The Contemporary Music Centre (CMC) is Ireland’s repository for new music. Its collection holds over 9000 works by over 220 Irish composers. Many of these works are unpublished single copies or original manuscripts. CMC started digitizing its collection in 2008 and currently has about 60% of the material available as digital copies. You should see their own website for a better description of their digitization efforts, of which my work was a small part of. When I read the call for proposals CMC had send out to our department looking for applicants to help with their digitization project, I had some translation work to do. Coming from university projects with their academic and theoretical background where the ratio between learning and getting stuff done is about 50:50 to a professional engagement with a fixed deadline and way smaller margin for errors, it required some adjustment. The agreement between the CMC and the digitization team was on about 220 items (musical scores and ephemera) within a period of approximately 7 weeks. Helping me with all things musical was Dr. Anja Bunzel who has written an excellent blog post about the musical side of this project. Equipment was going to be provided by the CMC and the work carried out on site. We agreed on a workflow that would allow for batch processing and feedback on quality before moving on to the next batch.
This was the workflow I proposed to the CMC. The workflow was focussed on multiple backups of every file to reduce the number of re-scans necessary. This worked well, with very few scores having to go on the scanner more than once. Another focus was batch processing, usually in batches of 15 scores. Through this, issues could be identified early on and also CMC archivists could give feedback on quality during digitization.
Digitization was carried out with an Epson scanner. About ⅔ of the material was loose pages and could be fed through the document feeder while the remaining ⅓ had to be put on the flatbed scanner. Sizes varied between A3 and custom cutouts.
A total of 13797 pages was scanned during the project, while the average object had about 52 pages. The more a project moves towards large collections like this one, the more planning and a proper workflow become important.
The majority of the material was very easy to feed through the scanner and required little manual work. As default, pages were de-skewed, sharpened and toning was applied. In the most cases, this led to a very good outcome.
Some of the material was problematic for a number of reasons, including
- Any kind of binding that would require using the flatbed scanner
- Photocopied manuscripts with a “kiss of grey” from the copy machine
- Fragile material that could not go through the document feeder
- Damaged or incomplete material
These problems were solved mostly through manual editing of the material and notes were left in the metadata if pages were missing.
Metadata was created with a view to the specific requirements of the CMC. Metadata included instrumentation for scores and works performed and composers referenced for ephemera.
The digitized material will become part of the CMC’s online catalog. Scores that only existed as a single copy in a Dublin basement will become available to musicians and students alike. Almost 14.000 pages of scores now have much better chances of surviving and being available as part of Irish cultural heritage. Including this lovely note from the German Embassy to “Irischer Musikstudent Roger Doyle”. Maybe this is another story waiting to be told.