4 Tools Archivists Use to Digitize Our History-In the stacks of the Battye Library:


Information desk at the Battye Library Perth WA

The Battye Library is located inside the State Library of Western Australi at the Perth Cultural Centre

In celebration of National Library week (22-26 May 2017) the State Library of Western Australia ran ‘back lot’ tours of the Battye Library, taking the eager and the curious into the stacks where 100,000’s of items are restored, preserved and stored. 

It was more exciting than Universal Studios backlot, at least for the amateur historian and lover of all things old. This isn’t a pretty post but I write it for those who like to know.

I was especially interested in how archivists digitise items. This work is vital for the modern day researcher, it helps to preserve the original items and makes them available to the wider public. 

How else, may I ask, is a historical fiction writer in Western Australia going to access archives in England and Europe?

Or how can a researcher in Queensland look through the journals of explorers kept in Perth, WA?

Digital Images of Primary Sources

Here are four of the methods used at West Australia’s very own Battye Library


Okay if you want to get nit-picky all these methods are forms of photography hence why they are overseen by a photographer. George was the photographer on duty the day I toured. He was very generous with his time and expertise.

An overhead digital camera allowing for the best angle and lighting.

It captures all the information required to make a digital record for access by the public.

2-Flatbed Scanner

No this is not at all like your home scanner from office works, for one thing, it is much much bigger. It is an A3 flatbed scanner which can do everything from glass slides and daguerreotypes to large photos.

This particular specimen is a technological dinosaur but George tells us there is nothing newer that does the job as well. They even have to keep an old PC in good repair in order to operate the scanner.

Sorry for the wonky angle I was trying not to get any people in the shot.

He showed us an example of Australian Diggers posing on a pyramid in Egypt 1915. The original photo was slightly larger than an 8 1/2″ x 12″ and contains over a hundred soldiers.

The quality of the scanned image is so clear that it can be magnified on the computer for researchers to identify individual faces.

Pretty impressive.

3-An Up-right scanner

An upright scanner being used for soft negatives as opposed to glass slides which are rigid

I’ll be completely honest, I can’t remember exactly what this scanner is called. I have never seen one like it. It is for capturing things on soft film such as 35mm photos. Another words smaller negatives that can bend as the scanner rolls them through the mechanism.

4-The book scanner

This is my personal favourite!

The book scanner

This book scanner has a soft cradle to cushion the ageing book and a thick glass shield that comes down to press the pages flat and protect the book, then it scans from overhead. Lift the glass, turn the page, lower and scan again.

The image quality is beautiful, full-colour showing every water mark and yellowed edge. It is the next best thing to handling the item yourself.

I wish there was somewhere you could pay to use this machine, I’d love to preserve my great-Grandfather’s book in this fashion.

For less antique items, for instance,  hand typed transcripts on foolscap, they use a high-speed office scanner capable of doing I think it was 100 images an hour.

Hours and hours of work go into making these priceless treasures of the past accessible on-line for the general public.

Hop on over and check out what treasures await you at the State Library of Western Australia


4 thoughts on “4 Tools Archivists Use to Digitize Our History-In the stacks of the Battye Library:

  1. Tarissa says:

    That looks like an amazing tour. You got to learn so much. I’d like to see up close how some of those machines operate. It makes my book-lovin’ heart pitter-patter to think about the quality preservation of old books.

    By the way, my annual Louisa May Alcott reading challenge has just begun for June 2017 on my blog. Do stop by if you’re interested!


    Liked by 1 person

    • amberseah2015 says:

      What I would really like to do is interview one of the conservationists whose job it is to repair and restore damaged materials.

      I meant to mark your challenge on my calendar and forgot. Unfortunately all my Alcotts are packed, due to moving. I just might see what the library has.


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