Flipping through digital scrapbooks

Two weeks ago, I was at the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation attending a workshop on preserving historic scrapbooks. Like most people who work with collections of historical materials, I have a love/hate relationship with scrapbooks. Many of them have fantastic commentary and contain unique items that would have otherwise disappeared. I have seen scrapbooks pages featuring corsages, WWII rationed Lucky Strikes, and completed dance cards. Each of these treasures is a priceless slice of life.

While it is fascinating to see these surviving items from days past, scrapbooks are a preservation nightmare. In contrast to the smooth, flat closure of a standard book, a scrapbook’s binding and pages strain against the bulky items it contains. Furthermore, the enclosed items often cause detrimental friction and chemical migration to their neighboring items.

My preservation class addressed some methods for stabilizing scrapbooks and the items they contain. View a few photos of my course adventures in this gallery.

Since scrapbooks are so difficult to preserve, it is advisable to limit their exposure to handling by researchers and staff.  Simultaneously, they are high demand pieces due to their contents. Consequently, many historical institutions digitize their scrapbooks to create a copy that many users can safely view.

There are dozens of applications that facilitate the presentation of digitized scrapbooks. CONTENTdm, which is widely employed by libraries, allows for robust metadata and complex, searchable documents. Here is an example of a CONTENTdm scrapbook from the Iowa Women’s Archives. It is the UI student scrapbook of Mildred Wirt Benson, the creator of Nancy Drew! I think that, as you peruse it, you’ll see that it is somewhat difficult to navigate from page to page.

The brilliant scrapbook featured in this article by Allison B. Zhang allows users to select booklets on each page and turn through them individually. Like the CONTENTdm scrapbook, the heavy data load leads to slow navigation, but it is definitely the closest visual experience to having an actual scrapbook in front of you.

Finally, I have embedded a scrapbook from the Rush Archives, which is posted to an online hosting site called ISSUU. It is the 1960 scrapbook from an annual fashion show of the institution’s Woman’s Board. Our dedicated volunteer–and recent Dominican SLIS graduate–Gloria Ballard has scanned this book and many of the items in our ISSUU collection.

We have uploaded a variety of publications to this service and we love it for three reasons:

1. We can upload a large number of items for free. We continue to use our free account with no needs to upgrade to the pay version.

2. It is super easy. Scan the pages, combine into a single .pdf, upload, and apply tag terms. Done.

3. On the user end, it loads quickly, allows for smooth page turns, and includes the ability to easily zoom into individual pages. Try the mouse wheel zoom if you have one!

On the down side:

1. It occasionally stalls and causes frustrating upload errors

2. It limits document upload size, so we sometimes have to split books into parts

3. When we categorize digitized books, we can’t control the order they display on embedded bookshelves.

4. The contents aren’t keyword searchable.

View the 1960 fashion show scrapbook below:

ISSUU is a great solution for small shop historical institutions, community organizations, or even personal publications.

What’s your favorite program for viewing or compiling digital documents?

One thought on “Flipping through digital scrapbooks

  1. I’m not sure what program we use at Des Moines University, but we’re (well, I am) currently scanning our yearbook collection. I send our webmaster a .pdf of all the pages, created in Microsoft Word, and he uses the same flip book technology they use for the magazine for our yearbooks. I can’t wait for our site to go live, sometime this fall. Here’s the most recent issue of the magazine:

    Like with yours, the books aren’t keyword searchable, so we’ve thought about adding them to CONTENTdm, too, as we’re a part of the Iowa Digital Heritage Collection (although I haven’t had time to do much with it lately.)

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