Preservation and Access: Digitization Services at the National Archives


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.

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