Scanning the Tangye manuscript

As part of our responsibility towards the collections in our care, we are keen to digitise as many of our archives as possible to preserve them for future generations of students. Having digital copies not only helps us to meet professional documentation standards but means the information and images contained in our archives can be more readily and widely accessed by our students for creative use. Our latest acquisition - the illuminated manuscript is the most recent archive to undergo this process.

The task was undertaken by Phil Sidaway, from BCU’s Digital Library team, only after a period of quarantine. The manuscript, was originally presented to Messrs. George and Richard Tangye in 1885 by Birmingham Borough Council as a way of thanking them for donating £10,000 towards the building of the School of Art. It was acquired earlier this year and is now among one of our most precious items.

During the process, Phil was careful to use techniques that would guarantee that the fragile book did not degenerate any further in the course of being digitised. For example, Phil used a book cradle which has an archival adaptor for scanning delicate books that should not be opened more than 90 degrees to avoid damaging the spine. As is usual practice, he wore gloves when handling the manuscript to avoid oils from his fingers damaging it.  He also used beaded weights to stop the pages from folding shut. 

After digitisation and digital photography, Phil was able to move on to post-processing or image processing, which refers to work that is done on the digital files after they have been captured by the machine. In this case the raw tiff files are opened up in Photoshop and a set of functions were applied to those files. These included converting the files to an industry standard colour space, applying curves, white point balance, levels and sharpening adjustments. These files were then saved as adjusted images along with the original raw scans.

The aim of the digitisation exercise was not only to preserve the original, but to enhance and bring out qualities for people to see, this was achieved through post production work. The final images can be viewed without having to handle the the original, thus not compromising it's integrity.