Building a Mobile Digitization Toolkit from the Ground Up: An Interview with Culture In Transit's Caroline Catchpole

by Davis Erin Anderson, Community Engagement Manager, METRO

Mobile digitization scanning units for our John S. and James L. Knight Foundation-funded Culture In Transit (CIT) Project have hit the streets! Have you seen one? These lightweight kits accompany the CIT Digitization Specialists on their rounds about the city to scan and preserve documents that share NYC's cultural history.

Building a complete scanning solution that's capable of being carried through the subway takes a lot consideration for performance (not to mention weight!). In the interest of sharing the experience of developing such a kit more widely, we sat down with METRO's CIT Mobile Digitization Specialist Caroline Catchpole.

If you're interested in learning more, a complete manifest of the equipment used to build these kits is available on our Culture In Transit blog.

What was the process like for you when selecting equipment for CIT? How did you decide what to test, and what were your criteria for making final selections?

Luckily, before my two counterparts at Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Library (Sarah and Maggie) and I started, the team at METRO had brainstormed different types of equipment that could work for the project. We already had a long list of contenders. This was so helpful -- you can easily become overwhelmed by choice when you start looking at products! We also had the unrivalled experience of Natalie Milbrodt, Director of the Queens Memory project, who has been undertaking mobile scanning in Queens branch libraries for a few years now.

mobiledigtoolkits.jpgAs this is a mobile digitization service, the most important criteria was that the equipment has to be as portable and lightweight as possible. This meant deciding to use a tripod for our copy stand instead of the more traditional set-up typically used in-house by many institutions. That, unfortunately, is not lightweight or easily portable!

Before we ultimately decided on an initial kit list we:

  • did a lot of internet research!
  • asked some advice from the friendly staff at B&H, right here in New York City
  • sought expert advice from our colleagues upstate at the Southeastern NY Library Resources Council, as they offer a similar digitization service in the form of the Hudson River Valley Heritage service
  • leaned on past experiences we have all had with digitizing historical material
  • read product reviews on company websites and independent blogs
  • looked at what other cultural heritage institutions use as their digitization set-up

As we were spread over three different institutions, we used Google Docs to keep a list of the equipment contenders. This gave us the ability to all comment on and edit the spreadsheet, which made life much easier.

Which piece of equipment are you most excited by? Why?

I’d have to say our scanner: the Epson Perfection V600 Photo Scanner. As well as normal document scanning, it has the ability to scan negatives as it comes with a Transparency Adapter, which handles 33mm mounted slides and 35mm film strips. We feel this is something important to offer in a digitization service as so many historical collections contain this type of material.

The scanner is compatible with Epson’s Silverfast software, which we purchased alongside the scanner. I have found it excellent to work with. It has a ‘pre-scan’ feature which allows you to see what the finished scan will look like even before pressing the ‘scan’ button! This allows for more efficiency in the scanning workflow as it eliminates the need to scan something again if anything needs adjusting.

What set-up did you ultimately decide to spring for?

We have two set-ups for our mobile scanning kits. We have our scanning solution: our V600 Epson scanner and a laptop with Silverfast software and Photoshop for image editing.

Then we have our mobile copy stand kit: a Canon EOS Rebel T5, lights and tripod with the EOS Utility software which allows you to shoot remotely through the laptop. This set-up affords us the flexibility to offer our community the ability to scan larger and more challenging materials that would not be candidates for the scanner. And all of this equipment packs up easily into two cases and a backpack!

The exciting thing about this project is that thanks to the Knight Foundation grant we have the ability to experiment further to determine what may or may not work for a mobile digitization kit, so stay tuned to the Culture in Transit blog as we will be sharing our thoughts, experiences and reviews of equipment and digitization solutions over the coming months.


Keep up to date on our Knight-funded Culture in Transit project via the Culture In Transit site and on Twitter. METRO members: check out this article for more information on how your institution can get involved in Culture In Transit.