The University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections has, since 2004, offered an ever widening digitisation service, ranging from the high quality photography of rare books, manuscripts and museum objects to video production and the digitisation of audio visual archives, covering the full spectrum of audio, film and video formats. Inevitably, providing such a service involves regular upgrades to equipment across the full range of services, not just in terms of purchase of new hardware and software to keep up with ever changing technology but also in terms of maintaining and regularly servicing older equipment needed for the digitisation of non-current format material such as audio and video tapes, vinyl records, animation etc.

The output from this service is used not just by students and researchers within the University but, where possible, is delivered online under open licence to enable widening participation within the academic world and beyond, through public engagement with the collections. This is particularly important in the circumstances in which we now all have had to operate since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and the resulting impact on the way we must now work and study. Since the start of lockdown and the move to hybrid learning and teaching there has been a significant increase in demand for digital resources of all types, with a consequential pressure placed on the equipment being used to deliver this facility.

This proposal seeks to consolidate all areas of our digital offer to significantly upgrade our resources enabling us not just continue to deliver to current standard but to improve the quality of output so that is fit for purpose for long term use. This includes:

•       The upgrade of book scanners will significantly speed up digitisation and improve quality.

•       A move from 3D photogrammetry carried out on standard cameras and makeshift turntables to a designated equipment will therefore make a significant improvement to workflow efficiency and output.

•       An upgrade of self-service book scanners to enable no specialist staff and researchers to carry out their own digitisation

•       Purchase of a higher quality conservation copy cradle, lights, and camera conservation to provide improve safety for fragile bound volumes and to increase efficiency of high-quality digitisation as demand for digitisation increases, by upgrading our existing copy table unit and camera to latest technology. This will also aid implementation of international imaging standards for Heritage collections.

•       A range of improvements to our audio-visual digitisation equipment (from replacement items to purchase of hard-to-source parts for obsolete kit) to enable an increase in the transfer of content from formats such as audio and video tape, film and a range of animation material, much of which will be lost forever if not digitised.

We view the delivery of digitisation as an integrated service, not only within the different medium outlined above but also closely aligned to other teams within the Centre for Research Collections, such as conservation, digital library delivery etc.

At present the Digital Imaging Unit (DIU) is housed in one studio, with two much smaller annexe rooms.  The main studio houses two high-quality digitisation workstations, fitted with Phase One cameras, copy stands and lighting: one of these is fixed, one is moveable but only within that space. Any 3D work has to be carried out using handheld scanners or through photogrammetry, using hand held cameras and makeshift turntables and, given the size of the physical space available, this limits the scale of material with which the team can work. The bigger of the two annexe rooms houses a V-Shaped scanner and two workstations, while the smaller room is the main admin area. With a staff team of five, space is very much at a premium. While the team have delivered to an increasingly high standard since it was first set up in 2004, demand for digitisation services has grown at a pace that now outstrips their ability to deliver, particularly in the current circumstances and the growing need for digitised resources, in an ever widening range of formats, for hybrid teaching and learning. There is a growing demand for mass digitisation at speed, for instance, for 3D models, both online and as printouts, for use in classroom and online teaching and for self-service scanning that can be carried out by non-specialist staff or by researchers themselves. The current setup cannot deliver without more space and equipment. Much of the equipment currently used to carry out hand-held scanning is borrowed from the uCreate MakerSpace studio, using LIDAR, Laser, photogrammetry and Structured Light scanning hardware, but this is in high demand and makes planning difficult, therefore the purchase of designated resources, to be housed in the proposed CultureLab spaces will make a significant improvement in the DIU workflow. Additionally, the introduction of mobile robotic photogrammetry equipment will enhance the capacity of both the DIU and the Conservation Team to scan and analyse collections material more quickly and to a higher standard than is currently available. 3D scanning and the use of 3D digitised content is growing in use within the Institution. Collections items are available with creative commons licensing via the open.ed Sketchfab account. 3D data is actively being used in teaching within a range of courses across the university, notable examples include 3D scans of anatomy models in the school of medicine, heritage items in archaeology and collections and curating practices and buildings in architecture. 3D digitisation is actively being explored as a tool for conservation and used as a mechanism for public engagement. LIDAR, Laser, photogrammetry and Structured Light scanning hardware are provided by the makerspace for use by staff and students. LIDAR and Structured Light scanning provision are currently at an industrial standard of quality within the service, with new hardware acquired as it matured and demand grew.

Currently, photogrammetry is supported via technical advice, software provision and the availability of manual equipment for loan use. The photogrammetry loan pack provides a mid-range SLR camera, light tent and automated turntable. This kit supports manual photogrammetry. Reducing per-model imaging times from 4 hours, down to 2. Demand is high for improved photogrammetry support, and a move from manual to automatic image capture. To date this has proved prohibitively expensive (photogrammetric capture stages typically run beyond £500k to establish). With a new generation of robotic photogrammetry systems, the cost to establish a professional photogrammetry facility has fallen significantly, reaching a point at which high volume, high speed photogrammetric digitisation via robotics is now the cost effective approach to generating high quality 3D scans.

Finally, we wish to significantly upgrade our ability to transfer analogue audio-visual material to digital formats, in order to preserve them for long term access.  We currently have a small audio-visual unit within the School of Scottish Studies which has, over the last fifteen years been working to transfer its collections of analogue audio tape recordings - in multiple formats such as 1/4" tape: 2 tracks at 7.5 or 15 ips or cassettes, vinyl and even wax cylinder – and film and video archives on 8mm and 16mm film or VHS, Beta, Hi8 video tapes. Much of the material in their collection dates back to the pioneering days of sound recording and, as with all such archives around the world, it becomes increasingly difficult to source equipment to work with for what are viewed as obsolete formats and equally, to find parts required to maintain existing resources. The same issues are faced the Animation Department in the University’s College of Art, which houses a large collection of student animation, again in multiple formats, which, if not transferred from analogue to digital will be lost forever. In both areas, the current equipment is in serious need of upgrade, so by investing in replacement items, building up a library of replacement parts and new specialist scanning equipment for animation and moving image archives, we will be able to accommodate much more nuanced research questions and engage in a level of collections investigation and digitisation which is not currently possible.

Current project status

Report Date RAG Budget Effort Completed Effort to complete
July 2022 GREEN 0.0 days 0.0 days 0.0

Project Info

Culture Lab/Dig It Up
Library & Collections - Centre for Research Collections (LUCCRC)
Management Office
Project Manager
Daryl Green
Project Sponsor
Jeremy Upton
Current Stage
In Progress
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Planning Date
Delivery Date
Close Date
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