In the darkroom

Hidden away in the depths of the Hive, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service has its own in-house digitisation service. The highly skilled staff who work there were able to teach me about some of the skills required to work in digitisation, as well as discussing some of the issues involved, while I helped them with their additional workload.

Specialising in the digitisation of documents, film, and slides, the digitisation service at the Hive are able to generate additional income by taking on work for other archives and archaeology services. But when rush orders are received, the skilled staff have to source volunteers, interns and trainees like myself to help out. So from December last year until January I was invited to help with such a project, digitising slides for another midland Historic Environment Record (HER), and to learn the skills required.

dark room

Sarah working in the darkroom, examining a slide from the HER

I was taught about the software involved, shown the camera, and given a seat. John explained that in this task, dirt and movement are our enemy. I had to gently brush away dirt and dust from each slide before placing it on the stand, and using the tiny vacuum cleaner to clean the equipment before starting the next batch, keeping it all clean so there were no smidges. I had to ensure the carefully weighted stand didn’t wobble so that the photograph wouldn’t end up blurry, and to check the exposure level of each individual slide to ensure each one was photographed at its best. Then I had to tweak the settings using Photoshop and save it all correctly, keeping all 5000 slides in order, and popping them all back into their sleeves.

teeny tiny vaccuum

Sarah using the teeny tiny vacuum cleaner

Having not used such photographic software before, I now feel much more confident to tweak and improve my own images through Photoshop, and I understand and appreciate a little more about everything the team have to consider every time they digitise a new image. There is a lot more involved than just scanning images, and it involves a lot of time and expertise. I learned about issues of information storage, in terms of storage space and possible obsolescence of technology as well as looking out for broken slides and even mouldy items that might need to go straight into the quarantine room.

These slides, were the height of technology in the seventies and eighties when they were first produced. Now we are digitising them to make them available and useful for the future, but how long will it be before this technology itself is replaced by a new idea?

Sarah Ganderton