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The Days of our (digital) lives

October 3rd, 2018 By Jessica Moran


Jessica Moran, Digital Collections Services Team Leader
The Digital Collections team at the Alexander Turnbull Library works with colleagues across the entire National Library to ensure our digital collections are preserved and made available for researchers. Our team both creates digital collections through digitisation (taking high resolution digital photographs of collection items) and works with “born digital” collections – materials originally created using digital technologies and without physical equivalents.

As you’ll see, our team works in a range of different roles but one thing that brings us together is our enjoyment of learning and problem solving so that digital collections will be made discoverable and available for researchers.

We also want to share what we’ve learned. To that end we’ve hosted a Forum for Photographers of Cultural Heritage, facilitated digital collecting skills building workshops – one at National Library, Auckland and one at NDF – and helped organise this year’s Web Archiving Conference as part of the International Internet Preservation Consortium. As a team we want to keep learning and will continue to work collaboratively to share and grow digital collections experience across the larger memory sector.

In an effort to share our work more widely we’ve invited members of the DCS team to describe some the interesting projects they’ve worked on over the last year. What follows is a sample of their work.

The Digital Collections Services team at the Alexander Turnbull Library.
The Digital Collections Services team at the Alexander Turnbull Library. Photo Mark Beatty

Collaborating with Conservation to reveal text in a badly damaged Draper’s record book

Claire Viskovic, Senior Imaging Technician

One recent and unusual request came to us in June from Book Conservator Laura Mirebeau. She wanted our help to digitise an item from the Manuscripts collection; which was a waste book, dated 1874; belonging to William Clark, a Draper of Lambton Quay (MSY-0078). A ‘waste book’ was traditionally used in bookkeeping, as a daily record of transactions in chronological order.

The bound, unpublished manuscript had come to the Library in very poor condition; badly affected by moisture, mould, rodent, and possibly insect damage. Several of the pages were stuck together and Laura was asked by Manuscripts Curator Shannon Wellington to treat the item, which included separating the stuck pages so they could be viewed by a researcher. Shannon’s description of the waste book was that it was in ‘the worst condition she’d ever seen’ for a collection item, which is not a phrase used lightly!

Treatment would include cleaning or removing debris and dirt (including rat excrement & urine) and then carefully prising apart half a dozen stuck pages – ensuring the text information on those pages was still readable.

Before beginning this process, Laura asked if Imaging Services could take high-resolution images of the stuck pages – and also capture pages between each detachment – so that any information that might be lost during the separation process (through tearing or other incidental damage) could be retained digitally.

Several pages even showed remains of fungus, which had grown through the paper, causing them to stick together. While the fungus was no longer alive or active, it had effectively destroyed the paper beneath. As the fungus died it calcified into a hard (white-ish) lump, which can be seen in the images of the page below.

Book Conservator Laura Mirebeau and Claire Viskovic Senior Imaging Technician carefully setting up the very fragile and crumbling book in a studio, ready for digitisation.
Laura and Claire carefully set up the very fragile and crumbling item in the studio, ready for digitisation. A bookstand and ‘snake’ were used, allowing the item to be supported while open at 90 degrees. Left and right pages were captured individually. Tyvec was placed underneath, so no dust, dirt or stray paper fragments could contaminate the studio set up. Following digitisation the surfaces were vacuumed to remove any stray debris and dust. Photos Llewe Jones
Book Conservator Laura Mirebeau separating the stuck pages of the book.
Laura is separating the stuck pages and carefully removing some of the calcified matter, a very slow and delicate process. The previous page was digitally captured before this was carried out; then the un-stuck pages were photographed afterwards. Photos Llewe Jones

Archiving floppy disks from the Jeremy Pope Collection

Valerie Love, Senior Digital Archivist

In my role I oversee the acquisition and assessment of unpublished born-digital heritage collections. Increasingly collections are transferred to us via portable hard drive or USB, but a number of deposits still contain older media carriers such as floppy disks. Unlike with physical papers and photographs, we can’t store digital items, long-term, in folders and boxes. In order to preserve digital content, we first need to transfer the data off of the physical media carriers, and then ingest the digital files themselves into the National Digital Heritage Archive (NDHA). Thankfully, the Library has a variety of hardware, software, and tools available to accommodate the wide array of digital files we receive.

Valerie Love, Senior Digital Archivist at Alexander Turnbull Library, with 3.5 inch floppy disks from the Jeremy Pope Collection.
Valerie Love, Senior Digital Archivist at Alexander Turnbull Library, with 3.5 inch floppy disks from the Jeremy Pope Collection, MS-Group-2394.

I recently worked on a collection of 19 different 3.5 inch floppy disks that once belonged to Jeremy Pope ONZM (1938-2012). Born in Wellington, Pope was a human rights and anti-corruption campaigner, and served as Commissioner on the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. He also co-authored Mobil travel guides to New Zealand with his wife, Diana Pope. The collection donated to Turnbull Library related mainly to his creative writing pursuits.

After transferring content off of the disks, we discovered that they contained nearly 200 files dated between 1991-2001. These had been created using WordStar, a once popular word processing application that has not been developed or maintained since the early 90s.

Although the Library doesn’t have WordStar software with which to view the files, they can still be readable when rendered using text editor applications like Notepad.

The files are now safely preserved in the NDHA, and eventually will be migrated from WordStar to a more stable format. This ensures that future generations will still be able to read Pope’s short stories, novel, and impressions of travel through Aotearoa at the end of the last century.

Floppy disks.

Re-photographing Clouston’s portrait of Alexander Turnbull

Alicia Tolley, Imaging Technician/Photographer

As part of preparations for the ATL100 Centenary celebrations, it was decided that an iconic portrait of Alexander Turnbull should be re-photographed to more accurately represent the original painting.

The earlier digital file was created back in 2002 by scanning a colour transparency (or CT); using a high-end Heidelberg scanner and Newcolor software. Back then we essentially created a-copy-of-a-copy of the original painting.

When digitising the CT in 2002 we did not have the original painting on hand to view and relied solely on the CT which could have been photographed many years prior, possibly when the painting was first acquired in the collections. During the process of CT scanning we were dependant on the accuracy of the colour film transparency.

You can see the difference between the two in the digital images below.

Old and new digital images of Robert Stewart Clouston, 1857-1911.
Old (L) and new (R) digital images. Clouston, Robert Stewart, 1857-1911. Clouston, Robert Stewart, 1857-1911 :Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull 16 9 1909. Ref: G-600

The CT image (on left) is much darker around the edges; and overall shows more saturation and contrast than the original painting actually has (on right).

Digitally photographing the item last May, some 16 years later, we have captured from the original painting in our studio, with some post-capture editing done in the Imaging Lab.

When capturing the portrait, I used a double-capture technique to remove the shadows created when a framed item is lit – shadows that were visible in the original CT capture.

For the post-capture edit we have the item alongside, allowing comparison between the digital file and the original artwork. This is particularly important for collection items such as paintings, ensuring the digital image we provide is an accurate facsimile of the original. This is different from a digitised Manuscript item, for example, where the colour may be less critical than the written information; its legibility being of greater value to a researcher than the accuracy of its colour.

This new digital image file of the portrait is a more faithful representation of the painting, and therefore more appropriate for researchers and to use for the ATL100 commemorations.

The Turnbull portrait, in the Imaging Lab; shows the digital image on the monitor during the post-capture edit process.
The Turnbull portrait, in the Imaging Lab during the post-capture edit process. The lighting in the Imaging Lab is daylight balanced, and monitors calibrated every 100 hours, to ensure we view both the physical and digital with accuracy.

Digitising large format mosaic aerial negatives

Mark, Llewe, Alicia and Claire – Imaging Techs/Photographers; Ken Miller, Copying Coordinator

Late last year we received a request for digital image files of 31 mosaic aerial negatives, for the Museum of Samoa.

A digitized negative recently, showing a ‘mosaic’ effect.
One of the negatives we digitised recently, showing the ‘mosaic’ effect - created by physically joining multiple photographic print images together, then photographing the combined image onto one large film copy negative.

Mosaic aerial negatives are a form of large format photographic copy negative, created in the 1950s. These particular ones are part of a collection which was donated to the Library in 2005 by NZ Aerial Mapping Ltd.

The collection comprises over 4000 items, including negatives up to A1 size, prints, transparencies and transcripts. Most of this collection is currently housed in off-site storage.

Because of the size of the negatives, we had to consider how best to digitise these large items. Our photography studios and equipment are not really set up for digitising such large format photographic negatives.

Following discussion with our Library colleagues, we agreed that we would capture the first negative to figure out the process and check the quality of the image. The negatives requested were retrieved and delivered to the Library by our Collection Care colleagues in March.

In the studio with one of the negatives: from left - Alicia Tolley, Ken Miller (Copying Coordinator), Llewelyn Jones, Claire Viskovic.
In the studio with one of the negatives: from left - Alicia Tolley, Ken Miller (Copying Coordinator), Llewelyn Jones, Claire Viskovic. Photo Mark Beatty

First we did some test capture shots to work out whether we could photograph these large items in multiple captures and then digitally stitch them. This would provide a higher resolution file than we could achieve with one single capture, enabling a larger output.

For multiple captures of one negative, we had to physically move the negative to reposition it under the camera; and in doing so the neg did not lie in quite the same way, when repositioned. This created problems when trying to digitally stitch files together afterwards, as the two images did not match up accurately. We weren’t satisfied with the images created from this process.

Left image shows some of the negatives have ‘base shrinkage’ which causes wrinkles in the item. Right image shows the slight ‘wave’ of the neg when laid on the light box.
L: some of the negatives have ‘base shrinkage’ which causes wrinkles in the item, making it unable to lie completely flat. R: image shows the slight ‘wave’ of the neg when laid on the light box, which could also impact on focus, when trying to join multiple files together of one image.

Ideally, we could capture a large item like this in multiple shots using a rig system - so that the negative would remain completely still - and either the camera would move or the whole surface holding the negative would move; taking multiple images which would then join up perfectly after capture.

This is equipment we might acquire if we decide to proceed with the digitisation of this collection on a larger scale. Here is an example of a rig style capture system.

Without a rig, we still digitised these items successfully - as single capture images, with a manual hands-on process, using mostly the equipment we already had. We borrowed an extra-large light box from Senior Photographic Conservator, Mark Strange.
The light box output was not even, so we created a profile with the camera software to ensure the negatives would appear evenly lit for digital capture.

All four Imaging Techs (Alicia, Llewe, Mark, Claire) worked together in the studio to create a streamlined workflow - enabling us to photograph and return the negatives safely to their enclosures in an efficient way.

In the studio – Mark and Claire placing a negative on the light box ready for capture.
In the studio – Mark and Claire placing a negative on the light box ready for capture. Photo Alicia Tolley

Conservation’s role in image capture

Ken Miller, Copying Coordinator

I started in Alexander Turnbull Library’s Imaging Services team in July. At the time, I didn’t have much appreciation of the work that was involved in capturing the best quality images of our collection items. One of my favourite examples of this was a request for a copy of the 1854 shipboard plan of a ship called the Cashmere.

Llewe Jones, one of the Imaging Technicians, took a preliminary shot of the item but wasn’t happy with the result due to the condition of the paper. The creases, and the shadows they caused, made the image hard to read.

Margaret Morris, one of our collection Conservators, also had a look at the item. She carried out a treatment to humidify the paper, allowing it to relax and flatten out – while it was placed carefully under weights.

Llewe then recaptured the Cashmere plan and I was amazed at the difference that was achieved. The person who had requested the copy was delighted with the end result too.

Before Conservation treatment of the shipboard plan, shows the plan with creases and folds and very uneven.
BEFORE Conservation treatment of the shipboard plan, which involved humidification to relax the paper.
Part of the Shipboard diary kept on board the Cashmere.
AFTER conservation treatment, the flattened plan from the shipboard diary kept aboard the Cashmere, Ref. MS-Papers-7207-1

Describing and digitising the Max Oettli collection

Flora Feltham, Digital Archivist

Have you ever wanted to know what Grafton Cemetery looked like before the Southern Motorway was developed? Or what people wore to a John Mayall concert in 1973? Or if there was ever a giant replica of Michelangelo's David in an Auckland department store? Well, look no further.

A man and woman sitting at table.
"Michelangelo's David in Milne & Choyce, Modern Bags", 1967 . Max Oettli Collection, Ref. 35mm-101878-F

Between March 2017 and June 2018 the Swiss-born New Zealand photographer Max Oettli worked with Alexander Turnbull Library staff to digitise and describe 3,657 of his 35mm negative film strips. Oettli took these photographs while he was living in Auckland from 1967 to 1975 and the original black and white negatives were donated to the Library alongside 13,000 scans of individual frames.

See Max Oettli's digitised collection, Photographs of New Zealand scenes, Ref: PA-Group-00002.

The collection is a remarkable record of social history. It documents people, buildings, events, and everyday life in New Zealand during the 1960s and 1970s. Oettli lived in Grafton, Auckland, and travelled throughout New Zealand. He studied at Auckland University and worked at Elam School of Art. Importantly for us, he also took his camera everywhere. He photographed his friends and loved ones at home, in their flats and at parties. He photographed Auckland’s city during a significant period of redevelopment and photographed people on the streets and at public demonstrations.

As one of the Library’s Digital Archivists, I worked with Oettli on creating metadata for the hard copy negatives and the digitised frames. After scanning was complete, I prepared the digital portion of the collection for long-term preservation, and transferred files to the National Digital Heritage Archive (NDHA) where they are now available. Working on such wonderful material – and being able to discuss it with Oettli himself – has been a definite highlight for me in 2018.

Working with Te Puna Foundation winner Jill Stanley

Claire Viskovic, Senior Imaging Technician

Last year several Library staff spent time with Jill Stanley, Q.S.M. of Wellington. Jill was the recipient of a prize auctioned in Nov. 2016 by Te Puna Foundation. The prize was for ‘specialist’ time, advice and services with staff at the Library.

Vicki-Anne Heikell (Field Conservator), Fiona Gray (Librarian) and Margaret Morris (Senior Conservator, Works on Paper) also worked with Jill; along with several of us from the Imaging team.

After an initial visit to assess Jill’s personal collection, Vicki-Anne created archival enclosures for Jill’s items, to ensure they would remain in the best possible condition into the future.

Field Conservator Vicki-Anne Heikell providing specially made enclosures to Jill at her home.
Field Conservator Vicki-Anne Heikell providing specially made enclosures to Jill at her home. Photographer, Alicia Tolley

Following this, Jill brought some of her collection to the Library so that they could be digitised by the Imaging Techs. The items brought into the Library went through the usual process of remaining in the examination room, wrapped in plastic for 2-4 weeks, to ensure no living or otherwise harmful organisms were introduced to the Library environment.

Margaret Morris (Conservator) with Jill in the examination room.
Margaret Morris (Conservator) with Jill in the examination room. Photographer, Mark Beatty

During the same visit, Claire Viskovic demonstrated parts of the digitisation process that Jill’s items would undergo, once cleared through the examination process.

Claire Viskovic, Senior Imaging Technician with Jill, showing post-capture edit of letters captured in the small studio.
Claire Viskovic, Senior Imaging Technician with Jill, showing post-capture edit of letters captured in the small studio. Photo Mark Beatty

At Jill’s last visit to the Library, as auction winner, the staff who had worked with her on this initiative met together to return the collection items to her. The Imaging team provided her with a disc of digital image files of her collection along with an FTP link to the images, so that they could be shared with other members of her family. Fiona Gray gave Jill further information and material relating to Jill’s family history, which she had researched on Jill’s behalf.

From left: Alicia Tolley, Claire Viskovic, Jill Stanley, Llewelyn Jones, Vicki-Anne Heikell, Fiona Gray & Margaret Morris.
From left: Alicia Tolley, Claire Viskovic, Jill Stanley, Llewelyn Jones, Vicki-Anne Heikell, Fiona Gray & Margaret Morris. Not in the photo is Photographer, Mark Beatty

Working with Jill on the digitisation of her material was a really positive experience. It is not often that Imaging Techs get to work so closely with a client, or with our colleagues - towards achieving a shared goal for one person. We often work quite separately, on different parts of the Library’s collections.

Working with specialist staff at the Library, seeing the whole process from appraisal through to the completion of digitisation work, was an engaging opportunity for the Imaging Techs. We enjoyed meeting and working with Jill, and value the experience we shared through this Te Puna Foundation work.

Capturing an Audience

Sholto Duncan, Web Archivist

In 2017 we were asked by Andy Low from DRM if we could archive www.theaudience.co.nz prior to it being decommissioned. We had previously worked with them on archiving the Amplifier website which at the time was the largest music harvest we had completed.

Although the Audience was a smaller site, the dynamic nature of the content and site design meant we were unable to get a satifactory crawl using our Web Curator Tool (WCT). This forced us to look outside of the box and provided an opportunity to use some alternative web archiving tools we had been testing.

Archiveit, a tool developed by the Internet Archive provided one option, especially as we were able to test out brozzler, a distributed web crawler that uses a real browser to fetch pages and embedded URLs to extract links. The appeal of Brozzler is that it was designed to improve the capture of AV media which is notoriously difficult using traditional web-archiving tools. Unfortunately, we were unable to get the result we were after and had to look for another alternative!

Webrecorder.io ended up being the most useful tool for this project, although unlike Archiveit, the process was fairly labour intensive with a certain, very patient web archivist having to manually click through pages and pages of content (about 8 hours worth)! While this proved very successful in capturing the bulk of the articles, news and images, we couldn’t pick up all the audio tracks. After working with our web engineer Ben, he was able to crawl all the audio using an updated version of our current WCT harvester and then knit the audio back into the rest of the crawl completed in webrecorder.io.

The next step is to find a way to upload this to the Library’s preservation system, the NDHA, so stayed tuned!

Screenshots of the now decommissioned Audience website.
Screenshots of the now decommissioned Audience website.

Collecting Twitter

Gillian Lee, Coordinator, Web Archives

We’re delighted that we’re finally starting to collect social media, with a particular focus on Twitter. This has been a major gap in our collections. We have received some Twitter archives directly from donors which is great and we look forward to receiving more in future. We have also crawled data using Twitter’s API, by drawing on the expertise of our colleagues in the Preservation Research & Consultancy team. Determining the best way to ingest these files to the preservation system, describe them and provide appropriate access has its challenges and we’re still working through these.

Shows a word cloud with some of the most used hashtags during the 2017 general elections.
Some of the most used hashtags during the 2017 general elections.

In 2017 we used Twitter’s API to collect commentary about the New Zealand general elections using hashtags, handles and search terms. Hashtags identify tweets relating to topics or themes. Handles identify specific Twitter accounts. It took some trial and error to find out which hashtags and search terms would be most effective to use, since hashtags can be used by anyone and can mean different things depending on the context. For example when we tried crawling the #LetsDoThis hashtag used by the Labour Party we ended up with a lot of content about general fitness! Fortunately we were still able to collect the tweets that were relevant as they matched on other criteria we were using. Hashtags like #IAmMetiria were very specific and therefore included.

The final result is a dataset full of rich data and metadata that researchers will be able to analyse using computational and other tools.

Archiving the 125th anniversary of New Zealand suffrage

Susanna Joe, Web Archivist

The web archiving team identifies, selects, harvests, and archives New Zealand and Pacific websites for the Web Archive collection. We’ve been collecting websites since 1999 and there are now over 5,600 unique websites, and over 33,500 website instances in the web archive. You can find out about the archive and what we collect on the New Zealand Web Archive page.

The 125th anniversary of New Zealand suffrage is the perfect opportunity to highlight a few websites in the collection which promote feminism or offer a contemporary perspective on enduring issues affecting women.

This is Meagan Kerr

'This is Meagan Kerr style self love' in the centre surrounded by small cartoons of clothing items.

Auckland style blogger Meagan Kerr reviews plus-size fashion and is also a champion of body positivity and self-love in her blog This is Meagan Kerr. The site began in 2012 as a typical fashion and beauty blog, but at a time when plus size models and fashion were mostly invisible in the New Zealand media, Meagan’s blog resonated with readers when she shared her own experiences in learning to love her body, and in her defiance in wearing clothes which society's "fashion police" say she and other women of a certain size should not wear. The blog has been archived since 2014 and you can view the various instances at the link above.

Emily Writes: rants in the dark

'Emily Writes Rants in the Dark'.

Emily is the mother of two young boys and created the popular Emily Writes blog which gives her brutally honest and often hilarious perspective on the trials and tribulations of parenting. Her first sweary blog post in 2015 on the crappiness of sleep deprivation and how it should be ok to admit that parenting is hard attracted over 1000 comments and went viral in few days to reach over one million people.

Zoe Lawton


2018 also significantly marks the year of the #MeToo movement and a recent addition to the Web Archive is advocate Zoë Lawton’s blog Zoë Lawton which has put an important spotlight on sexual harassment and bullying in New Zealand’s legal profession.


We hope you enjoyed our whirlwind tour! That’s just a snapshot of what we’ve been up to during the last year. As you can see, the variety of projects is quite broad which is something we really enjoy about our work on the Digital Collections Services Team at the Turnbull Library. If you’d like more information on conservation, digitisation, or caring for born digital content please see our website for details and contact information. You can also find information on donating born digital items.

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