Scanning, Cataloguing Old Papers a Methodical Process

Once the newspapers in UT’s American Bound Newspapers collection have been identified and, if not done before, catalogued, they can either proceed to PCL (Perry Castaneda Library) to be scanned and digitized, or be removed to the Library Storage Facility, where they will be safely stored until it is determined that they should be digitized.  Since the University of Texas at Austin has almost one hundred titles of bound volumes, (some titles running to many volumes) that are considered rare, and two-hundred and fifty titles of unbound “bits and pieces” of issues that are also considered rare, a decision about which to scan must be made.  These “triage” decisions are made by UT’s nineteenth century bibliographer, Paul Rascoe, who has input from librarians of the various states in which the newspapers were published.

The selected newspapers then go to scanning, which is the charge of Wendy Martin.  A new scanner has recently arrived from a French company, I2S. It comes complete with software called Book Restore, which smoothes out sometime inevitable errors in  the scanning that occur when a bound, rare book can not be completely flattened out, so that print near the spine will appear not normal.

Wendy tells me that one worker scanned 605 images in ten hours.  The scanner, as it passes over the paper scans two pages at once, so this total would have been achieved by 300 plus passes of the scanner over the volume.  As the scanning is done, the operator can view the quality of the scan on a monitor, enlarging the print to check for quality.  After the physical scanning, then two or three more hours are needed to make quality corrections, if required. Then the scan goes  to Adobe Acrobat for recording as a .pdf (portable document file), a format that packages the images in a compact size that is easily accessible.  Ultimately, the images will be stored on a computer tape along with a back-up file of the scan. The ultimate back-up, the original volume, will now safely rest in the Library Storage Facility.

Before the images go online, they are directed to another department, that of Cataloging and Metadata Services.  “Metadata,” according to, “describes other data.  It provides information about a certain item’s content.  For example, an image may include metadata that describes how large the picture is, the color depth, the image resolution, when the image was created, and other data.”  Amy Rushing, who is in charge of this process, says that David Melanson, the serials cataloger, views the files, determines the time span of the images, and, after uploading the files, adds the information about the newspaper found in the On-Line Catalog of the Library of Congress. (OCLC).  Check and double check.  Preserve and preserve again.

Wendy named the new scanner “The Columbian” in honor of an American press made by George Clymer of Philadelphia.  On May 26, 1817, the journeymen printers of New York, “Resolved, as the sense of this meeting, that we highly approve of the improvements made in Printing Presses, by Mr. George Clymer, of Philadelphia, and that we consider them as superior to every other description of Presses now in use in the United States.”  Apparently others agreed; by August, 1821, he had put into operation in England 86 of his presses, and four in Asia, and Russia’s Emperor Alexander “gave our countryman, Mr. Clymer, $6000 for one of his Columbian Presses.”

If you are interested in contributing funds to speed this massive project, please contact Linda Abbey, of UT’s General Libraries, phone (512) 795-4366 or online to the
Historic Newspapers Preservation  link.

About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden