DigiVol: From Glass plate negatives to Digital images
The DigiVol blog series features stories about our Volunteer Digitisation program that includes the DigiVol lab and DigiVol Online.
DigiVol has taken digital images of prints of some of the Australian Museum’s large collection of glass plate negatives.
In 2012, DigiVol received a request from Australian Museum Archives to digitise a series of C19th photograph albums (20) and transpose metadata from the albums to a spreadsheet. This year, a final 2 photograph albums were given to DigiVol to take images of the prints taken from the glass plate negatives which will be used as reference prints for much of the Museum’s glass plate collection.
It is interesting to put this request in historical context. The Australian Museum Trust Minutes of 6th March 1879 record that the Curator was directed to obtain ‘scrap books’ in which to mount the photographs taken at the Museum and that ‘the photos to be scientifically arranged’.
Patricia Egan, Museum archivist reports that ‘Since the commencement of this DigiVol project archives has been able to examine the albums in more detail. Some earlier albums are of a more generic nature whilst later albums were arranged by subjects such as Ethnology, Fossils, Fish and Palaeontology. Whilst most of the prints are copies of glass plate negatives held by the Australian Museum Archives there are prints of some negatives that have not survived. There are also photos that were not taken by the Museum’s photographer and so the print itself is a collection item. These cover a wide variety of topics which clearly demonstrate the scientific and anthropological interests of museum staff’.
The DigiVol volunteers were very pleased to play their role in bringing these interesting historic prints of natural history specimens and ethnographic artefacts into the digital world. This was a very time consuming job as each page in an album was imaged and then every print on a page (i.e. with a range of 6 to 20 prints per page) was cropped. The metadata to be recorded in a spreadsheet was sourced from the album and from the Collection Registers which DigiVol digitised in 2011. This was challenging at times as the hand writing in the record may have been difficult to transcribe, especially when Latin scientific names were used.
Patricia says that ‘The benefits to the Archives are two-fold. The ingestion of the spreadsheet into the Museum’s electronic collection database (Emu) enhances the retrieval of the data and hence the images. Additionally the digitisation of the images complements the selection of previously digitised glass plate negatives providing greater accessibility to the museum’s heritage’.