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Two-page spread from the French Hortus Collection

Over the past year, DT Heritage has conducted several digitization projects for Oak Spring Garden Foundation, using our imaging expertise to digitize their trickier special collections of rare manuscripts. As their name might suggest, special collections typically represent the rarest and most extraordinary works in an archival collection. However, these unique and often fragile collections present their own challenges when it comes to digital preservation.

The material in these collections is often frail and brittle and susceptible to damage caused by handling. While the rapid capture digitization approach lends itself well to imaging large collections of similar materials, it can also be adapted to image special collections with materials of varying sizes and conditions. The benefits of digitizing these types of collections are undeniable. Special care and consideration of the material is crucial to the success of any special collection digitization project– something our team at DT Heritage prides itself on.

A digitization technician with a hand-drawn landscape from the Oak Spring Garden Foundation collection

The Institution

OSGF is committed to serving the public interest by facilitating scholarship and public dialogue on horticulture and the history and future of plants through the gifts of Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon’s estate and gardens. The Oak Spring Garden Library holds over 19,000 unique objects, including rare books, manuscripts, and paintings. Most of which relate to horticulture, landscape design, botany, architecture, and the decorative arts.

Rare and specialized collections like these provide essential historical and cultural context for scholars within a broad range of disciplines. OSGF is currently undergoing a massive project to digitize large categories of its collection.

As a result, for the first time in its history, many of Bunny Mellon’s rare books and manuscripts are in the process of being made digitally available on the library’s catalog and, more broadly, on World Cat. Thus, allowing worldwide access to OSGF’s rare and unique collections. Additional information about the ongoing digitization efforts, and access to the online catalog, are available on the website.

Project Overviews

While working to build their digitization program and collection of digital assets, Oak Spring Garden Foundation reached out to DT Heritage to digitize some of their more fragile written works and volumes. The scope of these projects has consisted of several rare horticultural books in French and English, large architectural and landscape design books, maps, and atlases in varying conditions due to age and use. Along with capturing digital images of these works at the highest quality to ensure that every etching and detail is conveyed, the DT Heritage team adapted their workflows to deal with each condition, type, and size of material.

A digitization technician with a two-page spread from Les Plaisirs

Digitization Challenges

While the rapid capture digitization method emphasizes streamlining and efficiency, it can be difficult to apply to special collections due to their varying conditions and scope. Many of these delicate types of volumes can be difficult to digitize due to the fact that their bindings are too fragile or tight for the book to lie flat at 180 degrees–which is the angle that is most used for flatbed or traditional scanning methods.

Within some of these landscape and architectural books, there were also drawings and etchings that spread over two pages but were affixed to a single supporting piece, which needed to be manipulated to avoid gutter shadow and distortions of the drawings (see figures A and B).

Figure A

Figure B

Solutions & Successes

To determine the best approach for each collection that we received from the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, our experienced team undertook a discovery phase to determine the best equipment and workflows for each type of material, combatting each challenge that could arise.

In order to digitize some of the books with tighter bindings or frailer spines, we used the DT V-Cradle, which holds the book nestled at an 80-degree angle so that neither page was fighting gravity and there was no undue pressure on the books’ pages and spines.   

A digitization technician operating a DT V-Cradle

The DT Versa enabled our team to digitize two-page spreads with ease. By implementing the two-platten system and conservation-friendly glass top to keep the affixed page level, and using minimal handling we protected the pages throughout the digitization process.

While special collections do require a certain amount of adaptability, the rapid capture approach is still faster and more efficient than traditional scanning methods for the material. By using this approach, we were able to capture high-resolution, preservation-grade digital images encompassing every detail in a fraction of a second. By applying our rapid capture digitization expertise and DT Heritage’s state of the art equipment, we were able to safely and efficiently digitize several special collections for the Oak Spring Garden Foundation.

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