Bodleian Libraries Imaging Studio

On Thursday I joined a tour of the imaging studio at Osney. The tour was led by James Allan, Head of Imaging Services at the Bodleian.

The studio was established in the late nineteenth century by Oxford University Press, and was taken over by the University in the 1970s. It has recently moved to Osney, where it will remain until the refurbishment of the New Bodleian is completed in 2014.

The imaging services team produce digital and print copies of resources held by the Bodleian and other Oxford libraries. They provide services for individuals and institutions both inside and outside the University, and have also been involved in larger projects, such as the production of digital images of the Bodleian’s Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts. The team is also responsible for negotiating copyright permissions for the images that they produce.

Imaging Services is currently part of Special Collections at the Bodleian, and much of the material that the team work with is drawn from these collections; during the tour, we saw a fourteenth-century illuminated manuscript being photographed.

A variety of equipment is used in the studio, from a bitonal scanner to a high resolution (39 megapixel) digital camera. Post-production software is used to clean-up images. Most impressive was the cradle designed to hold a book as its pages are photographed. This features a vacuum bar which applies gentle suction to the back of a page, holding it in place whilst a photograph is taken.

The imaging technology used by the team is constantly evolving. However, new copies of items cannot be made every time the technology moves forward: funding is not available to do this, and the materials involved are often too fragile to withstand frequent handling. Difficult decisions must therefore be taken about when it is best to photograph or scan items in order to produce images that will remain useful for some years to come.

The team maintains an archive of images of material held by the Bodleian, which includes an extensive collection of photographic plates dating back to the 1950s; there are also large microfilm and digital collections. Images from the archive are often used to fulfil requests to view items that are too fragile to be handled or copied again. The digital archive is not yet accessible online, but there are plans to make this possible in the future.

My thanks go to James Allan for the very informative tour. More information about the services provided by his team can be found on the Bodleian website.

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