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Demystifying Mudd: Imaging Services

There are two ways patrons can order digital copies of materials held in Mudd Library: They can identify the scans they need when they are visiting us in person, or they can email us to request a copy. From an outside perspective, it seems we offer two kinds of scans: A high resolution scan that would be suitable for print or publication, which we deliver as a 600dpi TIFF file, or a low resolution scan appropriate as a reading or reference copy, which we deliver as a PDF. Rates for these services are available on our website.

Behind the scenes, however, we have many different ways that we can fill an order, depending on the size and format of the material. The specialized equipment we use is designed both to give us a high quality image and to ensure long term preservation of our collections. The need for technology designed with archival priorities in mind is one reason we do not allow patrons to bring their own scanning equipment into the reading room.

Most of our scans are done with overhead scanning methods, rather than flatbed scanners like those at the BookScan stations you might see elsewhere within the Princeton University Library. A Zeutschel scanner is our favored method for scanning bound materials like books and scrapbooks and oversized materials, though it can also handle standard-size sheets of paper. The Zeutschel has a glass plate that holds the pages down, but it does not rest the weight of the glass on the item; instead, sensors stop the machine from exerting any pressure on what is underneath the glass. This way, we can keep our fingers out of the images while avoiding damage to the item being scanned. Its specialized scanning software will also digitally flatten any curved pages, like you might see in the inner part of a bound book.

Sometimes we need to scan negatives or slides. For this, we have a special flatbed scanner with trays to fit the needed items and software that can transform these into clear images. It’s always startling to see how a tiny bit of plastic can become a full-sized picture on screen.

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In special collections, we are constantly dealing with changing technology, which is one reason we sometimes have to use new equipment with storage methods that are not as popular as they once were. Another scanner handles microfilm and microfiche materials. We can create more-accessible PDF files with this machine.

On rare occasions, we get an order for a scan of an item that is too large to be handled on site at Mudd Library. In this case, we coordinate with colleagues in our Digital Studios in Firestone Library, where they use high resolution digital cameras to capture images.

Though many patrons choose to take their own photographs of materials for reference when they’re in our reading rooms because it’s a quicker and more inexpensive method, we still receive orders regularly, both in person and remotely. Patrons pay for their orders electronically after we send an emailed invoice through our Aeon system. Aeon assigns each item ordered with a Transaction Number (TN). When they pay, Aeon moves those TNs to a separate queue monitored by Christa Cleeton, who coordinates and oversees Mudd’s imaging services. Christa then assigns the order to a specially-trained student or another member of our staff who will scan the item.

After items are scanned, Christa does a quality control check to ensure pages are legible and might clean up any remaining issues (i.e., if the images are upside down). When a file is ready, she uploads it to Mudd’s Google Drive account and sends a link to the patron to download it. She also saves a copy internally for preservation and future patron use.

We typically ask for 3-4 weeks to complete scans, partly because the process is delicate and time consuming, but also because it is such a popular service. These are also the reasons individual patrons are limited to requesting 500 pages per six month period and 1,000 pages per calendar year. In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, Mudd provided  approximately 300 high resolution images and over 41,000 pages of low resolution scans for nearly 400 individual patrons.

This Week in Princeton History will return on September 3. Notable events of the week of August 6-12 we’ve shared with you in the past have included the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor ’76 to the U.S. Supreme Court, a student’s arrival in Mississippi for Freedom Summer, and James Johnson’s escape from slavery.

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