I'll preface the rest with this: I'm an Archivist. Regardless of whether your material is 20, 50, or 150 years old, the single tenet I work by is 'Do no harm.' My professional work revolves around protecting the information that documents hold and making that information accessible to researchers. That means protecting and preserving the documents themselves. However, with new technology, the push to scan historical material is getting stronger and stronger. What's more, as technology progresses, and as our backlog of material to scan gets bigger, we look for faster and easier ways to get the scanning done.
There are a few common sense tips I'd like to share, because with the glut of information out there regarding hardware, I don't think there's enough information from the users end. More importantly, as an Archivist, I've had lots of experience scanning all types of material, from contemporary ads for a corporate client to a Civil War era letter regarding General Sheridan to a note from Bram Stoker. Awesome stuff, all of it. And all of it handled and scanned in different ways.
My first words of advice: please, please, do NOT use a high-speed scanner for anything but contemporary material, preferably bond and/or copier paper from the last 30 years or so and most likely used, as I do, to print resource information or 'touch' copies of delicate/very old documents. The air pressure used to 'suck' the document across the platen is too much for many types of paper produced before the 1970s to withstand. Additionally, some inks, while seemingly permanent on paper, can be harmed or destroyed from this dragging process. It might appear that the document comes out in one piece, but the fibers have been stretched apart creating an atmosphere in which deterioration can increase and breaking the surface on which the ink holds. What's more, can you imagine the feeling you'd have as one of those documents jams in the machine with others behind it doing the same? Who hasn't had a copier jam up? High-speed scanners can and will do the same.
I had a client, a large service organization, that wanted to have some of its oldest and most valuable material scanned. It was a very large project totaling over 100 linear feet of material. We quoted them a price and time frame, both of which were well outside their desired parameters. So, they told us they were going to hire a commercial scanning company to scan the material. After negotiating the process between the company and our client, we spent two hours training the people in the scanning center how to handle the material properly. They assured our client that not a single piece would come to harm. Of course, you can't be 100% certain that either a machine or human, with minimal training, aren't going to make mistakes. In the end, 1% of the collection was damaged or destroyed. Out of 10,000 documents that's 100. Take 1% of your collection. Now throw it away.
Seem a little extreme? Over-board? Perhaps, but my hope is that having read this, at least you have a clearer understanding of the 'why' behind my suggestion to use other scanning resources. Or, more importantly, if you take material to a vendor to be scanned, or send it to a group that will 'scan for free', you're equipped with this knowledge and can ask more informed questions (i.e., what equipment are you using to scan my material or do you have non-high speed equipment available for more delicate material?) as you decide whether or not to use that vendor. High-speed scanning can be a real asset when used for appropriate materials; a good old flat-bed is best for more delicate material.
What's the options then? A good 'ole flat bed scanner works just fine. No fancy settings necessary; archival standards are original size at 300 dpi. No, you don't have to scan at 1200 dpi, unless you're planning on taking a picture of your great granddad to use as a cover for your garage door (I've seen other images used in this way!). I will recommend for some of those *tiny* photos produced in the 1940s and 1950s that you scan at the same 300 dpi, but increase the output size to something bigger. This will provide a file that is more readily usable for copying. Same for any documents that are smaller or that have small writing.
|Photo of Family Collection courtesy Laura C. Lorenzana 2012|
And, the next best step is using something that either allows you not to handle the document or minimizes such handling. Because handling historical material increases its chances of being damaged, right? There are some small portable scanners on the market that work just fine for this. However, I've come to really appreciate my smartphone's Camscanner app. No document handling necessary at all, other than opening a folder to the document you need, or a book to a page you're interested in capturing. With a click of a button, you capture the image, it's converted to a PDF file and you can either store it on your phone or upload it to a wide variety of cloud applications like Dropbox, EverNote, OneNote, or email it, tweet it, post it on Facebook...you get the idea. I love this because it's faster and I don't have to handle the material. I used this method with a collection recently and was very pleased with the results. (PSA: One word. Copyright. Know it. Use it.)
Oh, and as Archivists we don't mess with the original scan. In other words, when I scan material, whatever condition it's in is what I want to capture. Because if I go back 10 years from now and compare the original document and the scan and the original looks different, I may have preservation issues.
If the document in its current condition isn't as legible as I'd like, or there's issues in a photo that I'd like to address, I make a copy of the digital file to fix. I file my 're-touched' material in a separate location from my digital archival scans. Easy.
So, scan your material. It's important. I suggest using consistent filing systems, or the same filing systems, for both paper and digital files. Nothing fancy required to get this started other than a scanner and the desire to share your genealogical material with other researchers. No fancy settings required: just remember 300 dpi at original size.
Hope this helped a bit. Please let me know if you have questions or concerns about this information; that way I'll know if what I'm passing on to you is of interest and value. Have a great Saturday!!