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December 2000


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"A LISTSERV list for discussions pertaining to New York State history." <[log in to unmask]>
Bob Huddleston <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 8 Dec 2000 17:06:56 -0700
text/plain (80 lines)
I am completely in favor of retaining the originals -- as Tom points out,
the technology is continuing to change and today's "good" image will be
superceded by next years "even better" image. Image is the only word I can
use since the technology is moving so rapidly (imagine saying "digital
image" five years ago).

I am always reminded of a Latin American history class I took at Ohio State
in the early 1960s. The prof was just back from the Archives of the Indies
in Seville (Cadiz?). He told the humorous story of the researchers hunkered
over 15th Century Spanish documents, laboriously copying them by hand to
send to historians in other parts of the world.

And this Yankee arrives, sets  up a portable microfilm machine and beings
whipping the originals across it, making dozens of completely accurate
copies while the Spaniards were making one hopefully accurate handwritten

We all chuckled at the images, imagining a beautiful library with oaken
tables and vaulted ceilings and these old men looking enviously at the
American professor.

A month ago I was in the National Archives Reading Room, with oaken tables
and vaulted ceilings and lots of high tech lap tops plugged in. I was
returning to my table from making high tech Xeroxes of some documents and
stopped to watch a researcher using a handheld digital camera whipping out
accurate copies which he immediately downloaded into his laptop. He told me
he had just returned from London's Public Record Office and was completing
the research on his Ph.D. dissertation. He showed me the jpeg images he had
taken with available light. When he got home, he would burn a CD-ROM with
the pictures he had taken so he could free up more hard drive space on the
lap top. As we chatted I realized that my using the Xerox was as ancient a
research method as those Spanish copiers had been forty years ago.

My Christmas present is the $500 digital camera that he was using. I can not
wait (and probably won't!) until Christmas day to try it out!

Take care,


10643 Sperry Street
Northglenn, CO  80234-3612
303.451.6376    [log in to unmask]
Fax: 303.452.3051

 My comments on Digital photography being performed by low end cameras were
based  upon an examination of the machines and their specifications at the
Canon booth at the American Library Association meeting in New Orleans a
year and a half ago.

 While it is true that I can put together a superb (color, high resolution,
depth of field) digital photography setup in my home for less than $5000,
including computer, the fact remains that the processing of material is
slow. (as it should be).

 I suggest that the machines being purchased by institutions are more likely
to fall into the expensive ($15,000 and up) low resolution (300 dpi), black
and white, high speed, high volume cameras.

 There is a significant technical limitation with regards to image quality:
the higher the quality, the more memory is required and the processing time
between images is correspondingly increased, thus slowing the whole process
down. The progression of the limitation is geometric rather than arithmetic.
A small increase in resolution
mandates a disproportionately greater increase in memory and speed

 I can purchase a large format digital Leica camera for $24,000 that will
exceed any specification that film has to offer. But it's impractical with
regards to memory storage and speed for the kind of volume processing that
we are talking about.

 On the other hand, IF the originals are preserved, then within decades we
may be able to revisit them with more efficient technology.

 Tom Perrin