Thursday, February 7, 2013

Digitizing Milwaukee's Polonia: The Digital Assembly Line

The Milwaukee Polonia digitization project is an ambitious endeavor – we’re in the midst of digitizing over 25,000 glass plate negatives. This may seem like a daunting task (it is!), but with a well-designed workflow and a few dedicated student employees, nearly 20,000 glass plate negatives – with topics ranging from weddings to taxidermy – have already been digitized in under six months. Our progress is thanks in large part to a well-designed workflow based on a unique “rail system” designed by UWM Libraries’ own Ling Meng and Jim Lowrey.

"Rail System" for the Milwaukee Polonia Digitization Project
 Using a Nikon D800 camera to capture high quality images, a three person scanning team mans an assembly-line style operation. One person unwraps the archival sleeves that protect the glass slides; the second person snaps the image via a stationary camera mounted over a lightbox, and monitors image quality and organization of the slides; the third person re-wraps the slides, places them back in a box in the correct order, and processes and checks previous scans. This process means that the glass negatives are never off the shelves for more than a few hours, and a single day’s scanning operation can produce upwards of 500 digital images. The uniform dimensions and very good physical condition of the negative make this mass digitization approach possible. We estimate that 95% of the glass negatives are standard 5×7 and less than 1% are cracked or broken.

Engaging in a mass digitization project has allowed the “Kwas” digitization team to experiment with different workflow configurations, quality control checkpoints, and automation techniques. Although this project can be “tech-heavy,” the most interesting aspect of the collection is the engagement with the physical resources, and seeing Milwaukee’s Polonia through the lens of Roman Kwasniewski.

St. Joseph Orphanage negative example
In this image taken of the Saint Joseph Orphanage "Orkestra" Sierociniec Polski performing for Roman Kwasniewski, you can see the difference between the glass plate negative compared to the processed image. Serial #23099


View the Collection


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