The Florida County and City Histories Collection comprises two boxes of essays written by students at the Florida State College for Women in 1922 and 1923. These essays consist of research into the history and culture of certain cities and counties across the state of Florida from Dade County, to Jacksonville, to Pensacola. The essays provide an interesting glimpse into the methods of 1920s academic writing, whereby papers were researched without the convenience of the Internet and were written by hand, absent of formatting, style guides, and citations. This collection is now digitized and available through the FSU Digital Library.
In order to digitally scan the Florida County and City Histories Collection the ties and brads that bound the essays together had to carefully and meticulously be removed so as not to damage the nearly century-old documents. This practice, the delicate removal of hardware and binding materials, is part of a process aptly called processing, in which the archivist takes steps to ensure the preservation of the archival documents.
Once the ties and hardware were removed from the essays the individual pages were ready to be digitized. In the cultural heritage field, we use a fancy word called digitization to refer to the digital photographing or scanning and online presentation of physical materials. In this case, the records were scanned on a state-of-the-art flatbed scanner (which is worth more than my car) in order to capture high quality images in a short amount of time.
In order to provide access to the images of the essays online, one of the most important steps of digitization is collecting and organizing the metadata. Metadata, in my opinion, is a scary word that refers to the abstract concept of information about information. In all reality, metadata is the set of data that describes a piece of information. In this case the piece of information is the essay and the data describing it includes details such as the language it was written in and size of the paper. After organizing the metadata into a spreadsheet it is then converted into a code, presumably by means of magic or sorcery, by the Metadata Librarian.
The last step of digitization is to gather up all the metadata code and the digital images into a queue that is uploaded onto the Digital Library’s server and arranged according to the instructions in the code. Because the magical code tells all the little bits of information how to look and how to behave, the text and images appear in a way that is ergonomically and aesthetically pleasing to the viewer.
And that’s the behind the scenes of the digitization process. Check out the Florida County and City Histories to evaluate for yourselves!
Britt Boler is currently the graduate assistant for FSU’s Special Collections & Archives division.