Discovery… the third reason for digitization

Lancashire Libraries have been digitizing their photo collections and adding them to Red Rose Collections for two main reasons, Preservation and Accessibility.

Photographic images consist of a mix of volatile chemicals forming the emulsion on a photo print.

Inevitably, over time, these chemicals continue to react, breakdown and so the image deteriorates.

mill scene

And, if these images are ever exposed to light, damp, temperature extremes, pollutants (e.g. dust, grease & sweat from handling) or other chemicals (e.g. ink, glue & soft plastic from mounting and storing) the deterioration is accelerated.

However, once an image has been copied by digitization, the original image can be safely stored under optimum condition without further need for handling.

Currently, access to our photographic collections and the information they contain is limited by a number of factors, Geography, location and format, and conservation needs.

A photograph can only be seen by visiting the library whose collection it’s in and it can only be located at one place in the classification system, in one box or one drawer.

And, because photographs are fragile (some very fragile, e.g. glass negatives) and need to be stored carefully and handling avoided, even in their storage location, they are not always easily accessible to our users.

But once digitised and published to the web on Red Rose Collections, they can be accessed in many ways from anywhere in the world.

So our two main goals, Preservation and Accessibility, are met.

But there is a third reason, almost an accidental by-product of digitization and that is discovery.

This is a tiny photograph of a now lost war memorial. The information it contains cannot be read directly from the photo.

War memorial

But photographs are incredibly good at storing information down to a minute level. So if the photo is scanned at a sufficiently good resolution, that information can be recovered or discovered.

Here’s another tiny photograph of the Preston Pals cheering when ordered off to the World War One trenches.

Loyal North Lancashire Regiment

Once digitized, you can make out the individual faces.

preston pals detail

Some of you may remember Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film “Blow Up“, where the photographer played by David Hemmings has to repeatedly enlarge and re-photograph his own picture to reveal it’s hidden grisly secret. With the use of a digital scanner today, this can be achieved very quickly.

A street scene complete with tram, from the collection at Accrington library. But where was the photo taken and when?

Rawtenstall tram

The keen eyed might be able to make out the tram’s destination from the original photograph. Above the driver the sign states “Rawtenstall Station”, which gives us the rough area. But when it comes to dating, the only thing we’d have to go on was the time period this type of tram was still running in the area, a very wide margin.

However, there is also a poster on a wall to left on the picture. It is largely illegible but, once digitized and enlarged, all is revealed.

Old poster

Discover for yourself ~ When you click to view on any photograph in Red Rose Collections, it will open full screen with a zoom feature which lets you discover as much detail as we’ve been able to capture

photo zoom

Follow us on Twitter: Libraries @LancsLibraries also check out Lancashire Archives @LancsArchives and Museums @LancsMuseums

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