Bringing the Himalayas to London
Natural History Museum
Diane’s talk focused on a collection of 4,500 nitrate negatives of Tibet by Ludlow and Sherriff which were donated to the Natural History museum. From the outset, this project was centred on digitisation because of a need to provide services to international users worldwide.
Being nitrate negatives there were huge problems with the originals as they are extremely flammable and prone to spontaneous combustion. As an added difficulty, should they combust, the fire is very hard to put out and they can also decompose and give off poisonous gases. By the time Diane got to the end of this slide, we could see her problem! She recommended to include looking for nitrate in collections surveys as it obviously needs to be stored separately and with great care at less than 20 degrees in fireproof containers.
The Tibet negatives were at “stage 2” deterioration and needed action just to be made accessible now and in the future. Due to the international interest, the decision was made to seek funding to digitise rather than copy to safety film. The Natural History Museum has a special trust fund for extra projects and they were lucky enough to receive enough money to digitise all the negatives and to catalogue some of them. About 1,500 have been catalogued so far.
Digitisation had to be outsourced to a specialist, the Centre for Photographic Conservation, because the heat would increase risk of spontaneous combustion. To reduce this risk, the Centre took digital photographs of the negatives rather than conventional scanning to reduce the heat. A TIFF and a JPEG was created for each negative with a unique identifier and a descriptive title.
The negatives have then been catalogued on the main library catalogue using the usual AACR2 rules and Marc21. At the moment, a user cannot click straight through to an image, however the reference is given to the digital file. They are looking for a digital asset management system to deal with images belonging to the museum which would become the NHM Picture Library. This would then enable them to link the catalogue record directly to a viewing JPG.
The original nitrates have now been safely stored offsite in a freezer!
It was interesting to see another library who are using their main LMS to catalogue scanned images but who are also having a problem linking this to a thumbnail image. Our system theoretically has the capability to do this, however the thumbnail only works inhouse not online. Reduces the point of digital being available internationally somewhat! I agree that a content management system may be the final answer, however sadly there are no funds for that currently here. I also quite like not having an additional separate search but keeping it all together.
I was relieved to see another organisation with the same problems! And also relieved that I don’t have any nitrate film to deal with. Well, as far as I know…