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Why Digitize?


There’s a certain pleasure in doing research in person with paper and pencil. You feel like you are on the trail of something - going from one source to another, following the clues. There’s also the tactile enjoyment of flipping through card catalogues or running your finger down the index page of a book. But the reality is that all that handling takes a toll on the cards, books, photos and artifacts. There’s also the risk of disaster striking in the form of a leaky roof, fire or sadly, theft.

So, it's time to protect the years of work that have gone into the card indexes housed in the wooden card catalogue. We don’t want to loose any information on the original documents, so rather than simply transcribing the contents, we decided to scan each and every card so they can be viewed by researchers near and far as they were originally created. 

Based on input from various users of the indexes, volume of use, and the legibility of the cards we prioritized four indexes for immediate scanning.

  1. London Free Press Index, 1860-1880
  2. Analytics to Books Index
  3. Buildings, Sites & Landmarks Index
  4. Where to Look Index

We tried to estimate how many cards were in each index by measuring the contents of an average drawer then counting how many cards were in an inch. (This proved to be wildly inaccurate!) We had a few options for scanning. We could send out the cards to be scanned, but that involved a cost and meant the indexes would have to go off site. The project team's IT representative, Dave, was pretty confident we could do the job in-house. Dave, set up a trial using a Fujitsu Scansnap ix500 scanner and was able to scan 889 cards in 20 minutes. This worked out to one drawer. Not bad, and the results were very good images. The London Free Press Index was scanned in one day. There were over 30,500 cards, over 12,000 more than we had estimated!

Next step... the mysteries of OCR (Optical Character Recognition)