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A 19th Century View of Shakespeare Through A Djatoka Viewer and DuraCloud

Ithaca, NY Before continuous tone photography, and way before there were instant digital capture devices for recording and processing digital images, there were engravings. The process of using sharp tools (gravers) to incise an image on a metal or glass plate so that a reverse print of that image could be created by spreading ink on the plate and pressing paper into the inked design is known as engraving. This method of recording images was used extensively in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to illustrate the news stories of the day.

"Engraving was a historically important method of producing images on paper, both in artistic printmaking, and also for commercial reproductions and illustrations for books and magazines." [1]

Engraving techniques are still used by artists to create multiple copies of drawings and to embellish jewelry and other metal objects.

Rhodes College is one of many institutions that have become aware that valuable image collections such as historic engravings are in danger of disappearing unless they are scanned and preserved for future scholarly reference. At Rhodes where an institutional DSpace repository "DLynx" has been in operation since 2006 [2]  and a Fedora Repository has been in production since 2005 featuring the "Crossroads to Freedom" Collection [3] [4] preservation, archiving and educational access are top priorities. Pennington said, "We need to make sure that the things we do now will last so that we don't lose this significant digital content in 20 or 30 years. This is an exciting thing to do."

Stacy Pennington, Associate Database Analyst, Rhodes College Information Technology Services, and fellow staff members Elizabeth Gates, Rhodes College Archivist and Special Collection Librarian, Bill Short, Coordinator of Public Services, and Lee Boulie, Information Services Librarian are participating in the DuraCloud Pilot Program. They were in the process of scanning 500-800 rare, detailed metal block print engravings of images of Shakespearean actors and scenes from plays that were donated by the wife of a trustee in 1953 prior to their participation in the DuraCloud Pilot.

The Rhodes College Farnsworth Shakespeare Engravings, which were originally printed from about 1790-1880 on non-archival paper, were deteriorating. When Pennington reviewed the use cases for the DuraCloud pilot program he realized that his institution's goals for developing this online collection would overlap with DuraCloud pilot program goals. Specifically he was interested in finding out if there would be any advantages to running this collection in the cloud, and if Rhodes College would gain either stability or bandwidth by running a collection of large image files (4000 dpi in grayscale) from the cloud.

It is also a priority at Rhodes to make the Farnsworth Shakespeare Engravings Collection available as an easily accessible teaching tool through their institutional repository, DLynx [2] From scanning to viewing through Djatoka, a major goal of this project has been to put these historic materials to pedagogical use. Being able to expose digital image details with the Djatoka image viewer has made this a realistic goal.

Pennington commented that scholarly investigations into the Shakespeare image collection are focused on how 19th century audiences "saw" the works of Shakespeare. The Rhodes College Theatre Department, for example, has been able to use the images as a reference for designing costumes for current productions by exploring the ways that Shakespearean costumes have changed over time. These high-resolution images allow costume designers to use older costume designs to compare stylistic approaches to placing a production more in the context of the era in which it was written.

DuraCloud Pilot Program Observations

Pennington and colleagues see long-term DuraCloud benefits for a small IT operation such as Rhodes as the service matures. The simple fact that images load faster out of DuraCloud and do not require in-house bandwidth means that Rhodes will not have to add on to their systems to send images "around the world."

Prior to participating in the DuraCloud Pilot Project Rhodes had been experimenting with the JPEG 2000 Djatoka Viewer to make high res images from the Shakespeare collection available in a variety of tiled sizes. As a DuraCloud Pilot Program participant Pennington and Rhodes College archivists and librarians have had the opportunity to experiment with tools and techniques to make these large format images accessible and preservable. Pennington feels that DuraCloud image transformation and Djatoka services have the potential to be significant services as they come up to production level standards.

Time-intensive operations such as loading and synching objects to local servers are easily accomplished using what Pennington describes as DuraCloud's "flawless tools." He also believes that DuraCloud will eventually allow users to convert batches of images using a simple web browser with no "command line magic," although he found that pre-release DuraCloud services lacked the polish of the syncing and retrieval tools.

For significant collections such as those housed at Rhodes College DuraCloud can help deliver new kinds of digital information from rare sources to scholars and students in far-flung corners of the world to our build knowledge and understanding of shared culture and history. Stacy Pennington suggests, "DuraCloud has the potential to be a promising new service for small IT operations like ours with regard to increasing compute and management capabilities at low cost as it matures."