasures, and unlock the records that are in the National Archives and make them
accessible to people. We’re digitizing the collected record volumes for the Confederate
States of America. This particular scanner is a Zeutschel camera from Germany. Once the
book is scanned and then quality controlled by our technicians then those images will
be uploaded online to the archival catalog. This machine is for filming different documents,
like letter documents. You know, smaller stuff. Right now I’m filming JFK, John F. Kennedy,
the assassination. In the cases of Civil War records or genealogy records there’s a lot
of use of those records. So in order to preserve that original paper version much longer we
digitize this material and basically allow the paper material to be taken out of circulation.
What you’re seeing here is Eva Braun’s home movies. And Eva Braun was Adolf Hitler’s
mistress. These were filmed in the late 30s, early 1940s and they were captured by the
GIs after World War II. We needed a way to preserve that federal record. So what the
Archive purchased a few years ago is called a Spirit 2K 4K scanner. And basically you
are scanning each single frame of the film. So what you’re seeing there is a split screen.
So on one side is an image that was captured off the scanner and then the other side is
the color correction, scratch, dust, dirt removal. With the motion picture production
process the audio starts out on a separate piece of film. If I play the machine we’re
going to see the audio showing up on the three different channels. The middle one is music
and one of them will be effects and one of them will be the narration. Since the cease-fire
in 1953, the North Koreans… The process that we’re doing here is we get analog sound
off of the magnetic track, we’re capturing it as digital. But then we’re converting
it back out to analog onto polyester film stock. And that’s a very stable format,
that if we put it into cold storage like the kind that NARA has we could expect to come
back in a couple hundred years from now and just be able to listen to it right off of
that. We’re working on U-Matic tapes which are three-quarter inches wide. It was a popular
format in broadcast all through the 70s and 80s. A lot of these tapes are 25 to 30 years
old, so they may be starting to degrade. Oxide comes off of the base of the tape and so if
you bake it that sort of pulls everything back together. You might bake a tape at like
120 degrees like two to three days or maybe even for as long as five days. The tapes get
cleaned and bar-coded and then they go into the Samma, which is a robot that migrates
all of the videotapes to digital files. There are roughly 13,000 U-Matic tapes in the Public
Research Room upstairs so we are digitizating those in order to put them online and make
them available via the internet. A lot of times, especially with media recordings like
movies or audio recordings you have to preserve the hardware that actually can play the format.
So we’ve essentially created a museum of vintage hardware to run these audio-video
media when we get them and we need to digitize them. These are posters, World War II original
posters. We have a Cruze system. It’s a camera that’s been converted to digitally
scan documents. And after you take the measurements and put ‘em into the system you have to
run a test scan and make sure that your document is centered within the parameters of the measurements
that you’ve taken. The table itself moves, the camera doesn’t. The table’s equipped
with a vacuum that keeps the documents pretty flat. This is a Stokes Imaging Camera. It
was custom-built to our specifications. It’s a state-of-the-art 133 megapixel camera system
capable of making a file over a gigabyte in size. We’re looking at a glass plate negative
that was created in 1914. It’s depicting some of the construction efforts at the Brooklyn
Navy Yard. One of the images kind of caught my eye because of the caption. It says FDR,
Roosevelt, inspecting battleship number 39. That’s the USS Arizona, which was bombed
in Pearl Harbor. So we’re like, whoa, back up, let’s go take a look at this image in
more detail. I’ve been able to take all the experiences I had working in the analog
darkroom and apply them into the digital realm. You still have the same experience of wonder
and discovery. For the longest time people had to come into buildings at the National
Archives, they actually had to travel distances to come and look at the paper records. Our
goal now is to take that material and bring it to the desktop or to the laptop or to phones
where people are doing their research.