Scanning: Taking it to the Next Level

We recently purchased a new Atiz BookDrive Pro scanner to augment our digitization activities here in Watson Library. This complements the Zeutschel overhead book scanner that we acquired in 2010, and two Epson flatbed scanners that we’ve had for about two years.

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As you can see, the Atiz is pretty large! It’s actually not quite as complicated as it looks, though. There is an adjustable metal arm on either side, each holding a Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera. These excellent cameras allow us to get far more detailed images from books than we can with the Zeutschel.

Down below, there is a V-shaped book cradle and corresponding V-shaped glass plate to secure the books. This V-shaped cradle was one of the things that appealed to us about the Atiz – it’s much safer than a flatbed for scanning brittle books or books with fragile bindings.

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Two LED lamps shine light evenly across the surface of the scan bed. The black curtain around the whole contraption (the thing that makes it look so large and intimidating) keeps ambient light away from the scanning surface, so we don’t have to scan in a dark room like we do with our Zeutschel scanner. This is important for us because the room containing the Atiz is used by several people throughout the week for a variety of tasks such as archives processing, rare book storage, and meetings. So someone can be scanning while any of those other activities takes place.

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As straightforward as the physical machine is, we’ve come to learn that nothing is ever simple when it comes to implementing a new piece of equipment! The Atiz comes with its own software suite for capturing the images from the Canon cameras and post-processing the files into formats we can use. While it always takes time to learn new software and develop efficient workflows, in this case the computer itself and the Atiz software refused to be friends for several weeks! During testing, the simple act of selecting a file to process within the Atiz software would generate incoherent error messages such as this:

BookDrive Editor error

After countless emails, WebEx sessions, software upgrades, and phone calls (including a conference call between us here in New York, our very patient Atiz rep in California, and the software developers in Thailand!), we identified the primary source of the problem.  It’s too boring and technical to write about in detail here, but essentially the default permissions on the computer are too restrictive for the software to function properly, so we’ve had to have our IS&T people change the default permissions on just that computer.

Now that we’ve finally worked all the kinks out, the process of scanning (well, photographing) books is fairly straightforward: turn on the cameras, turn on the LED lamps, place the book on the scan bed under the glass plate, open the image capturing software, take pictures, lift the glass plate, turn the page, and so on until you’re done! The only thing you have to pay close attention to during shooting is that you don’t skip any pages, and that the book remains stable.

Once a book has been photographed in its entirety, we pull the files into another software program to do actions such as cropping and deskewing (which is the act of straightening a crooked scan). We also generate our archival master TIFFs, which are the unprocessed master files that are for long-term storage, and our “production master JPEGs,” which are the files we use to upload to the web. These post-processing steps occur with every item we digitize, no matter which scanner we use or what format the original object is.

Post processing

It took about three months to get everything in place with the Atiz – not only did we have to install it and work all the kinks out with the software, but we also had to have the cameras and monitor calibrated for color and resolution, which is a pretty involved process. But, we’re finally at the point where we’re training Watson Library staff on the machine.

Soon we’ll be scanning books at a fairly good clip. We’ve already got variety of projects in the queue for this scanner, so stay tuned for future posts on those digital treasures!