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“The Long and the Short” of Copying Panorama Negatives at Library and Archives Canada

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The vast photograph holdings of the Library and Archives Canada include a large and significant collection of cellulose nitrate still photographic negatives. From the fine portraiture of Yousuf Karsh to the Merrilees collection documenting all aspects of early transportation in Canada to historical National Defense, WWI & WWII material, this is a collection in demand. Within the collection there are between four and five thousand nitrate panorama negatives in a variety of sizes and all tightly rolled. Many are in original metal tube containers, many are without primary housing, and most are inaccessible to even archivists to provide proper identification and develop finding aids.

Apropos to this collection in it's current state, Library and Archives Canada's mandate to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada, to be a source of enduring knowledge accessible to all, and to serve as the continuing memory of the government of Canada and its institutions, is severely impeded.

The purpose of this paper will be to identify options for making this collection of rolled panoramas accessible to clients, while preserving the original. Digital copying is deemed the preferred method of delivery of these images to clients for many reasons, however, problems arise when attempting to scan them due to their current physical state. This paper will include a discussion of research into different scanning technologies and software, and highlight conservation concerns such as handling, and light and heat exposure during the copying process. What other institutions have done previously and how they are currently approaching the copying of panorama negatives will also be addressed.

All of the cellulose nitrate film collections at the LAC are housed in an offsite storage facility with some environmental controls. However, this facility is considered substandard and therefore a new state of the art facility is in the planning stages and includes cold/sub zero storage. Finding a methodology for scanning of the panoramas is becoming a more pressing issue, as copying prior to being placed in cold storage, for a least high demand items, is desirable.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2006

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  • The IS&T (digital) Archiving Conference offers a unique opportunity for imaging scientists and those working in the cultural heritage community (curators, archivists, librarians, photographers etc) from around the world to come together to discuss the most pressing issues related to the digital preservation and stewardship of hardcopy, and other cultural heritage documents and objects. Authors come from museums, archives, libraries, government institutions, industry and academia. Cutting edge topics related to multispectral and 3D imaging, as well as best practices for workflow, sharing, standards, and asset/collection management and dissemination are explored in papers presented at this annual, international event.

    Please note: For purposes of its Digital Library content, IS&T defines Open Access as papers that will be downloadable in their entirety for free in pertuity. Copyright restrictions on papers vary; see individual paper for details.

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