Ranfurly collection shielded from damage

Digitisation of items from turn-of-the-century Governor-General Lord Ranfurly has proved a test-bed for the National Library in preserving and indexing such material for access via the Internet.

Digitisation of a collection of manuscripts paintings, drawings and photograph albums from turn-of-the-century Governor-General Lord Ranfurly, and his household, has proved a testbed for the National Library in digitally preserving and indexing such material for access through the Internet.

Ranfurly (who gave his name to the Ranfurly Shield) was governor-general from 1897 to 1904. His collection of papers includes four albums containing 450 photographs and 24 separate family photographs, two sketchbooks of drawings and prints plus seven separate watercolour paintings and nearly 3000 pages of letters, account books, diaries and scrapbooks.

Manuscripts were captured initially on 35mm microfilm, which was then scanned, ensuring a robust copy of each manuscript in both media.

By microfilming first, intermediate copies of the master films could then be made and safely sent off-site to a contractor for digitisation. Digital copies were made in both greyscale and bitonal (black and white) formats. The greyscale files produced better tonal representation of the original material, which included sketches, newspaper clippings, photographs and various densities of ink handwriting.

A digital camera was used directly to capture photograph album pages and individual photographs. Complete pages of the albums were scanned to preserve a sense of the layout for the visitor.

The project was “considered all along as a prototype”, says Adrienne Kebbell, business development analyst at the National Library. It is the first time a whole collection of imaged material has been presented within a contextual database structure, which relates each item to every other within a larger unit like an album.

"So if you’re reading a letter from someone to someone else, you know where it fits into the whole picture." The visitor can search, for, say, all pictures taken by a given photographer.

The database is based on a system known as Voyager, produced by Endeavour Information Systems. Voyager was developed for multimedia projects and is based on Oracle as its DBMS. The organisation of the Ranfurly collection is the first time Voyager’s multimedia capabilities have been tested in New Zealand, Kebbell says.

The techniques will certainly be used again and quite quickly: "We start work on the next project [on Monday],” she says, declining to say exactly what this project will be.

The Ranfurly collection has been made available for viewing at tepuna.natlib.govt.nz, under “publicly available databases”.

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