The McArdle Notebooks > About the Digitization  

The Notebooks

About the Digitization

Project Challenges

Ruskin McArdle, son of artist Henry McArdle, spent considerable amounts of his own time and money compiling his father's papers and having them bound into huge and beautiful ledgers weighing close to 10 pounds apiece. What Mr. McArdle could not foresee was the toll that time would take on his work. Since 1929, when the ledgers first came into the custody of the Texas State Library and Archives, the leather binding has dried considerably, resulting in significant cracking of the spines. Many items pasted in the scrapbooks have become faded with age, and some have come loose. Multi-page items such as pamphlets or letters were often affixed to a single notebook page. Some of these items lay open flat with ease, as if they were written yesterday; others, more brittle, do not.

The very weight of the volumes that Mr. McArdle intended to preserve his father's papers also proved a threat. Because of the brittle nature of the pages and binding, handling the volumes must be done with great caution, lest the very weight of the notebooks tear them apart.

Finally, Mr. McArdle's scheme for organizing the papers was his own creation. Some letters might be pasted on individual scrapbook pages; others attached to only one page; others layered on pages with two or three other letters. The material was ordered as Mr. McArdle thought it would be most useful to future generations. Perhaps an historian or archivist might have done it differently. However, the organization scheme is a large component of the uniqueness of the McArdle Notebooks.

Project Solutions

Thus, when the Texas State Library and Archives decided to digitize the McArdle Notebooks, we faced some challenges. Our first decision was that the unique qualities of the notebooks should be reflected in the website, which would give readers the opportunity to page through the book, just as if they were able to sit down with it at the library. A navigation and organization scheme was devised to allow this experience for the reader; for more details, see How to Use This Site.

Next, we faced challenges in how to physically manage the digitization of the books. A decision was made early on to preserve the historic binding rather than to debind the notebooks. But how then would the books be handled in order to make digital copies of the hundreds of pages? Using a flatbed scanner was out of the question; the books could never withstand the constant handling and strain. Digital photography would have enabled high-resolution color digitization of the volumes, but unfortunately had to be ruled out because of cost considerations.

A compromise was reached with a decision to use a Minolta PS7000 book scanner, which allowed the notebooks to be opened face-up with good support for the spine and weight of the pages. Each page of each item was captured in a black and white 300 dpi TIFF image. For purposes of web display, these images were then resaved as 72 dpi JPG images. For a handful of images on which color was essential, such as images of flags, careful use was made of a flatbed scanner to produce both a 300 dpi TIFF and a 72 dpi JPG.

Overall, we were pleasantly surprised at the performance of the book scanner in digitizing such a wide variety of challenging material as found in the McArdle Notebooks. Unfortunately, there were some materials that did not digitize well. In printed materials, some 19th century fonts proved stubbornly resistant to clear digital rendering. For handwritten letters and manuscripts, those written in a light hand gave unsatisfactory results. In all cases, the best possible image was captured using the capabilities of the book scanner. It is to be hoped that technology continues to evolve so that some of the images can be recaptured at a future date. Our goal remains to obtain readable images while still maintaining the safety of the original documents.

To make these materials more accessible, the Texas State Library and Archives has begun transcription of some of the manuscripts and plans to continue to add transcripts to the website on an on-going basis.

Introduction | The Notebooks | The Paintings | The Artist


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Page last modified: March 30, 2011