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Harvard College Library

Virtual Access

Virtual Access


Over the course of the year, HCL's Imaging Services unit worked on a wide variety of projects not only for libraries in HCL, but also for libraries and archives across Harvard.

One of the most notable projects is a six-year cooperative venture between Harvard College Library and the National Library of China (NLC) to digitize Harvard-Yenching Library's rare Chinese books, one of the most extensive collections outside of China. Once complete, the project will make texts that once could only be studied by traveling to Harvard available to scholars around the world. Through this project, HCL will digitize Harvard-Yenching Library's entire 51,500-volume collection, requiring more than 3,600,000 images from fragile items dating from the 11th to the 18th centuries. In preparation for the project, specialized photographic workstations and book cradles were developed with an outside engineer and equipment manufacturer. The introduction of these new workstations, combined with an improved image processing workflow, have resulted in a doubling of productivity while simultaneously improving the image quality. These dramatic improvements in quality and efficiency not only have helped to establish a sound trajectory for this long-term project, but also can be adapted for work on other classes of library materials.

Among the largest cooperative projects of its kind between China and US libraries, the HCL/NLC project will be done in two three-year phases. The first phase, begun in January 2010, will digitize books from the Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties, which date from about 960 to 1644 CE. The second phase, starting in January 2013, will digitize books from the Qing Dynasty, which date from 1644 until 1795. The collection includes materials that cover an extensive range of subjects, including history, philosophy, drama, belles lettres, and classics. All of the rare books will be examined carefully to identify those that are fragile, damaged, or sewn in a way that hides text along the binding margin; items needing repair will be sent to the Weissman Preservation Center for treatment by conservators before being digitized. The digitization is being done by the HCL Imaging Services group in its state-of-the-art lab in Widener Library, where staff members have been working to design new equipment and workflows in preparation for the huge project.

This year marks the culmination of the nine-year HCL historical newspaper collections microfilming project, during which the collection was analyzed, cataloged, selectively microfilmed, and relocated to the Harvard Depository. Over the course of the project, approximately 3,000 newspaper titles were processed, 1,000 of which were found to be unique to Harvard's collections, and more than two million frames of high-quality microfilm were created.

This year also marked the end of Harvard University Library's Open Collections Program (OCP). HCL Imaging Services served as the principal digitization services provider for all six OCP collections, producing more than 2.35 million images from items drawn from 25 of Harvard's libraries, archives, and museums. Expeditions and Discoveries, the Islamic Heritage Project, and Reading: Harvard Views of Readers, Readership, and Reading History, which were the last to be completed, included significant quantities of fragile and difficult-to-handle materials taken from special collections.

It is a challenge in a decentralized system to keep users abreast of the array of digitized collections available to them. To reveal at least a portion of HCL's material, The Digital Collections of Harvard College Library was launched on the HCL web site. It includes an index of all HCL's digitized collections, individual descriptions of each, links to the HOLLIS record and digital images in the page delivery service, information about projects in progress, and links to other Harvard resources. There is also a page describing the HCL Collections Digitization Program. We continue to explore ways to improve the discovery of our collections.