Digitization efforts on campus hope to keep K-State history intact

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The Butler Digitization Lab aims to accelerate the digitization efforts of the library's special collections and archives. (Sophie Osborn | Collegian Media Group)

Within a secluded room on Hale Library’s fifth floor lies the Butler Digitization Lab. Inside waits a special camera, lights and a glass table. This is where the magic happens.

Irina Rogova, digital resources archivist for K-State Libraries, said she starts each morning by calibrating the camera’s white balance, color and focus. Then, to take a photo, she carefully places each image under the glass top, moves the camera to an appropriate height and takes a photo.

Rogova spends most of her day in the lab photographing materials from four significant archival collections: K-State history, campus life and culture and the consumer movement and cookery.

While archive visits are well split among students, staff, faculty and the general public, the department hopes to make its materials more accessible by digitizing its collections.

“Having my position located within Special Collections and Archives means that we have more direct access to materials,” Rogova said. “With having state of the art equipment, we are able to dedicate a lot more time and energy to digitization projects.”

University archivist Veronica Denison manages the special collections email and material requests. Denison said she encouraged Rogova to start with the photo files because of their high volume and demand.

“Seeing the reference requests from our email gives me kind of an insight into what we should digitize and what our priority should be for digitization,” Denison said. “So, one thing that is very heavily, heavily used, we have a bunch of photo files. There are photographs of people, subjects, events, buildings, anything like that.”

Rogova and Denison said they hope to digitize the existing photos within the next two years. The archive has 30,000 images in its collection — many of which, Denison said, are very fragile.

“Because that collection is so heavily used, the amount of use that it gets could also be damaging to the images,” Denison said. “If you keep looking at something over and over and over again, it could potentially damage the images over time. And so that’s why it’s important to get those digitized because then people can see them virtually instead.”

However, Rogova said she wants people to know that digitization isn’t always what people think it is.

“An interesting thing about being on the digital archiving side of things is, people have this conception that we can digitize everything, and everything will be perfectly available online forever,” Rogova said. “And there’s actually a lot more complications than that.”

Some complications include copyright infringement, necessary special equipment and file storage. Rogova said even when materials are digitized, the physical copies are kept, too.

“Once we digitize something, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to live forever,” Rogova said. “There’s always the same danger of losing digital materials as there is with physical materials.”

Digital copies of files are kept in JPEG and TIFF formats, located on an internal library server. Rogova said multiple copies are stored in different servers and platforms — just in case.

“Thankfully, the [physical] archival collections survived the Hale fire,” Rogova said. “The digital collections were stored on servers elsewhere, so they were also safe. But if those materials are not constantly being updated and checked, we can lose them just as quickly as physical materials.”

Another complication is the gaps and silences in university history. In her position, Rogova hopes to make connections across campus to broaden the collections.

“We are very interested in everyone’s history and finding a way to preserve those histories in a way that makes them comfortable and feel seen and heard,” Rogova said. “We want folks to reach out to us, and come see what we have, and see if they have anything to contribute.”

Those interested in visiting the archives, scheduling a research appointment or contributing materials can contact libsc@ksu.edu.

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