Scrapbooks - Digitization

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Scrapbook opening showing stickers, original pencil artwork, and pasted-in clippings. MARBL Collection, Emory University. Photo taken by Kim Norman.

This is a subpage of the Scrapbooks page in the Book Conservation Wiki. It was originally adapted from the 2014 article in the Book and Paper Group Annual 33, "Scraps of Memories, Shards of Time: Preserving the African American Scrapbook Collection of Emory University Libraries, a Save America's Treasures Grant Project," by Ann Frellsen, Kim Norman, and Brian Methot. That article describes project planning, staffing, conservation work, and digitization of fifty-one scrapbooks.

This wiki article has distilled the most relevant details on digitizing scrapbooks from that article, and we hope that others will add their own procedures, suggestions and comments as technology and standard practices evolve. For more general solutions, please refer to the BPG Wiki page on Imaging and Digitization. For links to other published resources, please consult the Annotated Bibliography for the Scrapbooks page.

Wiki Compilers: Ann Frellsen, Katherine Kelly, Kim Norman, Jennifer Hain Teper
Wiki Contributors:

Copyright 2019. The Book and Paper Group Wiki is a publication of the Book and Paper Group of the American Institute for Conservation. It is published as a convenience for the members of the Book and Paper Group. Publication does not endorse nor recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein. There is an ongoing project to update the BPG Wiki. We welcome contributions and feedback. If you would like to get involved in this effort, please contact the wiki team at [email protected].

The Challenges of Digitizing Scrapbooks

As discussed in the main page of this chapter, scrapbooks come with a variety of preservation and handling challenges, and these challenges complicate any attempt to digitize them. Due to their personal nature, no two books are alike nor can they be treated or handled in the same way, so a variety of techniques and supplies are necessary to ensure safe handling while getting the best image.

Scrapbooks are constructed from diverse materials and attachment methods that have suffered from usage and time, so conservation treatment is almost always a necessary part of any digitization project. Image capture and conservation treatment may need to be done in stages that reveal elements of the scrapbook in disbound/disassembled states as well as after the book has been rebound/reconstructed, so careful collaboration is necessary between conservation and digitization staff. All involved should understand that digitizing can be 'hard usage' on a scrapbook, and that some damage may be expected as a result of the process.

A primary reason to digitize a scrapbook is to create an accessible digital image library that will provide future users a first point of access to an otherwise fragile or deteriorating scrapbook. By using the digital images first, rather than handling the physical item, the life of a scrapbook is prolonged. Ideally, the final digital presentation should attempt to replicate the experience of using the original scrapbook, an experience that changes from one scrapbook to another.

Safe Handling During Digitization

Each scrapbook needs a creatively tailored system in preparation and support in order to ensure the highest quality images are captured. Book cradles, sheets of glass or Plexiglass, weights in all shapes and sizes, and rope weights can help support, position, and flatten scrapbook elements to get the best possible image while protecting the fragile original. Some useful equipment is listed below. Conservators in the Emory University project experimented with rare earth magnets, but generally found that they caused distracting shadows.

Project Planning and Communication

Detailed planning work should include calculating the time (and cost) needs for the entire digitizing process - from including the time it takes to adjust the camera (which might be necessary for every item on every page), to image capture and to processing files.

Developing file naming conventions or schema and locating enough [expandable] data storage to accommodate the huge amount of files and information created by digitizing scrapbooks needs to be part of the planning. At all times, the process details should be documented, especially noting any changes and improvements so they can be repeated.

It is also important to have a clear sense of how the digital images are to be used in the future, i.e., is the digitization process for documentation only, or is there an intention/hope to provide researchers access to the files? Knowing what front-end software will be used/needed or at the very least, how the images are intended to be served up (a page-turning application?) will inform and shape the entire project.

Scrapbooks may require stabilization repairs before being digitized. The Emory team did not anticipate the high frequency of needing immediate treatments for problems found during the digitization process, though the initial condition assessment was thorough. But conservators see through different eyes. For example, a side-sewn pamphlet could not open enough to reveal all of the content for optimal digitization and needed its threads snipped (and later re-sewn). The ability to request on-the-spot treatments was crucial to project efficiency, so as not to disrupt an image capture session.

Scrapbooks may require additional digitization after conservation treatment, if hidden information is revealed. At Emory, if the conservation treatment dramatically changed the original structure, those specific scrapbooks were reimaged to capture the final bound product. These second (or potentially third) rounds of digital capture make for a much more time-consuming project than originally planned.

Thus the need for developing clear lines of communication between all involved departments is most critical. A workflow spreadsheet accessible online and regularly updated by each Emory team/department was an invaluable tool for tracking a scrapbook’s location and stage in the process.

Cross training between Digitization and Conservation teams is extremely beneficial, not only to ensure staff have proper care and handling instruction for fragile materials, but also fully understand best practices for capture and metadata procedures.

Re-associating loose items, separating glued stacks of paper, lifting photographs for hidden information, and whether to reformat a very fragile scrapbook into a post-bound album are examples of decisions that should be made by all stakeholders.

Digitization and the Scrapbook Experience

Retaining the original experience of using a scrapbook, seeing how the creator organized and assembled the materials is crucial to understanding the story being told. Thus digital capture of every facet of the contents is necessary, not just noting where something lies on the page, but also conveying information that would have required user interaction -- to remove a letter from its envelope, open a greeting card, lift a flap, unfold a large newspaper article, or otherwise see what has been obscured. There are also invaluable benefits to thorough imaging, such as being able to capture handwritten information like names, dates, or other contextual information hidden on the backs of items. And of course, an important aspect of digitization is documenting the ephemeral and ‘single use’ items typically found in scrapbooks - materials that were never meant to last and will certainly deteriorate, such as ticket stubs, napkins, dried flora, newspaper clippings, etc. Even the tape used to adhere an object can be an important artifact if it has information written on the carrier’s surface.

In order to capture as much of the original experience of using a scrapbook, the Emory project team had to decide how to deal with the various stages of completion found in the scrapbook collection. This included random and sometimes whole sections of blank pages and loose items tucked into gutters. The sections of blank pages were omitted, though blank pages were included if it helped to preserve the order of the creator. Loose or orphaned items were separated out of the albums and put into folders with indications of their former location. Once digitized, Emory chose to place those image files at the end of that scrapbook’s image family. Though certainty of location was unclear, it was important to document that the creator had included those items.

Suggested Workflow

  1. Assessment
    A conservation review of the scrapbook’s condition prior to digital capture determines if prior stabilization is needed, and what method(s) might be needed to flatten pages or objects.

    A close working relationship between Digitization and Conservation team members is beneficial, because it is common to discover a need for additional and immediate conservation work to happen “Now,” e.g., loosen or free stuck items, unfold brittle paper, remove staples, etc.

  2. Item Identification and Tracking
    Log entry for scrapbook digitized by Emory University

    Each scrapbook must be tracked through the digitization process (and any short trips to Conservation documented). In the Emory University project, every scrapbook received a log entry that detailed each item’s information (creator name, date, manuscript collection name, etc.) along with all technical data, including the camera’s settings, position of lights, and processing information, as well as any notes about the scrapbook.

  3. Image Capture
    Lighting should be even overall and minimize shadows created by neighboring items, pages, or gutters, which could potentially obscure information. If there are missing areas in a page being shot, it is helpful to place neutral paper behind the hole(s) to prevent confusion from the adjacent page information showing through. In order to ensure the page is as parallel to the camera lens as possible, clear acrylic or glass can be used to gently flatten and minimize any creases or buckling.

    Each image should include a ruler and a gray scale or color chart to ensure correct color and white balance.
    Ruler and gray scale card included in image.

  4. File Naming of Images
    File naming conventions should follow established best practices[1], but the multiple layers of scrapbooks can confound simple file naming conventions. At Emory University, staff devised a custom image file naming schema to handle the unique structure of each book. Each image file was named according to its corresponding location in the scrapbook (see Table 1).

  5. Quality Control and Processing
    Archival and production file images.
    Once every page and each item is fully captured, the files should undergo a rigorous quality control (QC) check and then final processing into the various file type formats required for use and long-term preservation.

    The QC process compares every digital image against each page and item in the scrapbook to ensure that images are clear and everything was accurately captured, as well as named. All images should meet the same quality standards for focus, color and white balance, as well as lighting consistency. The Emory project ran an additional QC via Golden Thread software that checked each image’s color charts for color accuracy, sharpness, and overall image quality.

    Emory project staff chose to create the following file types from the original master files, each having a different purpose. The camera RAW (.MOS format) files were first converted to 400 dpi TIFFs, and then each image processed into two versions:
    * the Archival file shows the entire page, including the ruler, grayscale and color target, named with the extension _ARCH;
    * the Production file image is cropped tightly around the primary page or individual item on each page, and named with the extension _PROD.

    Metadata can be attached to and edited in the RAW file at anytime. After an image is processed metadata can be attached as a “sidecar” file. Using a standardized file-naming schema consistently insures all image files are well organized and ‘packaged’ for archiving.

  6. File Management and Storage
    All digital files should be uploaded to an archival network storage server, issued Archival Resource Keys (ARKs), and Digital Masters database metadata records. They should also be backed-up on an external hard drive, a networked drive, and on a monitored and secured off-site server. Saving and securing multiple copies of each file provides for the most reliable backup system. The Emory files were also uploaded into a Digital Asset Management System (DAMS).
Table 1. File Naming Scheme used by Emory University

Each name had four parts separated with underscores: P0000_I0000_P0000_BP (or) LI, with each section referring to a position.

EMU digital images naming convention 2.jpg
  • P0000_ refers to the Primary image of each [whole] Page of the scrapbook. Each page may contain several items;
  • I0000_ refers to Items attached on the page. Each image is a shot of every individual item;
  • If an item has more than one side or has multiple pages, the second P0000_ refers to each shot of every side or page.
  • _BP refers to a Bound Page (ex., a page of a pamphlet), (or) _LI refers to a Loose Item - any item that is not attached to the primary page, e.g., a loose letter page inside an envelope.

Equipment, Software, and Materials

If at all possible, purchase equipment and software from a reliable, local vendor, who can provide training, support, and troubleshooting for using the equipment and software, as well as prompt on-site service. It is much easier to have face-to-face conversations when training or trying to resolve problems, rather than remotely.

Example of Equipment and Software Used in a Digitization Project

Equipment needs will vary by project and institution. In 2011-2014, Emory University used the equipment listed in Table 2 to digitize a collection of scrapbooks.

Table 2. Equipment and Software used by Emory University
  • Macintosh desktop with 12GB Ram
  • 1TB internal hard drive space: for image processing
  • 26” LCD Cinema display
  • 2TB external hard drive: for image storage
  • Capture One Pro: control camera operation
  • Photoshop: image adjustment, file processing, and metadata creation
  • Golden Thread: image quality control
File Management and Storage a networked campus drive, a monitored and secured off-site server, and a Digital Asset Management System (DAMS)
EMU Phase One Camera cropped.jpg
Phase One Medium Format Camera body with a Mamiya Leaf Aptus II-12 digital back, capable of capturing 80 megapixel images. It contains a full-frame CCD sensor, which allows for exceptional detail and a large capture frame.
Lenses 45mm and 80mm (used for oversize materials and double page spreads)
Lighting Two free-standing banks of LED lighting
Copy Stand Oversized, adjustable 60” column (maximum camera height) with a 30" x 40" vacuum table base

Other Materials

Weights and Cradles

  • UV coated Museum glass and clear acrylic sheets, 1/10 inch - [standard framing grade], of various sizes
    • The different weights of these optically clear materials hold wavy pages or curled materials down and in plane, allowing for better image capture.
    • Non-glare is NOT recommended due to lack of clarity.
  • Various small and light weights, including rope weights [lead pellets covered with unbleached muslin]
  • Book cradles and other materials to support volumes’ weak bindings, page foldouts, etc.:
    • Ethafoam wedges
    • Binder’s board
  • Small rare earth magnets

Cleaning supplies

  • Canned air
  • Very soft, non-scratching cloths
  • Dusters and anti-static brushes


  • Gray scale/color separation guides
  • Non-reflective metal framing square - 16” x 24”
  • Neutral grey background paper
  • Light meter- to ensure even illumination


  1. Bogus, Ian, George Blood, Robin L. Dale, Robin Leech, and David Mathews. 2013. "Minimum Digitization Capture Recommendations: Appendix I: File Naming Conventions for Digital Collections". The Association for Library Collections and Technical Services, Preservation and Reformatting Section. Accessed January 22, 2016.
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