Over two weeks in January the Library’s trainee conservators, Rhydian Davies and myself, traveled to Wakefield. While there, we attended a paper conservation module at the West Yorkshire History Centre. We are half way through the training, and here’s a taste of what we learned in the first half of the module.
Repairing wet documents
Wetting paper is a very useful way to relax it and wash dirt inherent in the fibers in preparation for repairing the document. Before washing the document, the surface should be cleaned. If this isn’t done, there is a danger of removing dirt inside the paper fibers. A soft brush is used to clean the dust, and a ventilated latex sponge (smoke sponge, aerated latex sponge) to remove more stubborn dirt. Sometimes a Staedtler eraser is used too.
After cleaning the surface, the document is ready to wet. The biggest risk with wetting any document is that the ink runs when it comes into contact with the water. To avoid disaster, we test the ink with a drop of water and alcohol. Shown above is a photograph of Rhydian doing just that.
Most manuscripts use “iron gall” ink that is not soluble in water or alcohol. The document has a seal present, which is soluble in alcohol but not in water, so we wetted the document in water only.
After washing it in water, we transferred the document to a glass table to start repairing. Due to the fragility of the document it was decided to place Japanese silk paper (2gsm) over the entire back; the tissue paper is so light and thin that it does not hide any words on the document.
The photograph above shows myself holding the Japanese tissue paper. The material is easily seen through, and once placed on the document, will be almost invisible!
This is the document after receiving the Japanese silk paper over the back. As as you can see from the photograph, it is much more stable. But the tissue paper alone is not strong enough to protect the document from mechanical damage. The document could be easily damaged further.
The next step was to learn to use the leaf casting method. It uses the concept of how paper is created in the first place, using a paper pulp to fill in the missing areas. The document is flooded, and once plugged, gravity pulls the pulp down to the places that need filling.
We don’t have a photograph of the final result, as the first half of the module finished after this step. We start the second half of the module on 7 February, so there will be much more to say after then! But for now, I hope you found this article informative.
Every year, the Digital Preservation Coalition holds a World Digital Preservation Day with the aim of drawing attention to the complex strategic, cultural and technological issues involved in ensuring sustained access to digital content. This year has brought into particular focus the global reliance on digital information, infrastructure and connectivity and the theme this year: Digits: for Good, reflects the positive impact of preserving and providing access to trustworthy digital content. This theme aligns perfectly with the Library’s innovative approaches in traditional conservation, digitisation and digital preservation which integrate to ensure that the Boston Manuscript of the Laws of Hywel Dda are accessible now and in the future.
The Boston Manuscript was purchased in 2012 by the Library with assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries and the Welsh Government. The manuscript, written in Welsh, dates from around 1350 and records the native Welsh laws, which were thought to have been codified by Hywel Dda. It is a key text in the history of Welsh law and provides insights into Welsh identity and cultural life. It was used as a working text, being annotated by a Judge in South Wales, who carried it around in his pocket. By the 19th century, the manuscript had reached America and was in the custody of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, having probably been taken there by an emigrant.
A conservation assessment revealed that the manuscript was very fragile, with many tears and splits, meaning that it could not be handled without the risk of further damage. The decision was taken to dis-bind the volume and digitise the content, which would enable the re-binding of the original, the creation of facsimile copies and digital access.
End to end workflow
A complex workflow has been developed to manage the digitisation process from selection to access and storage. A Benchmarking exercise ensured that the manuscript was digitised according to the standards and methodologies established for digitising manuscript materials. The protocols for scanning were specified, including the essential information to capture, such as file name attribution, conversion process and the file formats specification for master and derivative files.
Digitising the manuscript
The scanning process was facilitated through the dis-binding, enabling each folio to be captured in entirety, without the need to de-warp. This assisted with the process of digitally extending the outside edges of the parchment. Each flattened folio could be scanned through the use of a line scanning system, rather than the usual method of using a single-shot camera and cradle. Through the use of this method, the images could be captured at a higher resolution than usual practice allowed and there was greater consistency in lighting and enhanced colour accuracy.
The scanning process generated TIFF master files, with the JP2 derivatives being generated on ingest to Fedora, the Digital Asset Management System. The METS files, which included descriptive and structural metadata were also generated on ingest. The master TIFF files were stored in the Digital Archive. Preservation actions, including checksum verification, fixity monitoring and preservation planning ensure the preservation of the digital content.
Creating the facsimiles
Another benefit of the disbanding and scanning process was the ability for the Library to demonstrate its pioneering techniques in creating facsimiles, which are almost indistinguishable from the originals. Printed copies of the scanned leaves, on high quality archival paper, were joined together and pasted back to back to form folios and gatherings. This back to back format ensured that the facsimile would be the same thickness as the original manuscript. The innovative technique of emulating parchment through manually stretching the paper unevenly, whilst the leaves were still damp, resulted in an authentic cockled appearance.
The facsimiles were bound in the same way as the original and have been used for teaching and outreach purposes, allowing extended access to the manuscript, whilst safeguarding the original.
Spot the difference!
The digitised manuscript can be viewed on the Library’s website. The images are served up through a IIIF manifest, linked to the derivative files held in Fedora, which supplies the Universal Viewer. The images can be manipulated, with the ability to zoom in on parts of the manuscript, turn the pages and have a variety of views. The descriptive metadata is available with the images to provide contextual information.
Through its integrated approach to preserving and extending access to one of Wales’s most significant treasures, the Library has certainly used its digits, both figuratively and literally, for good and for all.
Sally McInnes, Head of Unique Collections and Collections Care
A new crowdsourcing project aimed at documenting the built heritage of Wales through photography and Wikipedia articles.
The National Library of Wales is once again teaming up with Menter Iaith Môn, with funding from the Welsh Government language unit, to deliver this exciting new project.
Wales has thousands of important listed buildings, from great castles built by the Welsh princes to churches, stately homes and terraced houses. In Wales there were once more seats in chapels than there were people to sit on them and now those chapels are disappearing fast. We also have more modern buildings which need documenting, such as hospitals and health centres, schools, libraries and sports facilities.
For this project we are asking you to check out what needs photographing in your area. If you are out walking the dog, running, cycling or just stretching your legs after that Sunday roast just take your phone or camera and snap a few shots for us along the way.
These images will form a new collection at the National Library of Wales and will be made freely available for reuse on Wikimedia Commons, so that they can be used to improve Wikipedia articles. Wikipedia is a fantastic platform for us to collaboratively record and share our local history and recent studies have shown that having good quality Wikipedia articles can help to significantly boost tourism.
We are not looking for professional quality photographs, or fancy stylized shots. Just simple documentary images which you can snap on anything from a DSLR to your mobile phone, so everyone can get involved, from Grandma to the Grand kids.
As part of the project we are even planning on working directly (remotely) with schools to get kids snapping buildings in their area and then we will teach them how to use those images to improve relevant Wikipedia articles.
Contributing to the project is easy. An interactive map will show you all the places that need photographs in your area, and our video tutorial will talk you through the simple upload process. So please, check out what needs photographing in your area, and register today to ensure that your images are included in our new digital archive.
The HTV Wales archive is a significant record of Welsh popular culture, politics and history captured on both film and video and it constitutes a large part of the Screen and Sound Archive. An archive of that size and age will have an assortment of conservation challenges, especially in the area of restoration. By far the most common problem with old tape is Sticky-shed syndrome (SSS) or hydrolysis. SSS is symptomatic of the breakdown of the tapes’ polyester binder due to absorption of moisture.
The tell-tale squealing of the tape as it passes over the playhead and the accumulation of dirty deposits upon the guide and playhead indicate a tape has SSS. A tape with SSS will, amongst other issues, exhibit ‘crabbing’, i.e. the moving from side to side of the moving image, and if not treated continued playback could further damage the tape.
So how do we restore that believed lost episode of ‘Gwesty Gwirion’? The answer may surprise you! The standard practice is to bake the tape at low temperatures for relatively long periods of time, such as 130 °F to 140 °F (54 to 60 °C). Strictly speaking we don’t ’bake’ our tapes but instead use a commercial food dehydrator that removes all moisture from the tape pack. How long we do this to the tape will depend on the severity of the SSS; up to a week we’ve discovered is time enough. We have been successful with the majority of the tapes that have undergone the process, with many lost gems brought back from the brink of oblivion. You can see some of them on the ITV Wales YouTube channel or view them at the Library.
This post follows on from a conversation that began on twitter.
I was asked whether the Archive’s film collection had all been scanned at a 4K resolution (4096×30722 pixels, horizontal screen resolution). Unfortunately, the answer is no. The majority of our film collection that has been inspected and transferred to video, exists on digital tapes such as digibeta or dvcam at a standard definition. However, thanks to Cymal and the Assembly Government, we can now transfer the following formats; 35, 16, 9.5, S8 & R8mm up to the resolution of high definition 1080 if requested. In the long term, we hope to do away with recording to tape where the video will then exist as a file on a server for keep sake and for access purposes. Currently, we do send clips out to individuals and tv companies via an ftp connection but are constrained by the size of files therefore tapes will exist for that purpose for a while.
Most cinemas have converted to digital projection by now, where the standard is a 2K projection (2048 x 1080 pixels), which is double the resolution of high definition. Having said this, a good quality 35mm print is closer to a 4K projection. The multiplex in Carmarthen for example, projects all their films at 4K and I think that’s the way it’s going in terms of cinema projection and great for us resolution geeks as it’s closer to an actual film projection image.
Before we transfer any of our films, we fully inspect each reel for damage whilst observing for mould, oil, weakening cement joins to name but a few conditions. The reel can then be hand cleaned or to speed up the process, it can be put through our ultrasonic film cleaning machine. The reel is run through a bath of warm perklene solvent and then dried by following a path through the ultrasonic blowers. After this point, we’d scan it in real time to our mac’s hard-drive. If the film title were to be restored, it would be sent out to an external company in order for it to be scanned at a higher resolution via a 2K/4K scanner which would output DPX files. These would then be painstakingly be worked on by a team, frame by frame, by using a restoration programme such as DaVinci revival in order to clean up the image. For example, an old silent film running at 16 frames per second would have 16 frames to work on for every second, where there’d be 960 frames for a minute’s worth of footage. A sound film running at 24fps would consist of 1,440 frames for every minute. So, you can see how much work it takes in order to do a full restoration of an hour long title. On completion of the work and the grading, the digital intermediate can then be recorded back onto film, or as things are going, converted into a file such as jpeg2000. This is the format that arrives at the cinema where it then gets downloaded off a drive, ready for projection.
In 2010, the bfi re-released a restored version of The Great White Silence which is a good example of a 2K restoration where they’e also scored an experimental soundtrack to accompany the film that was originally silent. This title can be bought on standard definition DVD or on Blu-ray, which is a high definition DVD.
Film restorations are unfortunately expensive, where scanning at HD, 2K or 4K just increases the cost in terms of storage as the higher resoluion digital files are multiple times larger. Keeping the 35mm print/negative in a temperature controlled space will always make sense as the format is 100 years old and will almost undoubtedly outlast quite a few digital formats!
A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.
Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.